NCAA Fails To Lead (Again) on Social Media Policy

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The NCAA passes the buck on social media policy and monitoring. Again.

Let’s get this out of the way: Social media is here to stay. A recent Nielsen study shows we’re spending a quarter of our online time on social networks.

Will it change shape in the years ahead? Of course.

In society, people connect in new ways here. In business, companies reach new customers here. And in athletics, teams and athletes discover new ways to meet their fans here.

As I’ve noted previously on Fourth and 140, social media is a space ripe for opportunity – and disappointment. It needs leaders who take risks but do things the right way, with honor and authenticity. We’re seeing some professional athletes, teams and leagues exhibit leadership as social media matured in 2011. And I expect more leaders – and posers – to emerge in 2012.

Unfortunately, the NCAA remains behind the times – and continues to pass on the opportunity to make social media a safe, productive and learning place for its student-athletes and their teams.

Earlier this month, the Missoulian reported the NCAA’s plans – or lack of plans – “to pen an official policy that would punish student-athletes for the misuse of social media sites, like Twitter, anytime in the near future.”

Add this to the already growing pile of disappointing decisions and lack of action by the NCAA. The latest news came in the wake Lehigh wide receiver Ryan Spadola’s suspension for re-tweeting a message containing a racial slur.

The Missoulian’s reporting uncovered a two newsworthy items. First, the NCAA does not have the staff or budget to monitor student-athletes’ activities on Twitter, Facebook or other social sites. Second, and more importantly, the NCAA openly passes the buck on creating social media policies to its member institutions and leagues.

Disappointing. Again.

“Schools, institutions and conferences have their own guidelines in place for social media,” Schuh told the Missoulian. “The monitoring of social media is done on an institutional basis, on each campus. Some coaches say do whatever you want and some say don’t use it. That’s a school or a conference’s decision. They are the ones charged with overseeing those outlets.”

I’m OK with putting social media monitoring on schools. That makes sense. What’s irresponsible and a missed opportunity is failing to create guidelines and rules that govern these schools – and their athletes – in social media. I’ve argued before about the NCAA’s need for a social media policy, but it appears now the NCAA has no immediate plans to craft an official one.

The lack of leadership here is stunning, and allows the NCAA to cherry-pick schools and athletes who make very obvious and public missteps. In other words, it’s the easy way out.

What takes more work, courage and leadership would be establishing a committee of leaders – in athletics and in social media – to craft a credible set of guidelines for schools and student-athletes to follow. It would provide an ideal teaching moment for students to learn about social media.

Need a place to start, NCAA? Check out the NHL’s comprehensive social media policy. Read any of the hundreds of corporate social media policies available online. Ask your member colleges and universities or leagues. Start the conversation.

Until then, arbitrary action and lack of leadership will continue to make social media a confusing, dangerous and intimidating space for both NCAA teams and – more importantly – student-athletes.

Thanks for being a fan.

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Being A Fan Has Limits

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Marcus Grant

Marcus Grant did not deserve the treatment he received from so-called fans on Twitter following his decision to leave the Iowa Hawkeye football program. (Image credit: The Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Twitter can be a real cesspool. It’s still my go-to social network, but its anonymity churns out vitriol beyond comprehension. Its trending topics lower the site’s collective IQ.

Sports fans contribute to the nonsense. Last night was the most recent example, and I’m sad to say it involved those who claim to support my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes (which is a big reason why I became aware of it).

Marcus Grant, a freshman wide receiver and highly touted athlete from Groton, Mass., announced to his Twitter followers he was leaving the Iowa Hawkeye football program for personal reasons.

Twitter insanity ensued. Below are just a couple of examples of the hate directed at Marcus, who was merely sharing his reasoning behind a no doubt difficult decision.

One example of the hate thrown at Marcus Grant immediately following his announcement to leave the Iowa Hawkeye football program.

This tweet has since been deleted by the user.

Let’s just get this out of the way now. Student-athletes are off limits when it comes to this type of reaction. So-called fans can hide behind anonymous Twitter handles and spew snark 24×7, but they aren’t allowed to personally attack a young person who’s putting himself or herself out there for fans.

It’s simply unacceptable.

For #HawkeyeNation and most other fan bases, Twitter creates unique communities where news about teams and players breaks faster than anywhere else. Many join Twitter just to connect with like-minded fans.

So, first and foremost, let’s agree fans should not engage in the type of behavior exhibited during the Marcus Grant affair – or in other situations when a student athlete has, for instance, had a bad game, dropped a pass, fumbled a punt return, or any number of things.

