Last fall, before he got fired, Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach banned his Red Raiders from using Twitter after a player tweeted that his coach had been late to a team meeting.
Twitter and Facebook were “stupid” distractions, Leach said, and only narcissists want to “type stuff about themselves all the time.”
Yet, that’s what tens of thousands of college athletes are doing—sending a flood of mostly inane and meaningless chatter that sometimes includes something of interest either to their school or the NCAA. Finding those comments can be overwhelming—but schools now have an app that can do it.
Roughly two dozen athletic departments are using a software program that tracks the Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace pages of athletes for inappropriate posts. When a questionable one pops up, it can alert school officials in a matter of minutes.
“The way we tried to present this to student-athletes [was], ‘We’re not trying to spy on you. It’s not that we don’t trust you. It’s that we care about you,” said Nebraska associate athletic director Keith Zimmer, whose department bought the software after two wrestlers posed for a pornography web site in 2008.
Vermont-based UDiligence sells the program to schools for up to $5,000 per year, billing itself as “reputation management for student-athletes.” But it’s also clear that schools are paying for reputation preservation.
In today’s world, new communication tools are coming so fast that university compliance offices are increasingly overwhelmed as they are asked to check web sites, eMails, and tweets for improprieties. Officially, the NCAA instructs schools to self-report immediately whenever they determine there has been a problem.
Indiana’s compliance office consists of eight full-time employees, one full-time intern, and two to four part-time interns.
“We’ve had to learn new strategies, and we’re always trying to find new strategies,” said Mary Ann Rohleder, Indiana’s associate athletic director for compliance. “I think our compliance office does a good job. But we could probably have people working every single hour of every day and still not catch all of it.”
UDiligence CEO and founder Kevin Long came up with the idea for the software after hearing sports information directors express concerns about the social media activities of their players. Since launching in 2008, Long said, it has been used by Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Louisville, and Ole Miss, among others.
UDiligence has a monitoring application for Facebook that athletes install on their profiles. The software can locate more than 400 inappropriate words—a list Long crafted with help from his old fraternity brothers at Purdue—in status updates and photo and video captions and comments.