Tuesday, April 10, 2012

#Twittergate: Tackling the NCAA, Social Media Restrictions, and Putting the "Student" Back in "Student-Athlete"

By Conor Flahive

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According to a panel of Harvard economists, the number one operating monopoly in America is not Microsoft, Wal-Mart, or even OPEC. It is the National Collegiate Athletic Association. (NCAA)

Over the past two decades, the NCAA has increasingly abused its status as a private entity to perpetrate various injustices. It has used its absolute, unchecked power to enforce its policies with a lack of due process and indifference to the most rudimentary concepts of fairness. Because of its tight control over college sports, the NCAA is collecting massive profits. It is exploiting student-athletes on the field, while stripping them of their basic rights off the field.

And so far, efforts to reform the NCAA have failed. Ten years after the Knight Foundation published its first recommendations on saving college sports from runaway commercialism and corruption, a new commission of reformers found that these problems “have grown rather than diminished.”

However, the cracks are beginning to form. Recently, scandal after scandal in major athletic programs has rocked intercollegiate athletics. “The way college sports operates is under threat,” said ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap during a panel I attended at the 2012 IMG World Congress of Sports. “There’s congressional interest right now, there are state legislatures, and there are aggrieved athletes.”

With so much public scrutiny, the time is right for major overhaul in college sports. But how will it come about?

One thing is certain. Change must be fundamental, and it must come from multiple fronts.

Social media defines a shift in the information age. We have moved away from traditional means of communication into the digital spectrum where everything is social, driven by the power of user generated content.

Thus, it is no surprise that the role of social media in college sports has become a flashpoint of controversy. In 2011, the University of North Carolina received a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA that it had failed to “adequately and consistently monitor social networking activity” by student-athletes. This represented a new era of NCAA enforcement, and it created a major legal quagmire for its member institutions.

In the past few years, social media has played a central role in bringing down some of the world’s most brutal regimes by rapidly mobilizing and unifying the opposition, undermining the legitimacy of authoritarians, and increasing public exposure. Now, social media is ripe to be a driving force behind the downfall of one of the world’s biggest authoritarian regimes: the NCAA. 

Note: This is an excerpt from a law review article that is currently seeking publication from The Sports Lawyer Monthly and Marquette Sports Law Review.  

A Hot Topic Today: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/10/opinion/nocera-football-and-swahili.htmlhttp://adage.com/article/agency-news/ncaa-agency/234048/    

Conor Flahive can be reached on Twitter @conorflahive, or on Weibo at @conorflahive

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