SBJ/20081117/SBJ In-Depth

Colleges keep tabs on content tied to athletes

Hoping to protect the images of their athletic programs, more colleges are beginning to monitor how their athletes use social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

Many are turning to Kevin Long, whose firm, MVP Sports Media Training, scans the social-networking profiles of top college athletes for any references to drugs, alcohol, sex, violence or profanity.

The price ranges from $1,000 a year for schools with up to 50 athletes, to $3,500 annually for colleges with 251 to 500 athletes. The company negotiates prices with schools that want to monitor more than 500 athletes. More than three dozen athletic programs use MVP’s software program.

Long said MVP’s YouDiligence program scans the text on an athlete’s social-networking page, including captions for photos and videos, looking for about 500 words that have been flagged. Athletic programs can also request that the program block specific terms and alert them on a Web portal when players have violated the rules. MVP also sells parents a $9.99 monthly service that allows them to monitor their children’s pages on Facebook and MySpace.

Scouting out questionable content can keep
athletes and athletic programs out of hot water.

Today’s college athletes are part of a generation that relies on Facebook and other social-networking sites to communicate with friends, choosing to update their public profiles rather than picking up a phone or sending individual e-mails. “There is a lack of ability in most of today’s college students to have interpersonal communications. It’s all been virtual for them growing up,” Long said.

Several colleges have disciplined athletes for posting questionable content on their social-networking pages. Earlier this month, for example, the University of Texas kicked a player off its football team because of remarks he made on his Facebook page about President-elect Barack Obama.

Long said his program has discovered on the social-networking pages photos of athletes posing with tens of thousands of dollars in cash, guns and drugs. He said colleges are using the monitoring program to protect their athletes.

“They [athletic departments] are using it as an educational tool, not a disciplinary tool,” he said. “What we’ve seen become prevalent is the reliance on employers and recruiters to take a look at MySpace and Facebook before they make a decision on hiring. What may seem like fun now isn’t going to be fun when you’re sitting across the table from a personnel director at a job you’re trying to get.”

Steve Donohue is a writer in New York.

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