Originally written February 01, 2013 on The B1g Time:
In light of the hit MT show "Catfish" and the ever present Manti Te'o saga, it's safe to say the world of online dating and some people's sick fetish with impersonating someone else, only to humiliate the person at the other end, has had a bright light shone on it. However, apparently at Michigan they're willing to take it a step further and "Catfish" their own student-athletes. Yes, you just read that right. Apparently, Dave Brandon found it necessary to test the wills of his football student-athletes (and their smarts as well) by tempting them with someone posing as an attractive coed through Facebook and attempting to arrange meetings with them as well.  What he found was that some of the men actually talked to the lady and some of those had "wholly inappropriate" conversations. Hell, some of those players were "shocked" to see her show up at a team meeting a few months later as well.  So, to recap the findings of this little "risk assessment" - Young men were contacted by a "Hot" (to use Brady Hoke's own words) lady, posing as a coed, and they acted like - you know.... young men?  Shut up, you can't be serious.... You mean to tell me that young men and women find each other attractive and could perhaps be lude or gross or heaven forbid try to build a relationship (sexual or not) with one another? Damn, where was I when all of this was happening back in my college days... Oh, that's right... engaging in you know, NORMAL COLLEGE BEHAVIOR. Like trying to find the hottest girl at the party or bar and talk to her, or make out with her, or heaven forbid date her.  STOP THE PRESSES FOLKS - men act on visual stimulation when it comes to women. That's a proven scientific fact. However, that's not what should really be the story here. All joking aside, Brandon's little "risk assessment" begs a larger question in my mind and one that should worry any potential student-athlete, let alone the victims of this at Michigan - Where do my personal rights to privacy begin and the right of the athletic department to try and protect me begin?  Where is the NCAA to step in and protect the rights of their student-athletes from this kind of crazy, hypocritical, activity from their "bosses" (for a lack of a better term)? I thought they always had the best interest of the SA at the core of their mission? Because, if you're telling me that any company (and let's face it, that's exactly what big time athletic departments have become) has the right to unknowingly spy on the personal time activities of it's "employees" not only do I, but the constitution of the United States of America have a problem with that. It's one thing if you are on a company computer at the office, or in this case, using the computers at the academic resource center to engage in these activities. By all means, the "employer" has the right to do whatever monitoring of you it sees fit in the online world. That's a basic tenant of smart business and C.Y.A. policy in general. However, when you begin to creep into monitoring, or as most rational people would see it, SPYING, on the people that are working for you on their own personal time - you've crossed a line that's illegal and dangerous. What's next? Are you going to make the student-athlete wear a GPS monitoring device that can only be taken off when they are practicing or competing in an athletic event?  After all, all you are trying to do is look out for their best interests and protect them from the big bad world that's out there. As if they couldn't possibly think for themselves or explore who/what they are? After all, isn't that what the collegiate experience has always been about? You know, fostering an atmosphere of learning and openness to new things? Lord knows they could be doing something stupid - you know, like 99.9% of all normal college kids. I mean, it's not as if their lives as student-athletes aren't structured down to a T enough, right?  But hey, it's all in the guise of doing "risk assessment," right? Don't believe me? Hey, just ask Dave Brandon.  What's the saying? "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Brandon had the best of intentions to help his student-athletes become more aware of the dangers of living in an online world, of that I have no doubt. There also is no doubt that we are living in a virtual world now more than ever. It seems at times that people and businesses are more connected to their Facebook pages and Twitter followers than they are to the real world. However, that doesn't mean that the changes are all bad. But, it does mean that we all need to adjust to the changing times and figure out what these changes mean to our daily lives. It also begs a bigger question for today's student-athlete's and their relationship with their athletic programs.  Do they (the student-athlete) have a right to privacy in their social circles? 20 years ago were players being banned from talking to fans or other college coed's on the street? No. Were athletic directors sending out plants to try and entice athletes into having a lude conversation or engage in other "wholly inappropriate" activities? Highly unlikely. If they were, that's called entrapment my friends and the last time I checked that's illegal.  So, what's the difference if they are hiring outside consulting firms to do just that in the virtual sense?  To me, there is no difference and once you start down this rabbit hole it makes you look really bad as an athletic department and as an American. See, last time I checked that was the beauty of America. You know, having the freedom and responsibility of making your own choices and living with the consequences of those choices - whether good or bad.  All I know is if I were a perspective student-athlete and this news came out, I'd be thinking long and hard and asking a lot of questions of all of my perspective college coaches and athletic directors about this very topic. I'd also be thinking real hard about going to a school that wants to spy.... errr do "risk assessments" for my own good. Sorry Michigan, if I ever had a son or daughter and Dave Brandon was still the AD there or this was the policy, they ain't coming your direction. You can take your spies... err "outside consultants" and stick them where the sun doesn't shine.  I mean, if you are going to really start to treat these student-athletes as you would employees in the outside world, perhaps it's time you start paying them at the very least? Oh, wait... that's not happening anytime soon I'm sure. Someone needs to stand up to these schools and say enough is enough - you've gone too far.  Look, I'm all for having social media monitoring - as long as it's simply looking at what they are saying and making sure they aren't doing things or putting up things that violate NCAA bylaws. Otherwise, who care what it is that they engage in online? It's their personal choice and last time I looked we still have those freedoms in this country, no? If you want to follow more of Andy's thoughts on this and more follow him on Twitter @andycoppens & make sure to follow us on Twitter as well @TheB1GTime. 
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