Monday, September 26, 2011

The dangers of social networking

Social networking sites are scary for intercollegiate athletics programs.

We all know about the well publicized incidents of student-athletes getting into trouble for inappropriate Facebook content. Athletic administrators are struggling to find a solution to protect both their student-athletes and their institutions.

For some schools, the solution was to ban student-athletes from Facebook. Some schools appointed a staff member to monitor profiles. Some schools held the team captains responsible for overseeing their teammates.

Increasingly, schools are investing in the hiring of sports media trainers to educate student-athletes how to build a positive image of themselves in the media. While traditionally training focused on making student-athletes more comfortable in front of the camera and teaching them interviewing skills, now the training has to address issues that arise from participation in social networking sites.

The simplified message of the training regarding Facebook, or any other social networking site for that matter, is the famous “if you mother wouldn’t approve it, don’t do it.”

Does this strategy hit home?

It might; and let us hope, for the sake of the student-athletes and the school, that it does.

However, if we only point fingers at social networking sites, we are ignoring a much larger problem here. A prerequisite for “harmful” content is the actual happening of the event: for the person to be involved in a situation that is negatively affecting their reputation or the reputation of their school.

By blaming social media, we are focusing on just one tree when there is a whole forest out there.

The education of student-athletes should start with lessons of accountability and responsibility. Student-athletes need to learn, first and foremost, to respect themselves so that they avoid getting into potentially troubling situations.

The education should continue with teaching them to look out for each other. Student-athletes need to have a positive influence on each others' actions and to serve as gatekeepers (in other words, not to post compromising pictures of their own teammates on Facebook just because it’s funny).

This education should also involve reiterating to them the values of their university and their department of athletics. Student-athletes need to understand the broader mission of their university in order to know how to represent it well.

Only after that kind of education does it make sense to talk about the dangers of social networking. Here is why: if they do not understand the ramifications of their actions, student-athletes will not understand why it is “wrong” to post pictures of those actions on Facebook.

I truly believe that an 18-year-old individual is capable of seeing beyond the tree and understanding how college athletics function, which entails understanding the hard work invested into developing them as athletes, as students and as people.

Once that enlightening moment of "got it" occurs, we can move to beyond treating social media sites as the enemy of intercollegiate athletics and realize the potentials they carry for promotion, community building and development.

-- Dunja Antunovic

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Mediating Baseball" and "Sports Scandals" among In Media Res' fall topics

The innovative media and textual criticism site, In Media Res (about) has listed two sports media topics among its Fall 2011 calls for curators -- "Mediating Baseball" and "Sports Scandals." The "Mediating Baseball" pieces will be published on the week of October 24-28. "Sports Scandals" will be published on November 28-December 2. The deadline for the Baseball call passed this week; however, the proposal deadline for the Scandals call is October 17.

The "Sports Scandals" call asks for brief proposals that:
. . . address the current state of sports that have been involved in a recent scandal, focusing on both the impact the scandal has made on the sport/fanbase and how that scandal has been treated within the sports media. Some recent examples include universities such as Miami and Ohio State allegedly violating NCAA rules; the recent brawl involving members of Louisiana State University’s football team; performance enhancing drugs and sports; gambling and sports; etc.
If you're not familiar with the project, In Media Res is a forum where academics, journalists, critics, media professionals, and fans critically engage with media texts in a more immediate format than is common in much of academic publishing. Every day a "curator" offers a media text--usually a video clip or slideshow--accompanied by a short, critical response to that media text. Each week, these curated works focus on a different topic. More information is available on In Media Res' about page.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The NCAA's position of power

In the college sports landscape, the NCAA typically positions itself as a judicious, morally sanctified, student-athlete protection system. But many have questioned this position for the non-profit organization that generates millions of dollars of revenue each year. Taylor Branch is the latest to do so – in an article for the October issue of The Atlantic, and he does it with a critical perspective and honesty that might change a few minds.

It’s important to recognize, first, that Branch ultimately calls for payment of college athletes, a proposal that will certainly ruffle a few feathers, some fur, and even a couple of scales. Branch argues that the popular call for amateurism is based on sentimentality rather than logic or, frankly, reality. To prove the value of eliminating the amateurism mystique, he draws a parallel between the NCAA and the Olympics. The Olympics rescinded its amateurism rules in 1978, a move that eventually improved the Olympics’ reputation, according to Branch.

While Branch’s argument that college athletes should be paid will certainly be met by a lot of deserved skepticism, his underlying stance that the NCAA is unnecessary, manipulative, and exploitative is sure to stimulate the minds of even the most stubborn college-sport-amateurism purists. And this is the main thrust of his argument.

To show the NCAA’s dark side, Branch relies on the organization’s own history of back-room deals, student-athlete-generated litigation, and seeming hypocrisy. To drive this point home, Branch uses a particularly effective source: Walter Byers who, after nearly 40 years as the NCAA’s first president, has become one of its most biting critics.

