By Darren Rovell
The NCAA goes through a lot of trouble to call college athletes "student-athletes." But for the most high profile athletes in the revenue generating sports, we know that the student part doesn't often come first.
The latest evidence of that is the Twitter ban. Boise State head football coach Chris Petersen banned Twitter for his players last year. Since then, Kansas' Turner Gill and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier have imposed a ban for this season.
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In explaining to the media why he did what he did, Gill said this: "The reason we decided to not allow our players to have a Twitter account is we feel like it will prevent us from being able to prepare our football program to move forward. Simple as that."
What a ridiculous rationale. Tweeting out plays. I got it. Tweeting out stupid, irresponsible things. Yep, got that too. But tweeting in general? Come on.
Under that umbrella, what also prevents players from being their best are the following: Dating, talking on the phone, texting, sending out emails. Make that doing anything that isn't playing or practicing football.
Coaches always bring out how being put under pressure when the game is on the line is a great learning experience for the kids. That jargon is actually more abstract than the use of Twitter.
Let's assume that Twitter is here to stay. Why don't coaches or sports information staffs bring in someone to teach players how to use it? Odds are most players are going to get more out of learning how to use instantaneous publishing tools as compared to applying the actual plays they learn to their work life.
I thought the NCAA's line was "most of them go pro in something other than sports?"
Coaches don't blame the paper itself when kids open up their mouths. Why are they blaming Twitter? My guess is because it's easy to do. But it's also ignorant and unfair.
Spurrier's ban can be traced back a tweet from former Gamecocks linebacker Corey Miller, who tweeted that the team's best wide receiver, Alshon Jeffery, was arrested after a fight. It turned out it wasn't true.
But this coach is the same guy who has reinstated his star quarterback Stephen Garcia through five suspensions. Did Spurrier blame the legal system for Garcia's mistakes? Of course not.
Part of me understands why coaches are more likely to ban Twitter than deal with it. It could cause more problems because of the nature of Twitter itself and how quickly one can react.
For the coaches, they see no upside. But that's also because they don't care about the athlete learning about social media. They also don't care about how the athlete individually markets himself. (You don't get a piece of your own jersey sales in college, now you can't even market your own personality.)
There's also another message the coaches are sending: We're confident you can come through for us on the field, but we're not so sure off of it. I suspect that if Turner Gill walked into a recruit's home and told his mother and father that he wants his son for his football skills, but won't trust him when he's out of his sight, Gill probably doesn't have a good shot of landing the kid.
This isn't about freedom of speech. It's about proving that the biggest college sports can really be a teaching opportunity instead of just a multi-billion enterprise in which everyone capitalizes except for the kids themselves.