BY: EDWARD KEALY
Over the last decade, social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter have remolded our insight into the lives of celebrities and athletes. Through these mediums, we have seen the consequences of self-destruction, self-promotion, and everything in between.
With regard to social media, the student-athlete falls into a category all in its own. In many cases, student athletes are “friended” and “followed” as much as famous professional athletes. However, they are unique because in spite of how exposed and promoted they are as athletes, they are also subject to the rules of their institutions and the NCAA. This presents an interesting conundrum for student-athletes, especially in terms of how broad and unpredictable the NCAA has proven in disciplining the conduct of student-athletes.
Since the rise of social media, student-athletes have been at the mercy of the NCAA. In particular, the NCAA has been known to capriciously impose censorship against student-athletes. Nevertheless, many athletic departments engage websites such as UDiligence, which are social network monitoring services.
In the wake of social media controversies concerning the NCAA, the state of Maryland recently introduced a bill addressing the social media privacy of student-athletes. This bill may represent a turning point in the stranglehold that universities maintain over their athletes’ use of social media. The synopsis of the bill reads:
“Prohibiting an institution of postsecondary education from requiring a student or an applicant for admission to provide access to a personal account or service through an electronic communications device, to disclose any user name, password, or other means for accessing specified accounts or services through an electronic communications device, or to install on specified electronic communications devices software that monitors or tracks electronic content; etc.”
Maryland state senator Ronald Young stated, “These pieces of legislation are needed because citizens still have an expectation of privacy in the social media age.” The attempts of colleges and the NCAA to monitor social media have clearly had constitutional privacy implications. Most student-athletes are simply bullied into complying with the policies of their institutions at the risk of becoming ineligible and/or losing their scholarships. This bill attempts to draw a clearer line in how far universities can go with their regulations and sets a floor for basic protections student-athletes should be entitled to.
Specifically, the bill would preclude an institution from requiring a student to provide access to a student’s personal account, disclose any user name or password for accessing a student’s personal account, and from installing software on a student’s computer that monitors or tracks the content of their computer. Additionally, the institution is prohibited from disciplining or threatening to discipline a student for their refusal to provide any access or disclose information.
At times it seems as though college athletes contract away virtually all of their rights to their college and the NCAA when they decide to become student-athletes. As the credo goes, being a college athlete is a privilege, not a right. However, if this type of legislation gains traction, college athletes may regain some of those rights they have no choice but to sign away in order to do what they love.
 Mary Pilon, Maryland Bill Addresses College Athletes’ Social Media Privacy, The New York Times College Sports Blog, http://thequad.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/03/maryland-bill-addresses-college-athletes-social-media-privacy/ (Last visited February 3, 2012).
 http://mlis.state.md.us/2012rs/billfile/sb0434.htm (Last visited February 7, 2012).
 See Pilon, supra.
 http://mlis.state.md.us/2012rs/bills/sb/sb0434f.pdf (Last visited February 7, 2012).