Villanova basketball banned players from social media websites like Twitter and Facebook prior to the 2010-11 season and has done so again for this season. It was a move that was alternately applauded and criticized by observers, but that had the full support of head coach Jay Wright.
Now, Villanova has upped the ante by hiring a company to monitor the social media profiles of all varsity athletes at the university.
When the basketball team's ban was first instituted, Wright explained that some of his players were "too popular" on the websites and that he didn't want to see their remarks there being published by the media. A series of off-color remarks that were republished in the media recently cost one highly-touted football recruit recently, as he was expelled from Catholic powerhouse Don Bosco Prep and a number of colleges backed off his recruitment.
Villanova athletes are like any other college kids, but the public and the media will always demand more of them.
It is more than just a personal concern, however. On a few occasions, information about football player injuries were leaked this fall through the players' Twitter feeds. Even strong hints about what was going on could throw a reporter or an opposing team onto the scent of these stories.
With opponents having knowledge of injuries, they have an easier time game-planning. If a player ultimately plays through an injury, opponents will know where their weaknesses are, and could exploit them -- a potentially dangerous result.
Teams were lectured this fall about the dangers of "tweeting" and "facebooking" every thought or happening in their lives. Many of Villanova's varsity athletes have made their accounts private because of this, but the University has taken things a step farther this spring.
Villanova hired VarsityMonitor, a company that specializes in tracking and monitoring the social media profiles of college athletes. School officials haven't commented publicly about the move, but student-athletes haven't been happy with the move:
"Things that I make private, I don’t believe that they should have access to that," said track athlete Anna Francis.
All athletes were sent an email recently advising them to add the service as a "friend" on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Once they have done that, the company will be able to see anything that they post online and will help the school to "develop and enforce fair and effective social media policies."
The process is done both by an automated system and by manual review and the will report it to the school if they uncover, "inappropriate, illegal, or unethical content. " The determination of what in inappropriate is based on individual school policies and the notification would be sent to both administrators and the player's head coach.
VarsityMonitor also archives the athletes' account posts to allow for, "historical analysis, analytics, reporting, and research into the overall social media behavior," and provides reporting of the public "mentions" of the athletes by others on social media sites.
Other schools using VarsityMonitor include North Carolina, Texas and Nebraska.