An old news story back in June of 2011, but thought it deserves some attention. The University of North Carolina is accused by the NCAA that it failed to catch violations of its football program because it had not implemented social media monitoring tools that were able to catch the infractions that were occurring on social networking sites with regards to recruitment activites.
On page 21 of the Notice of Allegations against UNC (Case No. M357, June 21, 2011) 9. b. it states, “[i]n February through June 2010, the institution [UNC] did not adequately and consistently monitor social networking activity that visibly illustrated potential amateurism violations within the football program, which delayed the institution’s discovery and compounded the provision of impermissible benefits in Allegation Nos. 4-a, 4-c, 4-d and 4-e.” In 9. g. the NCAA is requesting, “[c]opies of materials posted on Twitter by football student-athletes…” Furthermore, in 9. h. the NCAA is requesting “[a] statement summarizing information reported by ______(left blank) regarding the institution’s efforts to monitor the social networking activity of football student-athletes.
It’s an interesting accusation as the NCAA is basically saying that for every athlete someone or something needs to be conducting social network monitoring i.e. watching their Facebook status, Twitter feed, MySpace page, etc… to ensure proper online conduct. The NCAA is grappling with how to protect its reputation and ensure recruiting practices are being followed with the prevalence of online social networking. Its not a simple task and having social media watchdogs may not be the best answer – at best they only catch it after the harm as been done. The allegation of misconduct and requesting all twitter postings from North Carolina’s football athletes show how little they understand how social networking works and their belief that it can be tightly controlled. If this is what they really want to do, having a social networking policy and educating the athletes/recruiters within the organization is probably the best they can probably do and penalize if there is a breech of conduct. The only policy I’ve been able to find is specifically with recruiting and there doesn’t appear to have any rules for the athletes themselves or expectations that their accounts are being monitored.
This isn’t the first time the NCAA has waded into the social networking minefield. Back in April 2009, a North Carolina freshman created a Facebook
group called “John Wall PLEASE come to NC STATE!!!!”, however such sites violate its recruitment rules as it’s an attempt to influence the athlete’s college of choice. Sure, if it was created by an official recruiter I can see this being a violation, but an enthusiastic student – one who is not associated with the athletics program, can be prevented from creating a fan page and was sent a cease and desist letter by North Carolina? It seems that the NCAA believes it can have control over every outside influence that can affect their athletes – are they going to be asking for each athlete’s, employee and student who may be involved with their sports program for their social networking accounts? If so, they better be using IBM’s Watson to sift through the Google Alerts to determine which are benign and those that are true recruiting efforts.
I’m sure there are larger privacy and most likely legal ramifications to this futile online monitoring. For example, if I’m friends with an athlete and now he has to relinquish or provide access to his account in order to play for the university, what about my expectation to privacy – am I being monitored because I’m on his friends list? Can a contract between an athlete and the NCAA apply to people who they may only have lose affiliations i.e. Fans? It almost sounds like wiretapping which I believe requires a warrant (at least today requires a warrant).
Unless you’re creating a walled garden, social media monitoring will be a futile exercise on such a large number of persons of interest. If Charlie Sheen’s agent couldn’t prevent or mitigate the damage of the actor accidentally tweeting his phone number to the public instead of directly to Justin Bieber, how can the NCAA expect monitoring of every social network that can influence an athlete?