Washington's Bizarre Social Media Cap Isn't on the Road to the Promised Land

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterNovember 14, 2012

EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 6: Head coach Steve Sarkisian looks out from the bench during the third quarter of the game on October 6, 2012 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. Oregon won the game 52-21. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

As social media continues to tear down walls and provide unlimited access to anyone interested, there are a handful of unhappy constructors still trying to rebuild these boundaries brick by brick.

College football finds itself very much in the crosshairs of this conundrum on a variety of levels. Twitter bans have been amended by various high-profile head coaches who aren’t interested in the potential headaches that come with having this outlet that’s always willing to listen.

Giving 18-year-olds a voice to express, well, whatever they please whenever they please has backfired before, which is why coaches will gladly cut off their access.

This is nothing new—and these types of bans will only become more prevalent with time—but the University of Washington is staking new ground in the battle against social media.

This time, however, the target has turned to the media instead of the players.

The University of Washington is limiting the amount of tweets a credentialed reporter is permitted to make during a sanctioned event. Todd Dybas, a beat writer for the Tacoma News Tribune, was covering Washington’s basketball game against Loyola Maryland on Sunday when he sent out the following tweet.

Also, tonight I was reprimanded by the University of Washington for tweeting too much during a live event.

— Todd Dybas (@Todd_Dybas) November 12, 2012

It’s wonderful that Dybas used Twitter to relay this slap on the virtual wrist, but his situation has unearthed a strange social media max that has been in place since the 2012-13 school year began. 

Twenty “in-game” tweets for basketball and 45 for football, that’s all you’re permitted if you’re a credentialed member of the media covering a Washington event. This is all covered in the “Live Coverage Policy” posted on the University’s athletic website, which can be found below.

Credential Holders (including television, Internet, new media, and print publications) are not permitted to promote or produce in any form a “real-time” description of the event. Real-time is defined by the NCAA as a continuous play-by-play account or live, extended live/real-time statistics, or detailed description of an event. Live-video/digital images or live audio are not permitted. Each of the aforementioned descriptions is exclusive to the official athletic website of the host institution (GoHuskies.com), the official athletic website of the visiting institution, and any designee of the UW department of athletics. Periodic updates of scores, statistics or other brief descriptions of the competition throughout the event are acceptable, as long as they do not exceed the recommended frequency (20 total in-game updates for basketball, 45 total in-game updates for football). Credential Holder agrees that the determination of whether an outlet is posting a real-time description shall be in UW's sole discretion. If UW deems that a Credential Holder is producing a real-time description of the contest, UW reserves all actions against Credential Holder, including but not limited to the revocation of the credential.

UW and its designated personnel shall be the final authority on whether a Credential Holder or Credential Entity is following the Live Coverage Policy. 

I believe my first and only response to something this bizarre, after sending out my 46th in-game tweet, of course, would be, “Why?”

Why limit the amount of coverage someone is giving your team and school in this forum? It’s free marketing, and if someone wants to post what he says from your press box, why are you choosing to stop him? Seriously, they (well, “we” to stand arms crossed and tough with my media brethren) are doing the work for you.

For those who do frequent Twitter on game days—my hand is raised so incredibly high at the moment—you know this routine well. Many of the beat writers you cover are situated at various locations throughout the day, some who will update each and every offsides penalty and converted extra point only seconds after it comes across your television.

Is it overkill, especially when sent in such mass amounts? Absolutely, but there’s an “unfollow” button that can solve this Twitter problem in an instant. You control your game day experience, even from your couch or phone because someone is there to relay it all. Or so we thought.

Scott Woodward, Washington’s athletic director, explained the rule on the Dave Softy Mahler Show in Seattle to justify this cap on media members (h/t GeekWire):

We’re always going to protect live descriptions of events. That’s something that has always been our right for decades and continues to be so. As technology gets better and better, we’re going to have to be more vigilant about how we do it, but also understand that reporting has changed, too. There’s a fine line there and we’re always going to be cognizant and reasonable.

Vigilant? We’re talking about a group of reporters, beat writers and media members simply doing their job, and yet we’re speaking about them like they’re divulging scores FROM THE FUTURE. 

Twitter is an extension of the media—it’s getting exceedingly larger, by the way—and the majority of fans tuning into this outlet aren’t looking for details on the three-yard run on second down. They want analysis, instant reaction and feedback from familiar voices that they read each week. 

If for whatever reason they can’t be by a radio or television, Twitter might be their best and only option. Should they be deprived of that? Of course not, and this kind of move to block this access isn’t going to help you get a juicier TV deal next time around, no matter what that gentleman in a nice suit tells you or what you tell yourself.

While Washington is looking to drive eyes and ears to the markets that they believe matter, Oregon has—much like its ever-changing uniforms—once again stepped out in front and embraced social media. And you thought it ended at those space helmets the players wear.

One of my absolute favorite follows on Twitter—and it’s not only because he sent me a signed Oregon cheerleader calendar recently, although that didn’t hurt—is Andy McNamara, Oregon’s assistant AD.

Andy is not only active on Twitter during the week, but he’s even more prevalent during the game. He uses the #GoDucks hashtag to organize his tweets, and his game updates intertwined with interesting stats, updates and details are unique from what anyone is doing. 

Some of this is simple feedback on a play, injury, or score update, but it’s not restricted to that. It can be whatever the game or moment calls for.

Ducks 3 & out. Too many 2nd & 3rd and long situations so far #GoDucks #UOvsCAL

— Andy McNamara (@McNamaraUO) November 11, 2012

This isn’t just a member of the GO DUCKS QUACK QUACK TIMES relaying the kind of information. This is someone within the Ducks’ glass castle who has access to the giant Nike Swoosh hot tub (I’m only guessing here) gladly passing along the kind of tidbits Washington is vigilantly trying to prevent.

Oregon’s football boom is no secret formula. The Ducks have won a lot games and been increasingly active in marketing their team and their players in ways well beyond dressing them up in the most outstanding laser-tag ensembles ever created. 

It’s paid off, obviously, and it will continue to pay off.

While Washington also has a fair amount of program momentum going under head coach Steve Sarkisian, I just don’t understand why one would want to limit the potential coverage.

If the Washington athletic department is truly worried about hurting the “traditional” media outlets, here’s an easy solution worth considering that will make everyone happy and bring in boatloads more money.



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