Student-athletes and social media

Last week, star Ohio State quarterback, Braxton Miller, posted the following photo on his Instagram page (@braxtonmiller92):


The photo quickly caused a stir, and Miller later took the photo down. Miller, a senior on the team, has an impressive 216,000 followers on instagram. So what is the issue? Well, it is against NCAA rules for an amateur student-athlete such as Braxton himself to be promoting a product, which it clearly appears he is doing in this post. The NCAA mandates that if a student-athlete gets paid to promote any product, they are ineligible from competition. (Sidenote: there is even a section in the NCAA bylaws stating that student-athletes should not promote or support the popular nutrition supplements AdvoCare.) Whether Miller is receiving compensation from AdvoCare or not, it is clear that Miller realized the post looked bad, considering the caption also prompted his followers to email him about inquiries for the product, and he should take it down, but not after it had already received thousands of views and “likes”, unfortunately.

In 2012, another Ohio State Quarterback, Cardale Jones (not sure who is supervising OSU QBs??), sent out the tweet below (@cordale10):


Cardale has over 154,000 followers on twitter, so he too has a large reach, and such a controversial tweet is bound to create a stir, even after being taken down by Jones. Despite stating an opinion of his own, that was not illegal or against NCAA rules, it was still a tweet that made Ohio State football look very bad, as there is already a large stigma surrounding athletes and academics, especially in big time football programs. This tweet only played up the “dumb jock” stereotype and gave Ohio State more bad press off the field.

Both of these cases demonstrate the negative implications of social media for college student-athletes, from personal implications and sanctions to general bad representation of the program and institution. It takes seconds to post a something on Instagram, and with the growing popularity of big time college football, these athletes are celebrities, and what they do garners a lot of attention. These split second decisions to tweet or post a picture are captured and can be saved forever, long after the posts are “taken down”. And unfortunately there is a lot at stake for these young student-athletes, who despite being adolescent teenagers when they begin college, have a lot of responsibility placed on them, and social media is often a trap for them.

So this begs the question, how do we handle student-athletes and social media, especially in an age where these athletes are garnering followers like the likes of professional athletes?

It is now common that most athletic departments put their student-athletes through some form of social media training, helping them decipher what is proper from improper.   However, at the end of the day, as mentioned, these are teenagers, who even with “training” are often still to immature to make the best decisions.

So, some teams chose a more extreme option of total abstinence from social media. For example, the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball team thinks the answer is making the players go cold turkey from twitter. And this appears to be working for them, as they are making a convincing run for another national championship. Associate head coach Chris Daley explains, “I put it to [the team] this way: I am saving them from themselves because there are adults and actors and athletes who at an emotional moment tweet something, and you can never take it back. It’s one less distraction they have to worry about.”

But what is the answer? While prohibiting something can help avoid any problems, it is not always the answer. The infograph below explores social media use by NCAA student-athletes, and demonstrates how many student-athletes are active on social media, and thus the necessity for proper social media education and training. When used correctly, social media can be a great tool and student-athletes can be great ambassadors for not only themselves and their personal brands, but for their teams and schools.


I intend to explore the use of social media in college athletics further in my presentation in terms of how athletic departments are utilizing it to promote their “brand,” and how/if a school should be using their student-athletes on social media to support the branding efforts. I am curious to hear what everyone else thinks. Is banning student-athletes from social media the answer? How do we go about training them appropriately to avoid instances like I mentioned?



  1. Interesting post! I do think social media bans during season are a good idea in many cases. I agree that social media “training” can’t necessarily prevent issues that might come up. Clearly the OSU football team didn’t receive adequate training (if any). From a coach’s standpoint, I can see how they might want to put a ban in place to eliminate distractions as well. I’m sure a team like UConn women’s basketball already feels enough pressure without the added chatter on twitter.

  2. Interesting Post! The major problem I think here is to do with the whole college sports system in America being of such commercial value. I was watching John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight’s segment on NCAA March Madness and it seems like the whole Collegiate sport system is really unfair to the student-athlete. These student-athlete does not receive a single dime from revenues made from their involvement and has to deal with such rigorous schedule. Frustrated by the situation they faces, a lot of times they feel the need to let go and I can see how SM becomes the way that they do release that stress. Because of the commercial value, it translate to a lot of the star students having a huge following on SM that they are not suited to handle. There is no PR or SM team there to help each individual students about rules and regulations. Perhaps the whole NCCA system need to be overlooked as I believe student-athlete should be able to voice their frustration and promote certain things they want free of regulation. Bu thats just my opinion – NCAA is basically Capitalist America at work.

