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It Always Feels Like Compliance is Watching Me

During the NCAA investigation into UNC football one of the major topics to crop up was the monitoring of social media of athletes by the schools. UNC became the first school to be hit with a charge of failing to monitor social networking. In the final report the NCAA basically said that they were not putting a monitoring requirement on schools but rather schools should be cognizant of that social networking might provide signs of wrongdoing. In the aftermath of UNC's ordeal with the NCAA, it appears Amy Herman's compliance office is taking the social network monitoring very seriously.

On Wednesday, UNC freshman guard P.J. Hairston tweeted the following message:

I'll be in Lenior tomorrow between 11 & 12:30 giving out swipes!

Translation: Hairston was planning on using his dining card to give other people free meals or whatever. Doesn't sound like a problem unless UNC has some internal rule prohibiting it which does not appear to be the case. Earlier today Hairston tweeted that he was at Lenoir and prepared to "give away swipes" which led to this exchange with the UNC Compliance Twitter account.

Hairston: Let the swiping begin!!! Lol

UNC Compliance: @P_makeitrain_J Just a little FYI. Board money on your OneCard does carry over. No need to swipe meals for the whole campus!

Hairston: @UNCcompliance it's on my flex.

UNC Compliance: @P_makeitrain_J Give me a call at [NUMBER REMOVED] ask for Tom in Compliance. Ill explain

As far as I can tell this was not a compliance issue but "Tom" in the compliance office saw the tweets from Hairston and decided to communicate some information to him. In fact "Tom" went as far as to tweet on the public timeline a number for Hairston to call. The point here is not so much a Twitter conversation about Hairston using his dining plan money on other students as much as it is the fact someone in the UNC Compliance Office was paying close attention to an athlete's Twitter account. Having been burned on this once UNC is clearly intent on not being burned by it again.

In fact, UNC is going beyond just having its own staff monitor accounts and engaging Tar Heel athletes on Twitter. According to the New York Times, UNC is among a handful of schools using services from companies like Varsity Monitor to keep an eye on what their athletes might be doing on the internet in general.

The business plan of Varsity Monitor is simple. Major universities like North Carolina, Nebraska and Oklahoma pay $7,000 to $10,000 a year and Varsity Monitor keeps an online eye on their athletes.

Among the services the company and others like it provide is a computer application that searches social media sites that athletes frequent, looking for obscenities, offensive commentary or words like “free,” which could indicate that a player has accepted a gift in violation of N.C.A.A. rules.

“Every school, we work to customize their keyword list,” said Sam Carnahan, the chief executive of Varsity Monitor, which has offices in Seattle and New York and also provides educational programs to universities. “We look for things that could damage the school’s brand and anything related to their eligibility.”

Ten thousand dollars is pocket change compared to the $50,000 fine UNC paid out for NCAA penalties and the value of the school's reputation. In reality, even all of this is limited in terms of monitoring everything athletes do on the internet. While there is hope the school can catch a tweet or Facebook photo that signals a violation in the end the real intent is to have processes and procedures in place to point to if the NCAA comes calling again. That might be a little cynical and in reality whether or not violations occur comes down to athletes making informed decisions and trusting their coaches/compliance office. All the monitoring in the world won't stop bad decisions.