In conversations with college athletic directors around the country, public relations and media consultant Kevin Long has noticed a recurring theme. “Everyone is scared to death they’re going to be the next Northwestern women’s soccer team,” he says, referring to the 2006 incident in which hazing photos surfaced on the Internet, creating a scandal that drew national attention.
“Administrators are asking, ‘Is one of our athletes going to get us in trouble by posting something online without thinking?'” continues Long.
In response, Long’s company, MVP Sports Media Training, has created the first software-based service that automatically monitors student-athletes’ Facebook and MySpace pages. Called YOUDiligence, it creates a database of each athlete’s social networking pages and then has computers constantly check them against a master list of more than 500 keywords, ranging from garden-variety curses to the latest slang terms for drugs, alcohol, sexual harassment, hazing, and other potential problem topics.
Whenever one of the listed words shows up on an athlete’s page, the program sends an e-mail with a Web link to a designated person in the athletic department. “What happens next is completely up to the school,” says Long. “Someone can look at the text and pictures on the page and decide, ‘No problem, that’s perfectly innocent.’ Or they can choose to take whatever action they feel is necessary.”
The service, which costs $250 a month, was rolled out at the NCAA Convention in January, and Long has already put together proposals for around 100 colleges and universities. “We encourage schools to create a transparent process–tell the athletes you’re keeping an eye on what they post and explain that you’re doing it to protect them as well as the program,” Long says.