NCAA social networking regulations provide challenge for MU compliance department

Saturday, July 16, 2011 | 9:53 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – Social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter have made student athletes more accessible than ever.

The 140-character limit on Twitter might not necessarily encourage a meaningful discourse, but things as simple as an athlete checking in while on vacation or a fan telling a recruit why he should commit to his favorite school can still make an impact.

Increasingly, that impact can be problematic. From players to coaches to fans, 140 characters is often all that's necessary to catch the watchful eye of the NCAA.

On July 21, the University of North Carolina received a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA detailing a litany of violations committed by their athletics programs. Among them was the failure to “adequately and consistently monitor social networking activity” by student athletes that should have caused the school to discover other violations sooner than they did.

The implication seen by many in the NCAA's ruling – that athletic departments should be going through the entirety of their student athletes' social networking pages for potential violations – is troublesome for officials like Mitzi Clayton, MU's assistant athletics director for compliance. Clayton said she views such rigorous monitoring as an unattainable goal.

"What has come out of the North Carolina Notice of Allegations is a bit concerning to a lot of compliance officers around the nation," Clayton said. "In order to adequately monitor over 500 accounts on a routine, daily basis, that could easily be a job for one person."

Instead, compliance at MU continues to rely on the system already in place. Individual programs are tasked with monitoring the social networking activities of athletes, a practice once primarily concerned with potential image issues that may now focus more heavily on looking for potential violations.

The football program, for example, uses a computer program called UDiligence. Designed primarily to protect student athletes from damaging the reputations of themselves and their schools, UDiligence searches for trigger words in student activity and alerts team officials when any red flags pop up. Other sports opt for a simpler approach, and a captain or coach frequently checks on posts from the team's players.

Despite the findings in the North Carolina Notice of Allegations, Cameron Schuh, associate director of public and media relations for the NCAA, said the organization simply recommends that schools check on the social networking sites of their athletes. He could not speak specifically about the North Carolina case as the investigation is still ongoing.

“The NCAA does not mandate member institutions monitor social network sites affiliated with the institution, but institutions are encouraged to do so,” Schuh said in an e-mail. “Their oversight can only help ensure individuals associated with the institution (i.e. staff, student-athletes, etc.) are not violating NCAA rules nor jeopardizing the eligibility of student-athletes on these platforms.”

In addition to the responsibility of keeping an eye on those athletes already enrolled in a college or university, the compliance department must deal with the NCAA's constantly evolving stance on technological advancements in regards to recruiting.

Text messaging recruits was banned in 2007. Contacting recruits via Facebook message is permissible, but contacting them through the chat function is not. Allowable contact via Twitter becomes impermissible if the recruit receives text message updates from Twitter.

In an interview with KOMU, Tim Fuller, an assistant basketball coach at Missouri, cited fan engagement with transfer students Earnest Ross and Keion Bell on Twitter as a factor in their decision to play for Missouri. At the same time, the NCAA has informed schools that anyone affiliated with their university, including boosters and fans, would incur a violation for contacting recruits via social networking websites.

With Missouri's sizable fan base, ensuring that no single rotten apple spoils the bunch is a tall task. Clayton said the only way the compliance department can work to prevent disallowed contact from people outside the scope of the athletic department is by keeping them informed on the changing NCAA regulations.

"We use education as a means of controlling that," she said. "On, we've got information for fans and boosters of the program that help them understand how they should and should not interact with recruits."

Many schools think the NCAA's regulations surrounding social media are overly rigid. The Southeastern Conference submitted a letter of proposed rule changes to the NCAA in June including the allowance of text messaging recruits.

The conference also proposed in its letter the elimination of a rule that requires "friend" and "follow" requests to coaches and athletic administrators on Facebook and Twitter to go through compliance before they can be accepted.

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Paul Allaire July 19, 2011 | 11:32 a.m.

They're joking with this. Right?

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 19, 2011 | 2:30 p.m.

"At the same time, the NCAA has informed schools that anyone affiliated with their university, including boosters and fans, would incur a violation for contacting recruits via social networking websites."

And precisely at this point I am now compelled to ask the never before blazing question, "Who gives a * what anybody at the NCAA thinks????" And this is assuming a lot, I admit.

I don't follow sports at all. It appears to be an extensive waste of time and money if one can afford to waste that also. I wouldn't care if all the teams were terminated this instant. I can't think of anything less important.

However, not everyone shares my viewpoint. It appears that the people at the NCAA think that they are quite important.

Let's pretend for a minute that I really like sports and that I enrolled at MU. Did I sign an agreement not to tweet, twitter, friend, flirt with, or E mail athletes who are at different universities? Did anyone? Was acceptance of that regulation implied when I filled out the enrollment paperwork? I don't believe that it was.

So let's go further and pretend that my premise is erroneous and that I had indeed obliged myself somehow to follow those restraints. And then that I went ahead and violated them anyway. At that hypothetical point I would then be obliged to say, "So WHAT? So what in the hell is your trivial stupid organization going to do to me OR my University?"

I mean, don't get me wrong. While I think that sports are a complete waste of my time I think that they may be just GREAT for YOU. Kind of like religion and so many other things. And it's good that we have an organization that is allegedly trying to keep a level playing field, attempting to keep universities from cheating their way to a championship. I don't think that is a bad thing. But when the organization begins compelling it's member institutions to conduct spy operations on the students that they sponsor then they have gone too far. Obviously the organization does not have the manpower for this so it has mandated the requirement to the institutions from which it leeches it's existence. When it asserts that I, as a student of a university, do not have permission to socialize with a student of another university on the grounds that they have an athletic scholarship there, then my answer is "Leach on THIS."

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 19, 2011 | 2:30 p.m.

So then, I encourage every one of you who is at Mizzou and who is a fan of sports to go online and contact every athlete you can think of who plays for a competing team. Just for fun. And the more serious of you might consider writing some letters to the athletic department indicating that you do not care in the least what happens to it's standing in such an organization. The reason this ludicrous action will never go to court is that it is evident that nobody will find themselves willing or able to enforce it's fetish for obtrusive controlling behavior and secondly that athletics just aren't important enough. It appears that the NCAA wanted to become more important. I suppose anyone's ambition is a thing to be admired, but here the only ambition I see is that someone would like to compel your nation's schools to monitor the actions of every one of it's students, both on and off campus, and for the most trivial reason imaginable.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 19, 2011 | 5:19 p.m.


An alternative would be to enroll at either UMKC, UMSL or MS&T, where except for men's basketball at UMKC everything is NCAA Division II.

But don't NCAA rules apply to all divisions? Yes, but in Division II few students or alumni take that garbage seriously. When you think about it, how could ANYONE take some of it seriously?

Or you could enroll in an NCAA Division III college, where there are no athletic scholarships. We suggest University of Chicago, Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Knox College (Illinois) or Luther College (Iowa).

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 20, 2011 | 3:42 p.m.

I like the sound of your last suggestion a lot.

(Report Comment)

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