I’m sorry…I’m not allowed to post what?

Let’s be honest here. The day I signed my National Letter of Intent (the binding contract to be an athlete at Boston College) was one of the happiest days of my life.  What I did not realize was I was basically signing my life away to the athletic department for four years.  LOL okay…I’m being a bit dramatic, but in reality there’s a lot that I have to give up or keep on certain terms in order for my contract to stay binding.  Before coming into every academic year, student athletes are required to fill out and sign forms for compliance.  We had 14 different forms this year. Three of these forms dealt with media and promotional release agreements.  Basically the school is allowed to post anything and everything that has to do with promoting BC athletics and I have no other choice than to sign this…the last sentence always cracks me up… Here’s where I think there is a bit of bull*$#@.

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 10.23.49 PM.pngThere is no written agreement that I sign before coming into the school year that allows anyone in the athletic department to control what I post on social media, yet they regulate it and coaches have asked players to take down content from time to time.  Again, I get it no one really cares about golf but a few handful let alone collegiate golf. Going back to what I presented a couple weeks ago, people care about football and collegiate football players are even getting verified check marks (you know the little blue check that goes next to a “famous person’s” name…it’s kind of a big deal.

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In more recent years, coaches and athletic departments find certain posts made by their players to be a threat to the department’s name and image, and therefore are beginning to take away and limit the use of their athlete’s social media. The lack of the freedom of personal social media pages forces student athletes to give coaches personal information, which Constitutionally might not be legal if the athlete’s Fourth Amendment right is taken away on certain universities and teams, as the NCAA has yet to create uniform terms and regulations.   Many schools are creating social media policies and at the same time choosing their own measures.  Some schools do not have policies on social media, but this is where a conflict emerges since the NCAA does not require its member schools to monitor social media accounts of student athletes but encourage schools to do so. With these unmonitored policies, universities have gone to the extent of installing software to track everything that is posted on social media by their student athletes, which may be considered unconstitutional.

Varsity Monitor and UDiligence are two companies involved in such monitoring for universities.  This software is installed in the student athletes’ social media accounts, and searches for words usually having to do with sex, drugs, or alcohol.  If a word is detected, the software notifies the coach by email.  Schools have the ability to customize, which words are set to trigger the email.  Universities such as LSU, Ole Miss, Texas Tech, Utah State, Texas A&M, Texas, Baylor, University of Florida, New Mexico and Missouri are turning to this software as social media expands and the publicity of the athlete increases.

Coaches at certain universities purposefully friend their athletes and collect all of their usernames to see what each player is posting.  All of these monitoring techniques may be used after consent is given from the account holder, but in many situations, consent is not given voluntarily. Constitutionally, it is difficult to determine whether these restrictions and monitoring systems are unlawful.  When coaches ask their athletes for account usernames, they are gaining information that is publicly available.  Schools are already monitoring their student athletes with drug tests, and thus argue that monitoring social media is no different than giving drug tests.  When a coach sends a “friend” request or adds another athlete on a social media account, the athlete receiving the request has the opportunity to deny the friend request.  By accepting the coach’s request, the athlete is thereby giving “consent” to the coach to look through the athlete’s page.

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NCAA member universities are at no risk of committing any constitutional violation since all student athletes consent to monitoring methods of drugs and alcohol; however, social media regulations are not yet stated on the contract.  When it comes to BC, I can say for sure that no student athlete has yet to sign a social media agreement.  What we do have to sign is a student athlete code of conduct.  This again does not state that my coach or anyone in the athletics department has the right to regulate what I post on social media. I cannot speak for other programs, but I do know that even my coach will step in if he thinks a post is inappropriate.  If the BC Golf Team is regulated, then you can most definitely assume that the big name teams have some kind of rules set for their players.

My point here is not that the athletic departments should have no control over what their athletes post, but rather the NCAA needs to pick up the pace when it comes to making set regulations for each university to follow.  There have been multiple court cases just to highlight the complications social media has created for collegiate athletics.  This issue has not only created ambiguity over what is legal and what is not, but also what is okay to post and what is not.  

