Social media is part of college. The most prominent social media platform was invented at a college. By a college student. For college students.
It’s engrained in the college culture, and is a central means of communication for people in their late teens and early 20s.
The problem, however, is when those college kids using social media are high profile athletes who generate millions of dollars for their college institutions. Then things get a little more complicated.
To deal with the challenges of (student) athletes using social media–specifically Twitter–an increasingly popular strategy for college coaches has been to simply ban athletes from tweeting. It’s the easiest and most painless approach to control what information players put out there for public eyes to see.
The message from coaches is clear: I don’t trust you not to say something stupid.
“It’s just a distraction that we just don’t really need to have right now,” Boise State football coach Chris Peterson said after he banned his players from tweeting. “There’s plenty of time in their lifetime for Twitter.”
To most coaches, it’s another headache to deal with, and banning Twitter is the easiest way to solve the problem. Gregg Doyel of CBSsports calls it “Self Preservation 101.
“If a college athlete says the wrong thing on Twitter,” Doyel wrote, “people like me are going to hear about. We’re going to talk about it on the radio and write about it in the newspaper or on the Internet.”
Doyel is right, but blaming Twitter for some athletes using it the wrong way is not much different than banning all players from talking with the media. It’s the latest “shoot the messenger” argument.
Some of the same players say dumb things to the media, but are coaches going to ban all players from doing interviews?
No. They work with the players to teach them how to handle and interact with the press, and those practices shouldn’t change based on the medium.
Twitter can be a great and powerful tool, and coaches and athletics departments should embrace the opportunity to teach athletes how to use it properly.
“Why don’t coaches or sports information staffs bring in someone to teach players how to use it?” CNBC’s Darren Rovell wrote in a recent blog. “Odds are most players are going to get more out of learning how to use instantaneous publishing tools as compared to applying the actual plays they learn to their work life.”
It’s a great idea, and something that all college teams should do: Host a social media summit, training players on the right and wrong things to broadcast through Twitter. Without that kind of education, Twitter can certainly lead to trouble.
The reality is that Twitter can be a distraction for college athletes—specifically high profiles ones. But so can many other aspects of college life.
The difference, however, is that Twitter can have a benefit beyond the college years, especially if someone takes the time to teach student athletes how to use it appropriately.
But that educating might just get in the way of winning games, and isn’t that what college athletics is all about?