So-called fans can hide behind anonymous Twitter handles and spew snark 24×7, but they aren’t allowed to personally attack a young person who’s putting himself or herself out there for fans.

Let’s go a few steps further, though, shall we? It’s time for the grownups in the room to come together. Here are some things we all can do to prevent this type of behavior from happening again, or at least minimize its effects:

  • Tweet your support to student-athletes. Often. These are young kids, and at stressful times, they could use all the encouragement you can provide. It’s 140 characters, folks. One tweet. Think what good you could do.
  • Let’s not feed the trolls. It’s a worn-out statement, but attacking the attackers doesn’t usually advance the conversation and could potentially put you at risk.
  • Instead, rally your fellow fans to report those who attack student-athletes. How? Get them banned from Twitter – even if it’s just for a brief time. Learn more about the safe ways to report haters at Twitter’s Help Center.
  • Coaches and administrators: Make Twitter safe for your athletes. Teach them how to use social media, and provide them with the tools to keep the haters at bay.
  • NCAA officials: Create a real social media policy. Provide basic ground rules and training for your member schools and their student-athletes. Understand the medium and how it’s changing sports – hopefully for the better.

What else can we do? Add your ideas to the comments below.

Thanks for being a fan.

The NCAA Needs Social Media Guidelines

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NCAA's logo

The NCAA needs to be clearer with its member schools on how to monitor social media activity of student-athletes.

How can you punish someone for doing something that’s not against the rules?

Just ask Dick Baddour. He’s the athletic director at the University of North Carolina.

This week, Baddour released the university’s response to a long list of NCAA violations that have ensnared the Tarheel football program for more than a year. In its self-imposed sanctions, UNC voluntarily vacated 16 wins and gave up nine scholarships during a three-year period. The university will also fork over $50,000 in fines and spend two years on probation.

It’s all deserved. Well, almost all of it.

In its report, the NCAA dinged the university’s football program for failure to “adequately and consistently monitor social networking activity that visibly illustrated potential amateurism violations within the football program” that delayed the discovery of the improper benefits received by players, according to the FayObserver.

Small problem. The NCAA doesn’t have member guidelines for monitoring “social networking activity.” It does vaguely cover the topic of social networking as it relates to recruiting, but is silent on how schools should keep tabs on NCAA student-athletes who choose to use Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

Silent. Zip. Nothing.

I don’t get it. Like I said, how can you get in trouble for something that’s not against the rules? Baddour agrees, and rightfully disputed that charge in UNC’s response.

“We accept responsibility for what we have done,” Baddour told the news media. “But we debated that, and decided we had done what was expected of us, or what could be expected of us. We didn’t feel like we could give in on that point.”

Good for him. And good for the university.

It’s time for the NCAA to bring to light not just what’s expected – but what’s required – of its member schools and their athletes as it relates to social media. It’s time for a real social media policy.

I argued this point recently as it relates to colleges and universities. The schools should be training their student-athletes on how to use social media properly. But it’s hard to do so when the NCAA has not weighed in on the subject fully.

It’s time. Heck, it’s past due. The NCAA needs well-defined social guidelines. Only then will student-athletes understand what’s expected of them, and only then will colleges and universities be able to properly monitor those student-athletes.

What social media guidelines do you think the NCAA should adopt? Leave a comment below. I’ll include them in a future blog post here at FourthAnd140.com.

Thanks for being a fan.

New NCAA Training Regimen: Social Media 101

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The NCAA and its member schools are missing an ideal opportunity to teach student-athletes the right way to use social media. Banning its use is not the answer.

The governing body of the nation’s largest and most talented collection of student-athletes has, in essence, started a war against social media. 

Rather than take advantage of an ideal teaching moment, the NCAA is spreading fear and loathing of Facebook and Twitter throughout its member schools.

It started with the recent ruling against the University of North Carolina, when the NCAA effectively made social media monitoring a requirement for all schools. Watch what your athletes post, document it, and be prepared to produce that content when requested.

Then there’s New Mexico basketball coach Steve Alford’s team-wide Twitter ban. Rather than worry what athletes might post, players are forbidden from sharing 140-character nuggets of wisdom. (Facebook is OK, but the team will be monitoring those pages.) Other schools are following this move, which also makes monitoring easier.

Finally, there’s this: a news release from a startup company called VarsityMonitor, promising athletic departments “monitoring and visual archiving of social media activities, ensuring proper recording of all social content.” This new service, borne from the ashes of these new NCAA requirements, will “offer solutions to help maintain institutional control of social media.”

