Banning Twitter isn’t the answer for college sports

I can understand gunshy professional sports organizations and their image consciousness banning social media tools, because it’s just another way for the media to jump on things athletes (and coaches) say to make stories where there don’t otherwise exist.

But colleges and universities need to be smarter. Specifically in the athletic department. Case in point: A story that Texas Tech’s football coach Mike Leach has barred players from using it.

According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, linebacker Marlon Williams asked on his Twitter account why he was still in a meeting room when “the head coach can’t even be on time.” That tweet has been deleted and his page no longer exists.

Offensive lineman Brandon Carter, a team captain, also had a Twitter page. After the loss to the Cougars, he tweeted: “This is not how I saw our season.”

On Sunday, Carter was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules unrelated to his Twitter page, which was nowhere to be found later that day.

Leach said players don’t need Twitter or Facebook. He called them “stupid” distractions.

“I think that a guy who plays college football gets enough attention,” he said. It’s “a bunch of narcissists that want to sit and type stuff about themselves all the time. We’ll put mirrors in some of their lockers if that’s necessary but they don’t have to Twitter.”

Leach said players’ Facebook pages will be monitored. He does not want his players sharing information about the football team on them.

Teaching student-athletes to use these tools intelligent (as well as the student body at large) is a far smarter idea than barring these tools. The fact that these students have discovered these tools at all signals a certain level of savvy that could serve as a primer for skills that they could use post-graduation.

Coaches of revenue generating sports — heck, all coaches, really — have a responsibility as educators to help their students prepare themselves for whatever they’ll be doing post-school. And if it means finding people who can help them leverage their tools OFF the field to be more successful, then that’s what they ought to be doing.

I understand as a coach where Mike Leach is coming from. But social media tools are part of a program’s growth arsenal, even with the risks they contain to exposing you when players aren’t responsible users as stewards of your athletic program.

The bottom line is you have to teach them, develop informed policies that leverage social media tools and then use them effectively.