Sylvia Hatchell knew something needed to change.
After a promising start to ACC play, the North Carolina women’s basketball coach saw her team’s steady ascent up the national rankings come to an abrupt halt. Suddenly, a team that was averaging 79 points per contest was barely approaching 50.
Whatever the reason for the nosedive, Hatchell knew her team needed focus to overcome it.
So before the team’s road skirmish with Virginia Tech last week, the coach eliminated one of the Tar Heels’ greatest off-the-court distractions: Twitter.
“We just need to focus more on what they need to do with the team,” Hatchell said after UNC’s 56-37 win against the Hokies.
The victory came after the team’s worst loss in school history at Connecticut and a 52-47 upset loss at home to a 5-10 Clemson team.
“A lot of the communication after the Connecticut game from people just was a major distraction,” Hatchell said, “And they need confidence. They don’t need to be hearing it.”
Hatchell isn’t the first coach to express concerns about Twitter.
A familiar story
Twitter has been a focal point for UNC athletics since a tweet from former football player Marvin Austin aroused suspicion of impropriety in the summer of 2010.
The resulting NCAA investigation prematurely ended the collegiate career of Austin, among others, and could potentially jeopardize the football team’s future bowl eligibility.
Former UNC football coach Butch Davis levied a Twitter ban and former interim coach Everett Withers maintained it, but the school itself hasn’t required coaches to do so. In fact, in the University’s Sept. 19 response letter to the NCAA’s notice of allegations, the school denied any wrongdoing in regards to its regulation of social networking, calling the NCAA’s allegation “unprecedented.”
“The NCAA constitution and bylaws are silent with respect to any alleged institutional obligation to monitor the day-to-day communications of all of its student athletes on undefined and ever-multiplying ‘social networking’ sites,” the University said in its response.
But UNC does have certain broad policies in regards to social media use. For one, the University must be able to follow or befriend student athletes on Twitter or Facebook in order to ensure their compliance with the school and the NCAA, athletic director Bubba Cunningham said.
“Participation on teams is a privilege, and there are certain standards of behavior that we expect,” Cunningham said. “Some coaches have taken a harder stance, and we let them do that with their team. It’s up to the coaches to further develop that policy with the team.”
Since Cunningham replaced Dick Baddour as athletic director Oct. 14, student athlete Twitter use has continued to grab headlines.
North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston drew the ire of coach Roy Williams when he prematurely tweeted that he wouldn’t be available for the team’s Dec. 3 matchup against Kentucky. Hairston not only played in the game but also scored 11 points.
Yet the men’s basketball team continues to have a prominent Twitter presence.
More recently, UNC defensive end Donte Paige-Moss took to Twitter after UNC’s 41-24 Independence Bowl loss Dec. 26. The game marked the end of Withers’ term, along with the team’s no-Twitter policy, and Paige-Moss used the opportunity to air out his grievances with coaches and fans. The junior has since declared for the NFL draft.
Despite Paige-Moss’ rant, Cunningham said new head football coach Larry Fedora sees some value in Twitter use and will allow his players to keep using their accounts.
“He uses it more as a teaching tool and says, ‘Okay, here’s an opportunity for you to demonstrate you’re mature enough to have some responsibility,’” Cunningham said. “Obviously, Coach Hatchell doesn’t give them that latitude.”
A coach’s decision
For the North Carolina women’s basketball team, Twitter hasn’t necessarily caused the same level of controversy — at least not publicly.
But since the ban, the team has taken a clear turn for the better. After holding the Hokies to just a 25-percent shooting clip in their 56-37 win, the Tar Heels went on to snatch a 60-50 victory from rival N.C. State in Raleigh on Sunday and defeated Boston College 77-46 Wednesday at Carmichael Arena.
Maybe the change in fortune was simply a regression to the norm, but that doesn’t make Hatchell’s move any less justified.
“I think she took it away for a reason,” senior center Chay Shegog said. “We really haven’t been upholding the Carolina tradition … But I think it was easy to get us back on track.”
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