Personally, I am no longer allowed to post a picture with in-season gear on and I am no way shape or form allowed to set my profile to the public setting. Not that I want to set my profile to public, but why does in-season gear matter if I could just post a picture from last season and it would look like in-season gear anyways…Also, I have personally gotten into some trouble not just in a picture I posted, but a picture someone else posted and tagged me in, captioned: “All smiles since we’re off season.” Please let me know if you personally think that embarrasses the athletic program at BC…

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7 comments

  1. Wow Katie! I didn’t realize how strict the social media rules and regs could be for collegiate athletics. I can see the annoyance!

    I think it calls back to a bit on what we touch on in some other blogs/ tweets – your social media presence follows you forever! And I think schools are so in tune to how they are being represented, especially say, those schools that are on our televisions competing each week, and therefore have a blanket policy to make it “fair”. It’s such a good tie in to your presentation where you can see that not only are schools controlling their brand and messaging through social, they are also controlling the representation of that brand through their athletes.

  2. Hey Katie this is a really cool blog post! It’s interesting how even though there are no full regulations the coaches still keep an eye on you. The fact that there are tracking programs to keep track of your social media touches on the scary amount of data that can be tracked by you online. I think it is unfortunate that they keep such a tight leash on the athletes because BC wants to protect its brand. College students should be able to post what they want, but maybe this will end up benefitting you because you won’t have embarassing posts to look back at years from now. How do you think BC should control the BC brand if they took a step back and gave athletes more freedom? Many athletes I’m sure would be very responsible with the new freedom but does BC risk have the brand tarnished by one or two bad eggs?

  3. Great post Katie, its interesting to see that you have been through all these social media regulation, I think the contract itself might not be enforceable because it looks like its a “take it or leave it” contract, and constitutionally the athlete rights have been taken away. Maybe you can argue this point with school and see if you can come up with a better contract that not only protects BC’s brand reputation but also protects athlete’s rights.
    I think BC has its own concern of the reputation, they don’t want to risk their brand reputation by social media posts. I just think should be a better way to conduct the regulation rather than signing such unfair contract.

  4. This is a really cool post Katie. I had no idea the restrictions that were put on student athletes, whether directly or indirectly. I know I have a lot of friends from home who are in sororities and have strict restrictions on what they are allowed to post, and I always said I would find that so frustrating. I think you bring up a good point that maybe this is something that should be more strictly enforced by the NCAA because it creates a lot of grey area when left to the coaches or schools. I agree with @henrychenchen that it seems like a “take it or leave it” contract that you have to sign if you want to continue to play golf. One question I have is how Varsity Monitor and UDiligence are working to remain competitive and what they see the future of this industry being? Researching them could be a good indication of where it is headed.

  5. This was really eye opening given how many of us have close friends that are student athletes involved in the non big ticket sports like hockey and football. The stresses of BC’s academic life can be enough as it is, but to compound that with a need to constantly check yourself on social media would be enough to make me cringe a bit to. I do agree with Tyler’s comment that while most students I’m sure would be responsible, a few bad eggs could seriously tarnish the brand and then in turn get the school in trouble with the NCAA or worse, just generate bad press; at the end of the day, they are interested in ensuring their recruiting program will be fruitful so I don’t see them lightening up.

  6. Really great post, Katie! Like Roark said, this was incredibly eye opening, especially at a school where athletes and non-athletes interact so regularly. All of this to me raises the question of how all of this is monitored for professional teams. Obviously, this situation is slightly different because professional athletes are contractually bound to a team and, as a result, to their rules and regulations as well. Is there some middle ground we can adapt to apply to collegiate athletes?

    As a takeaway, I think it’s incredibly important that the NCAA put some kind of guidelines in to eliminate the gray area, as Katie mentioned. Regardless of what that policy ends up looking like, college athletes will at least have clarity around expectations for their online behavior. It won’t be the back and forth between coaches and players and hopefully will eliminate tension that arises out of what a player might consider appropriate but a coach might not.

  7. Nice post. I have followed the changing nature of social media in NCAA sports through this class. Prof. Chang will deal with some of these issues when she visits in a few weeks. The constitutionality might come into play for athletes at State Schools, as a private institution BC can pretty much make up whatever policies it wants. I’d be interested to know from her what happens if the NCAA sets policies and how that stands up.

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