Byers, Branch, and many others argue that the student-athlete is the ironic victim of the NCAA’s position of power, which Byers created and shored up during his tenure. From there, Branch arrives at his argument that payment is necessary to balance the scales. Again, that might be too far for some readers, but Branch’s article should convince readers that the NCAA and its member universities have not and are not really protecting the student-athletes who ultimately create this multi-billion dollar industry.

-Brett Sherrick

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Curley Center Chat Addresses Coverage of Initial Eligibility

While NCAA rules limit when a college coach can talk about an incoming student-athlete, media members almost invariably focus on standout high school students headed for college or pursue in-depth stories about recruiting.

Along with those somewhat opposing perspectives come ethical issues that touch on everything from privacy to the potential high-stakes pressure of intercollegiate athletics. And that backdrop poses problems for everyone involved—coaches, the media and the student-athletes themselves.

The related ethical challenges, responsibilities for all parties involved and even typical outcomes will be discussed at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, during an online chat conducted by the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.

"Issues in Covering Initial Eligibility" is free, and people may access and participate in the session by visiting online.

Participants include: Coquese Washington, women's basketball coach at Penn State, and Steve Wieberg, a sports writer who focuses on intercollegiate athletics for USA Today.

Malcolm Moran, the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society and director of the Curley Center, will serve as moderator. The hour-long session will focus on journalism coverage of recruits, recruiting and many related issues with insights and opinions from the perspective of of a coach as well as that of a journalist.

In addition, the user-friendly format of the online chats allow for abundant interaction and questions from participants all over the world. Others involved with intercollegiate athletics, fellow journalists, college students and sports fans all may ask a question, comment or follow along by simply navigating to the chat online.

The Curley Center explores issues and trends in sports journalism through instruction, outreach, programming and research. The Center's undergraduate curricular emphasis includes courses in sports writing, sports broadcasting, sports information, sports, media and society, and sports and public policy, which is cross-listed with the Penn State Dickinson School of Law.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Conference realignment: Not the only story in college sports

While shuffling in the Big 12, ACC, and other conferences has grabbed sports headlines this week, we wonder if the story with far bigger, more profound long-term implications for the future of sports in the educational setting isn't the recent NCAA decision about coverage of high school athletes by the Longhorn Network -- owned by ESPN -- and the important issues raised in ESPN's proposal to put such programming on this network.
The reason for the NCAA decision to ban the network from airing high school games is obvious: The potential conflict-of-interest related to recruiting. But as college sports networks become part of the stable of offerings of a mega-media company like ESPN, the power of the NCAA to regulate them becomes significantly weakened. At the same time, the allure of cheap programming that high school sports provides is just too attractive for outfits like ESPN to ignore.
As John Ourand pointed out in a Sports Business Daily story last week: "High school programming on television and online is exploding at such a rate that new rules seem outdated almost immediately."
Our concern is with the bigger implications of this explosion in high school coverage. How will the growing media spotlight on younger and younger athletes in scholastic programs impact the way these programs are treated in the educational setting? We already see the problems and challenges caused at the collegiate level as sports have moved away from their educational mission to an ethic around performance and revenue-generation.
And ultimately, that might be the biggest story we're seeing in college sports right now.
--Marie Hardin

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Where are the women football broadcasters?

Familiar voices just delivered the first full week of the NFL regular season to massive television audiences. And they were all male voices in broadcast booths. So why are there no women doing play-by-play in the NFL and so few in college football?

It’s apropos then to take a look at a recent column by’s LZ Granderson. He said that only two women currently do play-by-play nationally for college football. Arguments that women don’t play pro football and so shouldn’t be lead broadcasters ring hollow. Granderson points out that most male play-by-play broadcasters never played in the NFL and goes on to name a few.

The sport isn't just consumed by men, either. Citing NFL statistics, Granderson writes that 44 percent of the league’s fans are women.

Football is the biggest sport in America, but why is there a proverbial glass ceiling of television sideline reporting for female sports journalists when it comes to this sport? Maybe it’s time to have that discussion.

-- Steve Bien-Aimé

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A global sports event for the student-athlete

Every other year thousands of athletes from all over the world gather in one city to compete in various sport disciplines. These athletes have at least one more thing in common: they are all university students.

The International University Sports Federation (FISU) organizes the World University Games both for winter and summer sports once in two years with a goal to "promote sporting values and encourage sporting practice in harmony with, and complementary to, the university spirit."

Most recently, Shenzen hosted 10,603 participants from 151 countries - yet, this event passed quietly in the mainstream media. Except for the occasional news releases regarding the success of the women's basketball team (USA won the gold medal), the coverage was predominantly done by college papers and websites of the participants' institutions.

Perhaps that's a good sign. After all, we are talking about students here.