  3. Nice post on a topic that is interesting to me as a big college sports fan. Obviously, developing an approach to allow students athletes to maintain their personal freedom while operating social media within the boundaries of NCAA regulations and free from denigrating themselves, their teammates, or their institutions is quite complex. It’s interesting that you exposed two social media faux pas from two different Ohio State quarterbacks. I’m a big Urban Meyer fan and I know that he probably came down hard on Cardale as Coach Meyer seems to push his student athletes to not only excel in football while at Ohio State but also to leverage their academic experiences and the university’s resources to set them up for success after graduation. (Meyer talks a lot about this in an address to to high school football coaches that can be viewed here: I somewhat disagree with Allison that training in this dimension may not be effective. If done smartly and prioritized by athletic departments, training on social media could empower student athletes with the perspectives, knowledge, and judgement to make sound contributions on social media platforms. However, at crucial times during a season, such as NCAA March Madness, when you need very acute focus from student athletes and when their travails on social media could more easily find the spotlight, I think it’s a good idea for coaches to follow the UCONN’s example and implement a period of abstinence.

  4. Great post Breezy! The best point you made may have been about who is monitoring the Ohio State quarterbacks!?!

    Anyway,the best solution for student-athletes and social media appears to be to just ban it completely. However, that probably isn’t a “fair” solution. With that in mind, how coaches/schools handle the issue of social media is huge. Clearly, these students aren’t educated enough as to the perils of social media.

    This was seen, on a much less serious scale, this week when Wisconsin basketball’s star player Frank Kominsky was in the news. A tweet of his from 2011 (when he was in high school) was uncovered that said “I hate Kentucky” – it garnered attention since Wisconsin plays Kentucky Saturday in the national semifinal game. It just goes to show that 1.) student-athletes utilizing social media is a dangerous and scary thing for schools/coaches to deal with and 2.) anything you post will always be seen no matter how old or how quickly you can delete it.

  5. I agree with George: the NCAA makes entirely too much money off of the blood and sweat of their athletes. An education is not sufficient compensation for what the student athletes bring in revenue wise.

    That stated, I think it is fine for schools to craft policies to keep athletes off social media during the season. I do not know how student athletes will react to being prohibited, but they could still lurk. These schools know that it is nearly impossible to police all that content, the best thing is to restrain users entirely. Who knows what the penalties are, or what lengths players will go to, so that they can post.

    It is all so interesting, but I’d hazard a guess that we see an increase of such seasonal bans. Schools–and their athletic departments–do not like being one tweet away from utter humiliation; however, I suppose that is where they remain until they plug all leaks.

  6. It’s crazy that some programs are going as far as completely banning their athletes from using twitter. I think the move is a little over the top, but I understand that it prevents problems and probably helps focus athletes. The crazy thing is that training is needed for these athletes to know what or what not to say. Mostly it just comes down to common sense. I know most programs are beginning to assign player personal coaches who have to follow their players and make sure everything is appropriate, but that’s a tough job. Ultimately, it comes down to the players and hopefully we’ll see less Braxton Miller type tweets.

  7. I am for the idea that college athletes should get paid for what they are able to do. They make schools millions of dollars and some of them hit their ceiling and never are able to make it professionally. So in my opinion, if a vitamin company is willing to pay a college athlete a couple hundred dollars to advertise a product, why not take advantage of it? Then college athletes would be able to interact with fans and supporters on social media without the fear of breaking NCAA regulations and compromising their future earning potential because of it.

  8. Banning student-athletes from social media in-season does not seem like a fair or effective strategy. When student-athletes commit, they should not be signing away their first amendment rights. That being said, there are rules athletes must abide by (from the NCAA and respective college). Schools should require extended training on an appropriate social media presence, the standard they are expected to uphold, and the repercussions in the event of a violation. Athletes should be proud of the school they represent and show respect abiding by the rules; if they are too immature to make the best decisions after extensive media education, does it shed light on the school itself or the athlete’s character? Student-athletes are people too and will make mistakes, but if the school is holding a consistent violation policy and requires proper education, there is only so much else to be done besides taking it as an opportunity to learn. Banning student-athletes would be a disservice to them, as social media is becoming increasingly important in our world.

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