Ugh. Because there’s nothing more fan-friendly, genuine, authentic and engaging than “institutional control.”
 
Rather than take advantage of this opportunity to educate young people about how to use social media properly, the NCAA and its member schools are choosing a more radical, conservative – and I would argue – less lucrative path.
 
Tim Joyce, from RealClearSports.com, put it best this week when he described the missed opportunity for colleges and universities related to social media:

This is where the NCAA, through no fault of its own, has stumbled on a truth: Colleges have quietly ignored warning signs and have not taken the time to monitor or educate their students – athletes or otherwise – about the pitfalls of expressing any and all thoughts in a public forum.

This is a teaching moment, and schools are foolish to not take the lead. Who’s job is it? Administrators? Coaches? The NCAA?

Nope. I believe sports marketing departments could champion social media training for their respective university athletes. Just as they train for competition on the field, athletes would get fit with Twitter.

It really doesn’t matter who leads it, but the training must include:

A better understanding of social media’s reach. Teach them words matter, and on places like Twitter and Facebook, what you say can move around the world in an instant, especially when presented to rabid and unsavory “fans”.

A review of privacy settings. This should include individual audits with athletes on what they’re sharing and who they’re sharing it with. Understanding these settings is an ongoing process for anyone truly devoted to knowing and understanding social media.

Basic dos and don’ts. Here’s where you get over the Twitter bans and after-the-fact apologies. Teach kids what’s OK to tweet about and what’s not. Give real-life examples. There are plenty out there.

A following/follower strategy. Big brands (like the one I’m managing) have a process for who to follow and who they’d like to have follow them. Give student-athletes the same understanding. Fill your follower list with advocates – family members, friends, fans – and be prepared to unfollow or block the haters and trouble-makers (including those overzealous boosters). 

A social media mentor. Offer instant feedback and guidance. Make these kids feel safe on Twitter and Facebook. If they have questions, give them someone to lean on.

Suggested content. This might be a bit radical to some, but it’s where I think sports marketing departments could shine. Schools already have social media posts going up daily, why not give athletes access to a version of their own to share? It’s a chance for them to promote their team through links to schedules, sports articles or ticket/merchandise offers.

It’s time for the NCAA and its colleges and universities to fulfill their mission: To “integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.”

Here’s your chance to teach kids the right way to use social media, to help them achieve excellence. What do you say, NCAA?

Thanks for being a fan.

Social Media and Sports: A Crazy-Fun Elixir

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It was a collision bound to happen. And no one got fined for helmet-to-helmet contact.

Social media and sports bumped into each other, way before “Web 2.0” was thrown around. When did it happen? No one can really pinpoint a time – late 90s perhaps – when those first fan forums sprouted. They were led by average Joes who wanted to annonymously rant about their favorite team. You joined these networks of like-minded and not-so-like-minded fans to hear what everyone was saying about a certain player, or last weekend’s game, or the new coach that just got hired.

They flourished and became mainstream. They generated news, sometimes, or buzz at the very least. They got noticed by teams, by the traditional media and by more and more fans.

It wasn’t long before mainstream social networks – like Facebook and Twitter – took hold, and sports piled on like a scrum for a loose ball. Everyone wanted a piece. Everyone wanted to come out holding the ball.

And why not? It was an elixir for today’s uberfan – that perfect mix of jack and coke or cold beer with pizza. Today’s social media channels are souped-up versions of those first clunky fan forums. They can enhance your fan experience and connect you with your favorite team or player like never before. 

Today, sports personalities are tweeting and Facebooking every day. Teams are announcing news on social networks – sometimes before they hit traditional media outlets. And those traditional media outlets are checking social networks and finding news where it used to never exist. 

Traditional fan forums are still around, but they’re being supplemented and enhanced by Twitter and Facebook. The whole sports fan experience has changed – and continues to evolve. 

So what? Well, that’s where I come in. And why I created this blog. It’s here where I’m going to attempt to highlight some of the many ways social media affects the sports world – from the simplest pee-wee football game to a 70,000-seat stadium on NFL Sunday.

I’m not a sports expert. I’m an average fan like most of you. But I do live and breathe social media, and I’ve been a writer for nearly two decades. So, I hope I can provide a different perspective – one that you won’t read anywhere else.

Pretty lofty goals, but give me a chance. And if you have a topic you’d like to see examined here, drop your idea in the comment section.

Thanks for being a fan.