Tweet at your own risk

College football » Rules vary on fans' use of technology at games.
This is an archived article that was published on in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

You're sitting at a game that has been sold out for months and your team is ahead by a comfortable margin.

Since many of your friends couldn't get in, you tweet some play-by-play commentary of your own, even though you know they are watching the game at home on TV.

Unfortunately for you, an usher spies what you are doing and the next thing you know all you have to tweet about is being kicked out of the game.

Think such a scenario couldn't happen? Oh, it could, it just depends upon what stadium you are in and how vigilant security is.

As the popularity of Internet services such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs rise, so too do the efforts of some schools and conferences at curbing their use.

For instance, Utah and BYU fell in line with the majority of sports teams by banning media members from "instantaneous messaging" from their practices. In the past, the NCAA tried to curtail blogging from game sites, as did some schools.

Now, the new battleground stretches beyond the press box and into the stands.

Earlier this month, the SEC announced a policy that would have banned fans from producing or disseminating "any material or information about the event, including but not limited to, any account, description, picture, video, audio, reproduction or other information concerning the event."

That ban meant no tweeting, posting to Facebook pages, sending out Youtube videos, et cetera.

After an uproar from fans and media outlets, the SEC softened its policy to state that "personal messages and updates of scores or other brief descriptions of the competition throughout the event are acceptable."

However, game action videos are still prohibited.

The SEC also revised its media policies after the controversy, conferring with organizations including The Associated Press Sports Editors and American Society of News Editors and giving media outlets more flexibility in Internet coverage, use of photographic images and blogging rights.

While Garry D. Howard, the APSE president and assistant managing editor/sports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, welcomed the more media-friendly adjustments, he predicted the disagreements between conferences, fans and media aren't over.

"The fact that the SEC adjusted its credential is a good sign for our members," he said. "We certainly feel that other conferences may attempt to constrict our coverage in a similar manner, but we will definitely fight back."

The SEC maintains the policy exists to protect the broadcast rights for CBS and ESPN, which are paying the league $3 billion over the next 15 years. The league also has its own SEC Digital Network.

Other conferences have watched the battle in the SEC and have formed their own opinions of what should and shouldn't be restricted.

Unlike the SEC, which creates a member-wide policy, the Mountain West Conference allows its member schools to form their own guidelines.

While Utah banned "instantaneous messaging" from practices, no such restrictions will be placed on the media or fans at the games, according to Liz Abel, an associate athletic director who also serves as the school's sports information director.

"In my opinion, you don't try and stop something you can't," she said. "People can watch games on TV, gametracker, listen on the radio and other places and get exact up-to-the-date information, so I don't really know what the benefit is in trying to stop fans."

However, what is allowed at one school or sport may not be allowed in another one. For instance, the MWC does have a policy in place for its basketball championships.

The conditions on the back of the ticket state, "holder shall not transmit or aid in transmitting any description, account, picture or reproduction (whether text, blog, data or visual) of the event to which this ticket is issued in any media now or hereafter existing. Breach of the foregoing may result in legal action against the holder."

Javan Hedlund, the associate commissioner who oversees media relations for the conference, said the policy exists as more of an insurance policy than something the league strictly enforces.

Like the SEC, the MWC believes the policy is needed to protect its broadcasting rights and therefore is more concerned about play-by-play descriptions on public sites such as Twitter or Facebook.

"We're not searching for phones or that type of thing, but it basically covers us and our rights to our products," he said. "If you catch somebody you can say, 'Hey, you can't do that.' "

Hedlund said such dilemmas over what should and shouldn't be monitored among fans and media members will continue as schools and conferences struggle to keep up with the ever-changing new forms of media.

"I remember sitting in meetings only a few years ago wondering how to handle Internet writers," he said. "Three years later, Internet writers are the easiest things to handle, they're just like the other media. But two years after that, we were wondering what to do with bloggers, now it's fans. The challenge now is how to monitor and protect the student-athletes and protect the brand, but you still want information about yourself and the league out there."

What can you do in the stands?

Utah » Fans and media members are allowed to blog and tweet during games.

BYU » Fans and media can blog and twitter as long as the descriptions aren't of every single play. Last year, the school used a guideline of allowing 10 tweets/blogs per quarter.

Utah State » Fans and media are allowed to blog and twitter unlimited amounts.

Conference events » MWC doesn't allow play-by-play descriptions at its conference events such as the basketball tournament. The WAC has no such restrictions.

Utah State at Utah

Rice-Eccles Stadium Sept. 3, 7 p.m. TV: The Mtn.