Perils of the Twitterverse

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Aug 022011
 
Authors: Kevin Lytle

On Feb. 2 2010, University of Pittsburgh linebacker Elijah Fields posted pictures of himself on Twitter surrounded by huge piles of cash.

Posted with the pictures was the quote, “Never knew Football was gon get me all this money Sike I knew haha.”
Eight days later Fields was kicked off the team for unspecified disciplinary reasons.

Whether or not the post was the reason for his dismissal from the team is largely irrelevant. His use of social media raised eyebrows around the nation as he displayed what could easily be construed as an NCAA violation.

The CSU athletics department wants to avoid any similar situations. To do that, the department tries to educate student-athletes on how to properly represent themselves on various social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Every fall, members of the athletic department meet with every team and educate them on the do’s and don’ts of social media.

Student-athletes are told not to post statements that are borderline racist, homophobic, or unsportsmanlike in any way. Cursing and talking about anything illegal is not permitted.

But the reality is that with more than 300 student-athletes, it is impossible to monitor every single tweet and post on Facebook.

“We can’t look at every student-athletes page every single day,” said Shalini Shanker, director of compliance at CSU. “What we do is try and educate them.”

So rather than try to watch all posts, the athletic department tries to stress responsibility to student-athletes and make sure they know that everything they post will be seen by fans, as well as the NCAA.

“It’s an illusion that you are, when you go on social media, only talking to your friends,” director of media relations Zak Gilbert said. “That’s an illusion, that’s not true. When you go on social media, it’s the Internet, everybody can read it.”

The compliance office does run periodic checks on social media sites and if they find unacceptable posts, they usually alert the coach of the player who posted and let him or her handle the discipline.

However, if a post raises questions about a potential NCAA violation, the player is brought into the compliance office and a full investigation is conducted.

In addition to watching all the athletes at CSU, the compliance office keeps an eye out for pages created by fans to try and sway a recruit to the school. These fan pages are classified as NCAA violations for which the school could be punished.

Shanker said that if she finds pages trying to influence recruits she contacts the person running the page and explains why it is a violation and asks them to remove the page.

But with such easy and constant access to social media, there is no way for the department to see everything that could be problematic.

“It’s a nightmare to try and keep up with everything,” Shanker said. “We’re a two-person compliance office. There’s no way we could see everything.”

Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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