It may seem hard to believe, but social media has been around for about a decade now. Facebook was founded back in 2004, and Twitter came two short years after that in 2006. For athletic directors and coaches who see questionable posts from players, social media can be a bit of a pain in the butt, but it's not going anywhere.
Some major college head coaches, like Jimbo Fisher, have instituted Twitter bans for their players to make sure that their focus is where it's supposed to be, while others (I'd say the majority of coaches) take the route of bringing in social media specialists to educate their players. Twitter has also been a great resource for assistant coaches, as nearly every assistant scrolls through a prospect's Twitter account to get a better feel for their character before putting on the full court press in recruiting.
However, once that student steps foot on campus, they now represent your university and football program. Instead of "Jimmy Smith send a questionable tweet after the game last night" it has evolved into, "University X quarterback Jimmy Smith sent a questionable tweet after the loss last night". So that presents a unique problem for administrators. They now have to ask; how do we police social media without violating the first amendment rights of our student athletes?
That's the issue that The Saratogian addressed with numerous athletic directors all the way down to Division III, asking them how their views on social media, and how they've both embraced, and policed it with their student athletes, and staff. Albany athletic director Dr. Lee McElroy shared some interesting insight on the issue.
“I was just talking to one of my colleagues at the NCAA about this topic and we were saying if you took a poll, a straw poll, among the 350 Division I athletic programs across the country, I think it would be 50-50,” Dr. Lee McElroy told The Saratogian. “Fifty percent would say we should prohibit social media and fifty percent would say we can’t prohibit social media because it’s part of the student-athlete and a coach’s first amendment rights. “
Really? A 50/50 split? I would have never guessed that it would be that high, even among administrators. I imagine that's because if something negative gets out that sheds anything but a positive light on the program or athletic department, it's mainly the job of administration to clean up the mess and repair any damage caused in the public image, so why not just get rid of social media altogether?
Really though, it's a rather interesting dilemma, and one that there really isn't a clear cut answer to solve. However, as adults tasked with preparing kids to go out into the world as productive members of society, completely eliminating social media cannot be a logical answer to the problem. I (and I know I'm not in the minority here) firmly believe that the solution lies in education.
Ask your administrators to spend 15 minutes, or an hour, as each sports season begins and gather all the teams to talk about the pros and cons of social media. Use examples of each one, and if you feel the need, encourage players to provide coaches or administration with their Twitter or Instagram handle. That seems much more logical than not allowing players on it at all. Go ahead and pitch the idea that you want a social media free athletic department to a 17 year old recruit during a visit and watch him/her laugh in your face.
Complete transparency and monitoring of every account is likely impossible, but social media is part of our culture now. It allows athletes and athletic departments to connect with the community like never before. It may require a bit more work, but there's no doubt that the benefits outweigh the damage it could cause. Embrace it.