This week, MSU’s Athletic Director, Mark Hollis found himself in quite a conundrum with the NCAA for what some would consider a supportive message. More importantly Hollis’s actions bring forth a bigger issue, the NCAA Division I Manual is definitely antiquated and seriously in need of an update to take into account Web 2.0.

What happened was Trey Burke (Michigan Point Guard) tweeted about having to decided about entering the NBA draft: “EVERYONE got something to say . . . smh I thought this was my life!” Then, Hollis tweeted to Burke: “My advice, believe in YOUR heart & mind, everything else is interference. People u seek out is better than those that seek u.”

You may ask why is this such a big deal? Well, the Bylaw 13 states “An athlete staff member or other representative of the institution’s athletics shall not make contact with the student-athlete of another NCAA or NAIA four-year collegiate institution, directly or indirectly, without first obtaining the written permission of the first institution’s athletics director.”

Hollis’s comments left many upset including Michigan’s athletic director Dave Brandon:  “Mark Hollis had good intentions – but made a mistake. Not appropriate to tweet one of our student-athletes. Won’t ever happen again. End of story.”

While Brandon is correct that according to the current NCAA Bylaws, Hollis made a mistake and once again the Wolverine’s in Ann Arbor can pick on their little brother in East Lansing. However, there is a bigger issue here – social media is quickly changing and many of the current rules need updating.

According to Michael Buckner, a Florida attorney who has represented universities in NCAA investigations “It’s one of the things the NCAA and member institutions are struggling with,” he said. “The advancement in technology are coming much faster than the enhancement of the manual and the manual’s ability to grasp what you can and can not do. This is something very new to even me, but I don’t think it was an outright violation.” Buckner bases his opinion partly on the fact that Hollis did not have the intent and further, the Bylaw was set out to protect against recruiting in the event of a potential transfer.

It will be interesting to see how this matter unfolds over the next few weeks. Is Hollis and MSU going to be reprimanded for their actions? Or are his actions going to be found unintentional and not a violation of the Bylaws? The NCAA, as with professional sports leagues and each university athletic department need to embrace technology and begin to adapt to the new form of communication. Additionally, there needs to be Bylaws, regulations and policy created by the individual teams and athletic departments for how their staff, coaches and athletes should be utilizing social media. Additionally, the associations and leagues need to address how social media can and should be used in the day to day lives of the staff, coaches and athletes.

These and many other questions will continue to unfold in the world of Sports, Entertainment and Lifestyle brands in the near future, particularly some very interesting legal issues for collegiate athletics, including:

1. Should universities be policing social media of their student-athletes? Does this create more liability for the university?

2. Is the NCAA Bylaws up to date and take into account the current communication mediums? Further, what is the procedure for the NCAA reviewing these types of issues?

3. Who is advising Universities on their actions on Social Media? Do University’s need a Social Media Policy?

For answers to these and many other questions regarding Cyber and Social Media Law, contact the team at Melfi & Associates.


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