The NCAA, which is responsible for establishing and enforcing rules for most of college athletics, has a limited stance on the use of social media.
For coaches, interactions with prospective student-athletes during the recruiting process is addressed in NCAA bylaws. They may only communicate with individuals using social media during permissible recruiting contact periods.
The NCAA has no specific rules governing the use of social media by student-athletes, but it expects institutions to follow it closely enough to avoid major issues.
“The NCAA has stayed away from this area because of the state laws, and you’re very borderline on the infringement of freedom of speech,” said Eileen Flaherty, UMaine’s associate athletics director for compliance. “The NCAA expects the institution to monitor.”
The NCAA has levied sanctions in cases where it deemed a school was not aware of what was being posted on social media or that the content referred to NCAA rules violations.
In 2012, amidst an investigation into violations in the football program, the NCAA penalized the University of North Carolina related to its failure to adequately monitor student-athletes’ social networking use.
An NCAA report stated that one student-athlete’s site would have alerted UNC to other violations related to dealings with agents prohibited by NCAA rules.
Flaherty pointed out there are companies that will do extensive reviews of social networking use by student-athletes, albeit at a considerable cost.
On the other end of the spectrum, concerns have been raised about how far universities can go in their pursuit of information student-athletes are posting on the internet.
According to the Student Press Law Center, Arkansas, New Mexico and Utah last year became the latest states to enact social media privacy laws designed to protect the rights of students and employees. Thirteen states have taken similar steps.
In some cases, the legislation prevents colleges from requesting or requiring students or employees to provide their username or password for any social media account and forbids them from requiring students to “friend” a coach or employee.
Other laws prevent universities from demanding access to social media accounts of students. Flaherty believes all states will eventually take similar action.