One of the more interesting/nefarious developments in college sports has been the advent, and subsequent explosion, of social networking. The advent of this stuff has cast rather a pall over the image of the student athlete in this era. It was very easy, and very common, to idealize the image of the student athlete in the past. In the 70's and 80's college athletes were sacrosanct to most of the public. They lived very strictly controlled and regimented lives. It was much easier for a coach in that era to completely isolate their players from the media and the fans. A coach could always put his best foot forward in regards to how his program would be portrayed, he would provide his best most well rounded student athletes as representation of his team and his program.
That's why Miami hit that era of Football like a runaway train. Howard Schnellenberger, and to an even greater extent, Jimmy Johnson made almost no effort to put their collective best foot forward. No one had seen anything like them before. They were so brash, so aggressive and so different to what the general public had been conditioned to expect from a Football program. Most people tend to fear the things they don't understand, and the general public of that era certainly had a healthy fear of Miami.
The Miami teams of the late 80's was the first time that individual players began to express individual personalities in the media. Previously teams were viewed to have personalities, USC was arrogant, Ohio State was stoic, Michigan was dour, Notre Dame walked with the weight of history, and on and on. In the context of that the idea of individual college athlete to wrap himself, very publicly, in a persona was a revolutionary concept. One that pushed the bounds of the system to the absolute breaking point.
That era of college football behind the carefully constructed facades was really the wild west. There were few rules in the NCAA handbook, and the rules that were on paper rarely, if ever, governed the behavior of the coaches or the athletes themselves. But like I said it was much easier to keep that kind of behavior under wraps than it would be today.
The first step was the advent of Scout, Rivals and the various team specific message boards. Which proved that there is always a market for sports information, even the kind of faux information which isn't information as much as it is a random amalgamation of words that can be given whatever direction or significance the individual reader chooses to bestow upon it.
So there has been this trend in all sports, but perhaps most sinisterly in college sports, where people want to know every possible thing about the players they cheer so adoringly every Saturday. Just as this trend to hit a critical mass of its own accord it was blindsided by the explosion of social networking. The Social Networking issue is pretty much a non starter at the professional level, short of Pac Man Jones tweeting "just made it rain in da club. now who wants to #goshooting?!" on that infamous Las Vegas night, there is almost nothng to be done about it.
At the college level it is a completely different. As Marvin Austin has proved pretty convincingly, one night of club based tweets can bring the reckoning down on an entire program just by shedding a little light. Things like twitter make it very difficult for any program to keep these kind of matters in house at all. The ramifications of the Austin incident quickly spread across the ACC and SEC. I have long been of the opinion that the NCAA's stance on amateurism has forced it to behave as if it is the worlds most inept fire department. The kind of fire department that shows up to a former house that is nothing but a pile of ash and smoldering rubble and then proceeds to dump 10,000 gallons of water on a massive pile of ash and say job well done.
However the NCAA has defiantly become much more savvy about these things than they used to be. But at some point they should become cognizant of the fact that looking too closely into the details of all the athletes under their charge, and more importantly their behavior, they will just be walking further and into their own black hole of destruction. The good folks in Indianapolis will step very confidently into the event horizon thinking that they are doing the right thing. The action that is always in the best interest of the student athlete. Meanwhile for the people watching from outside the black hole they will see the NCAA be torn into a million tiny little pieces as it disappears forever from the collegiate landscape. I am of the opinion that what has transpired on the UNC campus takes place all over the country. The NCAA can continue chasing those situations rabbit down the hole in perpetuity, or they can come to the realization that they are completely and utterly bankrupt as an institution. Balls in their collective court.
I don't really think that the behavior of the college athlete has changed all that much from the era of Jimmy Johnson's Miami teams until now. 18-22 year old men have always and will always engage in the type of behavior that Marvin Austin is currently being sacrificed at the alter of amateurism for. But the task of keeping that kind of behavior behind closed doors has become a labor worthy of Hercules. The actions of the NCAA in the UNC case is just their effort to say nothing to see here, please move right along. But today's fans are smarter and more sophisticated with more access to information than ever before. Anyone with a facebook or twitter account can dig as deep as they want to about their favorite teams and players and piece together whats going on with them behind the scenes in a few hours of digging. If anyone looked as closely the UNC situation at other schools they wouldn't find much of a difference. At this point the general public and the NCAA are sitting across a conference table in a tense, awkward silence, both equally aware of whats going on. Both know how big of a sham the NCAA's chosen standard of amateurism is in the revenue sports, but the onus is on Indianapolis to admit defeat on the matter. Day by day more light is shed on the shady underbelly of major college sports. It is just a matter of time before the entire corrupt system will come crashing down upon itself.