Facebook and Beyond

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.9, October 2006, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1409/bbfacebook.htm

Members of your team throw a party and post directions on the Internet. Year-old pictures of players drinking alcohol show up on an anti-hazing Web site. One of your top recruits writes a Web log that is besieged by boosters encouraging her to go to your school.

If you think these scenarios present an array of concerns about safety, public relations, and compliance with NCAA rules, you’re right. If you think they’re not happening already, you’re wrong.

Through their own initiative or prompted by athletic department policy, softball coaches are heading to the Internet to see what their players are showing the world. What’s out there could prompt an informal reminder to a player or a front-page newspaper story that changes your career.

The primary concern for coaches is Facebook.com, a Web site your student-athletes probably know well. The site was created to allow college students to network with each other and now has more than six million members, with more joining every day. The site has also broadened its reach with a high school section.

Members can maintain profiles where they can post personal information, photos, and contact information. Students say it’s a fun and easy way to make new friends and keep in touch with old ones. It is currently one of the most visited Web sites in the country as is a similar site named myspace.com.

Concerned about the kind of information her players might be posting on their pages, Karen Baird, Head Coach at Eastern Michigan University, registered for a Facebook account to look at their profiles. “I did it to protect them and our softball program,” she says. “I had heard there were some pictures and personal information that shouldn’t have been there. I gave them two days to clear the pages and then checked them out.”

Some of the players were not happy about having their coach look in on what they felt was personal, but Baird’s message was that these sites are open to a wide range of people. “I think most of them eventually got the message,” she says. “We even had a policewoman talk to the them at the beginning of the season about protecting themselves, and she spent a lot of time talking about sites like Facebook. But when I told them I was looking at it, they took things a little more seriously.”

Some athletic departments have declared Facebook and similar sites off-limits for their athletes. Others have focused on educating athletes about the risks of posting personal information. After showing coaches Facebook pages for randomly selected athletes, administrators at Florida State University told coaches to keep an eye on their players’ pages. “All we really want is for our athletes to protect their privacy and make smart decisions,” says Pam Overton, Associate Director of Athletics at Florida State University. “We tell them, ‘If you don’t want to see it on the six o’clock news, don’t put it on Facebook.’”

But new trouble spots can come from almost any direction. A former college athletic administrator pushing for tougher NCAA standards created a site that linked to photos of hazing activities that were originally posted on public picture-sharing sites. Similar shots were posted on Badjocks.com, including pictures of hazing among Northwestern University women’s soccer players, which led to the suspension of the team and resignation of its coach.

The nature of the Internet makes it impossible to monitor every site, and trying to track your players’ postings could be a full-time job. So Baird will talk to incoming freshmen about these sites and count on education to do the trick.

“It’s scary,” Baird says. “But now I’m at the point where I want to trust my players. They’re adults, and hopefully I’ve educated them enough that they’ll make the right decisions.”