What role will teams' level of social media acceptance play in recruiting college athletes?

Following a borderline embarassing defeat at the hands of The Ohio State University, Miami Hurricane football players were banned from using Twitter by head coach Randy Shannon. The coach said it was a team decision aimed at reducing distracions.

Twitter use obviously wasn't the reason for the loss. Generally, things don't become a distraction unless you let them. With Twitter, you can reduce use all the way down to just a few short texts per day. However, without restraint many things can become distractions: alcohol, girls, deep-pocketed boosters. You get the idea.

Let's abandon the question of whether or not it's truly a distraction for this post. Many college students enjoy using social media and, more importantly, it stands as one of only a few ways for amateur athletes to build their personal brand. So, it's worth asking, will teams with harsh social media restrictions risk appearing less-appealing to athletes looking to market themselves during their time in school?

Let's start by looking at this Miami case in particular. I personally hadn't been following any University of Miami football players but quarterback Jacory Harris had built a Twitter following of 5,077 users. He used his Twitter account (cached) to keep fans updated on his day-to-day life; this included his mentality after the Ohio State loss, his charitable activities and so on.

So, now that he's banned from Twitter and his account deleted, where does he stand on the social media front? He has a Facebook fan page, but it isn't managed by him. The last update—"alot of high expectations this year for the Canes and Jacory... Tell me what you think will happen to both the Canes as a team and Jacory as an individual."—came on July 17th. He also has a personal Facebook profile and 741 friends there.

Obviously, neither are the ideal spot for sharing info. The personal page is for connecting with friends while the Fan page isn't him. While Harris is at Miami to win football games, and marketing himself should come second, he's still left without the opportunity to do that.

Moving on, let's transition to two of my favorite places: the land of college hoops and the realm of the hypothetical.

We have Avon Barksdale, a five-star point guard coming out of Rainier Beach High School in Seattle. He was ready to be in an NBA starting five yesterday. He will, of course, abide by the NBA's rules. But he won't like it. He's going to school for two reasons: to dominate and position himself as a lottery pick. He has no interest in going to class second semester, let alone coming back for his sophomore year.

Barksdale is being recruited by everyone, including East Coast powerhouses Duke and North Carolina. There's a catch with these institutions though: coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams have decided to limit any and all 'distractions'. No Twitter, no blogging, nothing. These kids are in Chapel Hill or Durham for two reasons: to get an education and win basketball games. Nothing else. (Reminder: hypothetical)

Washington Huskies head coach Lorenzo Romar is a little different. His mentality: if you play hard for me and stay out of trouble, do what you you want. Going beyond simply allowing his players to use Twitter, he'll connect them with inhouse communications and public relations professionals who will train Barksdale on how to always shine a positive light on himself and connect with his fans in a meaningful way. He tells Barksdale the Husky program goes beyond just allowing him to use the tools he has available, Avon will aslo have the opportunity to blog on the official Dawg Blog (note: made up).

Romar explains to Barksdale that this goes beyond marketing himself during his time as a Husky; it teaches him valuable lessons he'll need in the league and positions himself far ahead of athletes at other schools. He says: while we want to make the most of your time as a Husky, we also want to set you up for the future in the best way we can.

Which should Barksdale choose?

I won't say this is good for college athletics, but as social media becomes more and more prevalent, it may become part of it. College coaches are tasked with winning games, and their players should focus most on that. However, you need great players to win the most games. Aiding in positioning them as a more-marketable professional may become part of it.


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