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UNLV athletics joins the Twitter revolution

Feb. 3, 2010

By Ryan Greene of the Las Vegas Sun

Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009

If you want to know where Lon Kruger ate dinner with his wife last Saturday night, or maybe where the UNLV basketball coach teed it up on Sunday morning with his buddies, Twitter is not the right place to look.

But Kruger is simply one of the latest prominent college figures -- joining the likes of Southern Cal football coach Pete Carroll and Kentucky hoops coach John Calipari -- to join the popular social networking site, which is rapidly becoming a major player in the sports landscape.

"It's just another resource -- We're not really on it just to let people what we're doing every minute of the day," Kruger said. "Just more things that are happening, things that are interesting to the program. I'm not extreme on it -- very basics."

But even on a social networking site that thrives on basics when compared to others, such as Facebook or Myspace, there are still dangers.

A lot of good can be done in promoting college athletics, one 140-character 'tweet' at a time. And a lot of bad can come from it, too.

"We're starting to find out that our student-athletes are starting to use it as well," said UNLV associate athletic director for compliance Eric Toliver. "Student-athletes and coaches use it for two different reasons. Student-athletes usually use it to kind of let other people know exactly what they're doing in life for social reasons, where the coaches are doing it for recruiting reasons. And there's two different issues with that."

The issue where coaches are concerned has to do with potential recruiting violations.

Just a couple of years ago, text-messaging between college coaches and recruits forced the NCAA to take action in cracking down on it. Now Twitter has led the NCAA to draw up similar guidelines.

The NCAA has outlawed college coaches from using @replies on Twitter to have dialogue back and forth with other users, since it can be viewed in the public domain. But direct messaging on Twitter was deemed by the NCAA to be the same as e-mail.



Kruger even went as far as to post the following message on his Twitter profile:

"So you know, not allowed to answer your @replies per NCAA rules. Pls keep the comments coming. Enjoy reading them and getting feedback."

The brunt of Kruger's tweets have to do with positive happenings around the Rebels program, as he's taken the same path as several of his peers -- using the social networking tool for promotional purposes.

"I like it because we're a new staff," said women's basketball coach Kathy Olivier, entering her second season at UNLV. "We want to send our message out there as much as possible. It allows us to talk about Las Vegas, and not necessarily UNLV. We only send those positive things, and it's been nothing but a positive experience for all of us."

Olivier expanded, saying her staff -- namely assistant Caitlin Collier, who is the group's most active tweeter -- uses Twitter to promote Las Vegas as a city by going against the stigma that recruits and their families may have about the city, posting messages about, for example, visiting Red Rock. There's also the option to talk about a program's positives, which Collier did with a tweet on Wednesday afternoon in reference to the team's new lounge, complete a flat-screen TV and a new mural of former All-Americans and postseason appearances.

However, Olivier knows that not everyone has the same agenda when there's an edge to be gained.

"They've kind of done that by now, there's guidelines you have to follow," Olivier said, referring to the NCAA's involvement. "Us coaches, we run those gray areas where you try to find those loopholes, and eventually, someone's going to find some loopholes. That's where the NCAA will probably catch up and make Twitter something that we're not allowed to use."

One example that Olivier pointed out had to do with singling out individual recruits. While a college coach cannot comment on a prospective player when, say, scouting them at a summer tournament, it could come to the point where they may identify them by their jersey number in a roundabout way.

Again, this is digging deep for soft spots in the system.

No matter what, coaches will always able to e-mail and call recruits. But if it got to the point where the NCAA banned the use of Twitter, who it would really affect are the athletic departments who as a whole, use the site to promote everything they do -- like UNLV.

"There's no question that it's becoming the norm," said UNLV director of media relations Andy Grossman. "We have an official account from UNLV athletics that is run by our department. I think it's just another way for athletic departments at the college level and all other levels to communicate with their fans, tell them what's going on and let them know what we're doing."

But updating that account isn't the only Twitter responsibility that Grossman and his staff carry. They also help monitor the Twitter accounts of the student-athletes within the programs they work with.

"From my point of view, it seems like Facebook is light years ahead of Twitter as far as our student-athletes using it, but more and more student-athletes are joining Twitter and starting that," Grossman said. "We kind of equate it to whatever they post on there, it's no different than them giving an interview to someone like yourself. It's no different than them getting on the radio and broadcasting it. We try and make them understand that it's open, it's public and it's all usable.

"If you're going to say something, make sure it's something you would say to your parents, your coach and make sure it's something you're comfortable saying to the world, because the world is going to see it."

Of course, kids are impressionable. And it might only be a matter of time before the antics of several notable professional athletes on Twitter carry over into the amateur ranks.

Some of those include Detroit Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva tweeting from the halftime locker room last season as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks. Outspoken Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco just recently was denied by the NFL when he requested to be able to tweet from the sideline during games this fall. And on Tuesday, the San Diego Chargers fined cornerback Antonio Cromartie $2,500 for a tweet criticizing the food at training camp.

As far as student-athletes behaving themselves on social networking sites, Toliver says UNLV is consistent across the board and has yet to have to put out any major fires.

In terms of education, the compliance department holds five or six rules meetings during the course of the school year for student-athletes that deal solely with what they can and cannot do on the likes of Twitter and Facebook.

Beyond that, student-athletes who use these sites are required to add a special UNLV compliance account as a "friend" or "follower," so they can be monitored.

Between the media relations staff and both graduate assistants and compliance assistants, the Rebels' online behavior is pretty well-monitored.

"We're gonna catch anything before it becomes an issue," Grossman added.

As it is, UNLV has no policies banning members of the athletic department from using social networking sites.

For some schools, it has come to that.

Either way, don't expect things to move backward anytime soon.

"I think regardless of what it is, it's something that's here," Toliver said. "I think good things can come out of it, but also, it makes some things challenging."

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