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College Athletic Departments Crack Down on Facebook

Paul Steinbach

College athletic departments crack down on a popular profile-sharing web site



Facebook.com, the community web site favored by college students looking to share pictures and personal profiles with millions of peers, has increasingly drawn the attention of athletics administrators, as well. Contributions to the site made by student-athletes have sometimes discussed or actually displayed their own inappropriate exploits, including those - such as hazing or underage drinking - that are either against school policy or against the law. It has posed a public relations challenge for athletic departments, and many are responding in ways that range from mere reminders of athletes' high-profile status to conduct code amendments to outright prohibition with ultimatums.

Bill Maher, athletic director at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., sent a letter to student-athletes earlier this year that stated, in part, "All of our athletic teams have policies on underage drinking, hazing and inappropriate behavior. Your decision to post items on facebook.com or similar web sites is a personal one; however, the athletic department and your individual team policies should serve as a filter for what you decide to put online. . You must remember that you represent Canisius College at all times. Do not post pictures, comments or information on the web sites that would/could embarrass you, your team or Canisius College."

Northern Kentucky University athletic director Jane Meier, for one, took that approach a step further, formulating an official facebook.com policy for inclusion in this fall's edition of the student-athlete code of conduct.

But recent actions taken by administrators at Kent State University represent some of the strictest yet. Athletic director Laing Kennedy informed student-athletes earlier this year that they had until Aug. 1 to remove their profiles from facebook.com or risk revocation of their scholarships. According to The Columbus Dispatch, the call for such a zero-tolerance stance actually came from students and coaches concerned about safety and privacy issues (profiles often include phone numbers and/or addresses, leaving student-athletes susceptible to inappropriate contact by sports agents, gamblers or even stalkers). When the policy went public in June, Kennedy claimed he hadn't yet seen the site, which will be monitored for violations by coaches and athletics counselors.

Reportedly well received by the majority of KSU student-athletes, the policy is not without its critics. "There's no clear connection between their roles as athletes and their use of these web sites," Gary Daniels, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, told the Dispatch. "For the government to say that you can't engage in First Amendment activities, they better have a really good reason. And saying, 'I don't want them to do it' is not a good enough reason."

Added Kennedy, defending his position by citing the responsibility of student-athletes as university representatives, "The expectations of a student-athlete are significantly higher than if you are an ordinary student."

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