Since in most countries there is no "amateurism" requirement in regard to the student-athletes, which stems from the limited or non-existent intercollegiate athletics system, don't be surprised if you see a name that also appeared at the Olympic Games or World Championships or any other professional international event.

What's subtracted from the World University Games, however, is the highly commercialized nature of professional sports. The focus is not on "selling" sports. Rather, the focus is on the celebration of intellect and physical health.

That celebration certainly occurs -- even if the competition is not live on ESPN, the athletes do not appear half-naked in Sports Illustrated, or Yahoo! does not post a thread about it ever day.

Huang Guoqiang, vice secretary general of the Shenzhen Universiade Organizing Committee, said upon the closing of the Games at the end of August that the first emphasis of the Games is friendship. Huang added that the event "enables athletes with different backgrounds to gather together and share not only sports experience and passion in competition, but also the joy and culture of competition."

That experience is shared when student-athletes from different countries and different sports sit crammed in a coffee shop in the athletes' village watching the Wimbledon finals; the experience is shared when student-athletes from one nation start a dance and the passers-by join in as if it were their national dance as well; the experience is shared when language is not a barrier in understanding a sport that might not be popular in your country, yet you learn the rules because you want to be able to cheer for your new friend.

More importantly, the real shared experience happens when the student-athletes go back to their respective countries, or respective universities (which often means the United States) and become better students, better scholars, better workers and better human beings due to the newly acquired perspectives.

The mission of FISU is also to contribute to the "full humanistic development of the individual and, thus, of society at large."

We know this. We know that, somewhere deep down, the purpose of intercollegiate athletics is similar. Among the NCAA's core values, we find concepts such as "sense of community," "sportsmanship," "respect,"and "integrity."

We also know from the NCAA's video that there are "380,000 student-athletes and most of them will go pro in something other than sports."

Yet, when we talk about student-athletes, we so often forget about the "student," the individual.

The World University Games remind us of these values, even if they are not all over the media.

-- by Dunja Antunovic

Preserving 'amateur' nature of high school sports

High school sports could slowly be creeping toward mirroring the collegiate levels and that would be a bad sign for “amateur” teen athletes.

The University of Texas has started its own sports network and it tried – unsuccessfully -- to gain permission to broadcast high school games (see NCAA statement). Not only could that give Texas an unfair advantage in recruiting, it could start a slippery slope that could forever change American sports.

College sports is a big business worth billions annually -- and that kind of money attracts unsavory characters. Maintaining the “purity” of amateur athletics requires extraordinary efforts from colleges and tremendous discipline from players. However, as evidenced by the abundance of recent violations, scandals and scathing allegations, college sports has been tainted by money, too.

If millions -- and perhaps billions of dollars -- reach high school athletics, is there any hope that it will escape the myriad problems college sports have had?

The media have not been silent about the growing concerns regarding prep sports – for example: George Dohrmann's recent book Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit and the Youth Basketball Machine and in older books such as Sole Influence: Basketball, Corporate Greed, and the Corruption of America's Youth by Dan Wetzel and Don Yaeger.

The economic potential of high school sports in terms of broadcasting, merchandizing, etc., is tantalizing. But the NCAA and other amateur governing bodies must stand strong and allow high school sports to remain for the kids – amateurs who play for the love of the game and don’t have millions of dollars riding on every pass, jump shot or swing.

-- Steve Bien-Aimé

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The potential demise of middle-men journalists

Clay Travis, of Outkick the Coverage, recently declared the death of ESPN. While his thesis might be a little melodramatic, Travis poses an important question for the future of sports media: will the journalistic middle men still be relevant in the future or will sports leagues decide en masse to skip the ESPNs of the world and communicate directly with their publics?

Travis cites, as evidence of this trend, the leagues that have already created their own cable networks. MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, the Big Ten, and – perhaps most alarmingly – the Texas Longhorns all have their own cable networks at this point. (Granted, the Longhorn Network is a partnership with ESPN.) Other teams that aren’t directly targeting their fans through traditional cable TV often provide online, subscription-based services to feed their games immediately to their consumers.

This direct targeting of teams’ individual nations – made much simpler through online social networking – could be really positive for the teams, really negative for traditional sports journalists, and potentially disastrous for anybody who cares about ethics in sports.

Traditionally, the middle man function of journalists has not simply been one of direct conduction; instead, journalists have historically acted as watchdogs of news, attempting to keep newsmakers honest. If teams communicate directly with their fans, then that role may no longer be fulfilled.

According to Travis, ESPN has already foregone that responsibility – out of fear of upsetting their important league partners. If he’s right and this is an increasing trend, the sports world could see the return of a brand of irresponsibility and lawlessness that has largely been restrained and chastised in sports for decades.

Even with 24/7 coverage of every Chris Johnson Tweet and Kenny Britt Facebook update, plenty of athletes still find their way into trouble. If they have no fear of exposure by the media, athletes and teams may become even more reckless.

-Brett Sherrick