After a nine month process, the NCAA Committee on Infractions today issued their ruling on the investigation around the University of North Carolina football program. Among the penalties announced are a loss of 15 scholarships, a one year postseason ban and three years of probation.
A number of things factored into this but for the purpose of Fieldhouse Media I want to focus on one particular infraction: Failure to Monitor.
There will be a lot of misinformation about this, but the issue is with more than social media. Per the committee’s report, “during 2009 and 2010, the institution failed to monitor the conduct and administration of the football program. Specifically, the institution failed to a) monitor the activities of former student-athlete A; and b) investigate information it obtained suggesting that student-athlete 5 may have been in violation of NCAA legislation.
No mention of social media.
A few paragraphs later, the NCAA makes this statement:
The enforcement staff also alleged a failure to monitor because the institution did not “consistently” monitor the social networking activity of its student-athletes. The social networking site of student-athlete 5 contained information that, if observed, would have alerted the institution to some of the violations set forth above.
Here’s the important part for athletic programs…
The committee declines to impose a blanket duty on institutions to monitor social networking sites. Consistent with the duty to monitor other information outside the campus setting (beyond on-campus activities such as countable athletically related activities, financial aid, satisfactory progress, etc.), such sites should be part of the monitoring effort if the institution becomes aware of an issue that might be resolved in some part by reviewing information on a site. (emphasis added)
It goes on to mention that UNC failed by knowing that a particular student-athlete was scheduled to make trips out of town and it was reasonable to believe that a review of “publicly available social networking information” could have uncovered clues in regards to the violation. They failed to review/monitor this public information, resulting in the “failure to monitor” allegation. (If you’ll remember, the player was posting pictures on Twitter of expensive watches, shopping sprees and fancy hotels he was staying at)
The “publicly available social networking information” is a key phrase. Monitoring has become a hot topic and a popular service offered to collegiate athletic departments, due in large part to the UNC case. Some have resorted to fear tactics, resulting in some pretty alarming solutions. Universities, acting out of fear and perceived self-preservation, have given in to these practices. It has resulted in a bill in Maryland that, should it pass, will deem these actions illegal.
Bradley Shear, social media law attorney and co-author of the Maryland bill had this to say in a blog post about the NCAA’s ruling:
It clearly stated that schools don’t need to engage costly social media monitoring services that require students to provide access to their password protected electronic content. Companies that push these services are selling snake oil and preying off a school’s fear.
A strong statement. One that I’m in agreement with. At the bottom of the post he ‘tagged’ programs he views as violating the privacy of student-athletes. You’ll notice our service is not listed.
Our monitoring offering, FieldTrack, provides an alternative to invasive monitoring practices, without being a financial burden to programs.
The NCAA has made it clear with this report that schools are to look at publicly available information. Even online, there is some expectation of privacy (especially if you educate your student-athletes to help them understand the privacy settings of certain networks). To suggest otherwise is simply misleading.
As we’ve said before, monitoring is necessary. The Infractions Committee isn’t mandating it, but it is suggesting it. Consistent, public monitoring should serve as a self-reporting tool as well as an educational tool. Not an invasive, spying tool. Universities can’t be caught off-guard but they also must respect the privacy that comes with certain networks. The NCAA it seems, is in agreement.
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Fieldhouse Media is a firm dedicated to educating student-athletes and coaches on how to use social media in a positive, appropriate way. To find out more about us or to join the growing list of schools utilizing our services for their athletic department, contact us today.