Football players delete Twitter accounts at risk of suspension
Shortly after Head Coach Rob Ambrose and the Towson Tigers were defeated in the second round of the NCAA FCS playoffs, controversy emerged concerning a Tweet that a player on Lehigh’s football team sent out the night before the game.
Following an NCAA investigation, the player was suspended for the Mountain Hawks’ next playoff game against North Dakota State, a game they would ultimately lose.
That is when Ambrose got on Twitter and observed some of his own players who were active Tweeters.
“I watched about seven or eight players from Thanksgiving until Jan. 1,” Ambrose said. “If I were to have adhered to the letter of the law, I bet we would have suspended 50 percent of my team and at least 50 percent of the athletic department.”
So Ambrose decided to ban his players from Twitter until further notice.
“It’s not about controlling [the players],” Ambrose said. “It’s about safety. It’s about the appropriate uses of it and how not to be hurt by it. If these kids put something out there that is misinterpreted by the wrong person and blown up in the media, they are ruined for life. People are afraid to stand up and say anything. It is a privilege to play football. It is a privilege to represent the institution and it comes with responsibilities.”
Ambrose made his point clear to his team when they returned to campus following Winter Break.
At the team’s first meeting, he told his players about new the rule and shortly after many of the CAA champion Tigers sent out their final Tweets.
“We have to delete our twitter see u later tweets!!!!! #R.I.P.,” Jerry Rice Award-winning running back Terrance West Tweeted on Jan. 29.
“#Coachisreallymakingusdeleteallourtwitterstho,” quarterback Grant Enders Tweeted.
“How u even delete this ?” All-CAA safety Jordan Dangerfield Tweeted.
Players were not available to comment on being made to deactivate their accounts.
Ambrose, who has Tweeted from his own account more than 1,000 times, said his new rule is for the best interest of his athletes.
“Every member on this team doesn’t like all of our rules, but every member of this team understands the reason that we have rules is for them,” Ambrose said. “Everything we do is for the benefit of the student athlete.”
The supervising of social networking sites is done on a campus level, though it can also serve as an information source in NCAA investigations, according to Emily Newell, NCAA postgraduate intern for public and media relations.
“Institutions need to ensure their personnel, student athletes and individuals affiliated with the institution are following the NCAA guidelines in place,” Newell said in an email. “If violations are discovered, it is the institution’s responsibility to report those violations and educate the individuals on how their actions could possibly affect the school and the eligibility of themselves/student-athletes. Failure to do so could result in more severe circumstances if not addressed.”
Towson’s 2011-2012 Student Athlete Handbook states, “the Department of Athletics does not place any restrictions on social networking sites (myspace.com and/or facebook.com).” It does not mention Twitter.
Director of Athletics Mike Waddell, an active user who has sent close to 8,000 Tweets, said that this is strictly a football program decision, not one of the athletic department.
“I don’t micromanage my coaches,” Waddell said.
If any player breaks this rule, they will be suspended indefinitely, according to Ambrose.
“When you take on the role of a Division I athlete, you do so in the name of the institution,” Ambrose said. “The institution is bigger than the person.”
On Feb. 3, The Harvard Crimson reported that assistant men’s basketball coaches at the Ivy league school are assigned to monitor players Twitter accounts. Schools such as the University of Texas at Austin, Louisiana State University and the University of Florida have installed tracking software called UDiligence to the Facebook and Twitter apps of their student athletes.
In 2010, the University of North Carolina football program banned Twitter following an NCAA investigation concerning players Tweeting that they were receiving improper benefits. The investigation eventually led to multiple player suspensions and the firing of former Head Coach Butch Davis.