Making Friends With Facebook

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.10, November 2006, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1410/facebookfriends.htm

Like many other coaches, Gregg Brandon, Head Coach at Bowling Green State University, had no idea what Facebook was a year ago. Then an anonymous source mailed him copies of pictures from Facebook that showed scantily clad players from his team cavorting with a female in a hot tub. “My instant reaction was ‘My team is not going to do Facebook,’” he says.

But after thinking about it, Brandon changed course. “It’s out there and I can’t change that,” he says. “So rather than fight against it, I decided to be proactive and learn more about it and how I could use it.”

Brandon created his own Facebook profile page and started a Facebook group called the “10,000 students at Bowling Green football games” club. “I want to use it to generate student support for the program,” he says. “So I’m going to pump up my team there and show off my program in a positive light.”

In response, more than 18,000 people have requested to become his Facebook “friend.” “I have student assistants check the site, and it takes them about half an hour each day,” he says. “If I had more time, I’d love to find even more ways to use it. I think it could be a great way to learn about the culture at your school.”

While Facebook may not be familiar to every coach, your players probably know it well. The site was created to allow college students to network with each other, and it now has more than six million members, with more joining every day. The site has also broadened its reach with a section for high school students.

Members 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 called MySpace.

In response, most schools 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. “We tell them, ‘If you don’t want to see it on the six o’clock news, don’t put it on Facebook.’”

Brandon takes a similar approach with his players. “We talk to them about what should and shouldn’t be posted there,” he says. “I disciplined the players in the hot tub pictures because they were out of line, and I think that got the message out to the rest of the team that if you aren’t smart about it, it could burn you.

“Sometimes I think they don’t realize that it’s truly the World Wide Web,” Brandon adds. “They know I’m going to be checking their sites, but they don’t always understand that future employers could be checking them, too.”

In fact, new trouble spots can come from almost any direction. In one case, a Kentucky basketball recruit was besieged by messages on MySpace asking him to join the Wildcats. Some of the messages came from Kentucky boosters, which violates NCAA recruiting rules.

In another case, a former college athletic administrator pushing for tougher NCAA standards on hazing created a site that includes photos of hazing activities that were originally posted on public picture-sharing sites. Similar shots have been posted on badjocks.com, including pictures of Northwestern University women’s soccer team hazing freshmen players, which led to the suspension of the team and resignation of its coach.

“Kids aren’t really any different than they were 20 or 30 years ago,” Brandon says. “But today whatever they do can be put out there instantly for everybody to see. So you really have to keep your eyes open.”