Earlier today ESPN's Darren Rovell tweeted that Old Dominion head coach Bobby Wilder has banned every player from using twitter for as long as they are part of the program. To our knowledge this is a first in collegiate athletics.
According to this article on HamptonRoads.com, Wilder has implemented a complete Twitter ban for his players. Year round. As long as they are part of the team. As one incoming freshman tweeted, "Signing off. See you guys in about five years."
The article notes that Florida State, Clemson, South Carolina and Boise State have told their players not to tweet during the season; but according to a social media expert whose company teaches athletes how to use social media, this move by Wilder is the first such year round, multi year ban.
The article quotes Wilder as saying, "It [Twitter] was affecting our grades. It was hindering the academic performance of some of our players." Wilder allows his players to have Facebook pages but they must friend ODU's football page. "I want them to have their freedom," Wilder said. "They should have Facebook relationships with their family and their friends."
We pulled up some quick Twitter research and noted that Twitter usage by 18-24 year olds doubled in the 15 months leading up to February 2012. Independent research estimated that 31% of 18-24 year olds use Twitter and their daily usage of it has grown 5x over the same time frame. Presumably if you were to look at the % of just college enrollees using Twitter the percentage would be significantly higher; and that 31% was back in February. Believe it or not, in just the past seven months, we think that percentage has probably grown a lot closer to, and maybe even over, 50%.
We haven't spoken with Wilder about his decision; but on it's face this doesn't seem to be the right course. If the goal as coaches is to educate our student athletes and to prepare them for the real world...remember all those NCAA ads about 99% of us will go pro in something other than athletics?...is not allowing them to use Twitter for five years the right thing to do? Absolutely not. Each of the recruits they are bringing in now, if they don't actually use Twitter for the next five years, will be at a significant disadvantage to their peers when it comes to knowledge of the platform and the technology...and all of the innovation spurred by the technology.
Why not choose to educate the players about social media, teach them to use it responsibly and monitor their compliance within the standards the team already has in place for conduct?
Further, and we'd put this way down the list, what are the odds that opposing teams will use this 5 year Twitter ban against ODU in recruiting??? Well, judging by the texts that I received today, we're pretty sure it will be mentioned frequently on the recruiting trail.
In an ironic twist, it was pointed out to us this afternoon to many of Wilder's assistants use Twitter (some of whom were tweeting today).
I would encourage every program to educate and instill responsibility in your players (and staff). Have established standards and monitor for compliance. But don't put your student athletes at a five year disadvantage by taking away what is an everyday technology that is absolutely essential in today's world and will be even more critical five years from now.