Coaches Monitor Athletes Online in the Age of Twitter

Courtesy of UDiligence

Coaches from the University of Texas at Austin and University of Florida hav esigned up for UDiligence, a service that monitors Facebook and Twitter posts made by college athletes.

On its path to the nation’s Top 25 this season, the Harvard men’s basketball team has increasingly acted like a big-time program. Take away the intellectual brand and the lack of historical success, and the top-flight players now wearing crimson in packed arenas make the program seem more like a member of the Big East than the Ivy League.

As Harvard’s program emerges on the national stage and receives more media scrutiny, head coach Tommy Amaker has assigned his assistant coaches to monitor what players on the team are saying on their personal Twitter accounts.

“Just like we like to monitor their whereabouts, monitor their academics, we need to monitor their Twitter accounts as well,” Amaker said to The Crimson in December.

Harvard women’s soccer coach Ray Leone requires his team to go without Facebook during Ivy League play, though Leone says that a desire for his athletes to focus, not a worry about negative publicity, spurred his decision.

But Assistant Athletic Director Kurt K. Svoboda says he does not approve of policies like Amaker’s. “I don’t believe in monitoring what our student athletes are saying,” he says.

It seems most other Harvard teams have followed Svoboda’s preferred model. A number of coaches have taken to educating their teams about the risks of imprudently tweeting and posting on Facebook, but none of the other 10 coaches interviewed for the story said they have any policies in place for monitoring players’ online activity.

At Harvard, then, Amaker’s rule might seem strict. Yet compared to the regulations at other universities, Amaker’s monitoring policy is less formal than many.

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During the last two seasons, several basketball programs, from St. John’s to Missouri, have banned Twitter use by their players, a method of control that dates back to the early days of Facebook in 2006.

In March of that year, Northwestern University suspended its women’s soccer team after photos of alleged hazing appeared on Facebook.

While Northwestern’s administration stated that it could not bar students from using Facebook because of free speech and privacy laws, other schools did just that to protect their brands.

Back in 2006, rights advocates protested, and several schools called off their initial bans.

But then came Twitter, and with it, a rebirth of the debate. After dealing with Facebook for years, Harvard was more equipped to handle a burgeoning social network this time around, Svoboda said. But some people felt that Twitter required a more watchful eye than earlier online outlets.

Last June, the NCAA criticized University of North Carolina officials for inadequately monitoring athletes’ activity on social networks. That ruling had potent implications for all college athletic departments, putting schools in the same conundrum they found themselves in five years ago. Across the country, athletic departments have been forced to decide between potentially being cited for “failure to monitor” and upsetting rights groups for monitoring or banning social media use by their players.

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