BCS teams thrive on Twitter, but can't go too far
NEW ORLEANS (AP)
Tyrann Mathieu logged on to Twitter at the urging of a teammate.
It didn't take long for the LSU star to realize the benefits - and pitfalls - of social media.
When Mathieu wrote a trash-talking tweet to a Florida player, the mainstream media quickly picked up on it. When he went on Twitter trying to sort out an embarrassing personal matter, the whole world quickly learned about the Honey Badger's business in 140 characters or less.
''It kind of got out of hand in the beginning,'' Mathieu said this week. ''I didn't really know the ins and outs of Twitter. I didn't know how it can get out there so fast. That's something I learned from. I kind of backed off from it. Now, I just tweet things that people don't really care about.''
While some coaches have banned their players from using Twitter or Facebook, those who made it to Monday night's BCS championship game - Les Miles of No. 1 LSU and Nick Saban of No. 2 Alabama - are more accepting of the social media revolution.
Well, sort of.
Rest assured, every tweet or post is monitored by someone on the coaching staff. If a player reveals inside information - such as injuries, game plans or disciplinary issues - he can expect a quick slap on his cyberspace wrist. Taunting an opponent, no matter how good-natured the ribbing might be, is frowned on as well. And everyone is reminded to avoid immature chatter that might seem OK to a teenager, but will likely turn out to be highly embarrassing down the road.
''There's no reason trying to incite any controversy on Twitter, especially with how big the college game has gotten and sports media in general,'' said LSU offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert. ''If you say the wrong thing, it's going to be snatched up just like that. And you can't take it back. That's something we always stress: Think before you tweet. With the Internet, once it's there, it's there forever.''
The free-flowing conduits of social media would seem directly at odds with a coach such as Saban, a control freak who demands everyone within the Alabama program follow his carefully scripted plan. Indeed, he has considered joining other prominent programs, such as Nebraska and South Carolina, that banned players from using Twitter.
So far, Saban has resisted the urge to clamp down on the Crimson Tide, though he does bring in a representative of the NFL Players Association each year to go over how social media is handled in the pros.
''I think it's much more effective if you can get people to do things the right way and understand the consequences of what they're doing than it is to say, `You can't do that,''' Saban said. ''I trust our players that they'll do the right thing. Yeah, you put yourself out there a little bit sometimes for somebody doing the wrong thing. But sometimes, those wrong things are an opportunity for everyone to learn, too.''
Saban did have to admonish a player who tweeted about a teammate's injury - before the school even had a chance to speak with his family. For the most part, though, the Tide has toed the Twitter line.
''You embarrass yourself when you put something crazy out there,'' defensive lineman Josh Chapman said, ''but you're also embarrassing the team.''
Mathieu, a Heisman finalist who plays cornerback for LSU, took offense when a Florida player said the Tigers secondary was ''not as good as advertised'' and that Alabama had the tougher defensive unit.
''I love the fact that Trey Burton from Florida opens his mouth and say OUR SECONDARY is not good, lol Boy you are Soft as cotton!'' Mathieu wrote.
Not good. Fellow cornerback Morris Claiborne, who had urged Mathieu to open a Twitter account, quickly advised his teammate to tone things down when jabbering to more than 87,000 followers.
''I just told him, `Hey, watch yourself,''' Claiborne remembered. ''`You're not just representing yourself. It's everybody on this team.'''
Both coaches recognize the benefits of social media, which not only allows players to stay in contact with family and friends back home but also provides a convenient way to reach devoted fans who've only been able to cheer them from the stands. Miles doesn't complain when Hebert goes on Twitter to brag about his video game exploits. Saban has no problem with his star offensive lineman, Barrett Jones, letting some 11,000 followers know that he'll be returning to school for another season.
''Within 10 minutes, I had like a thousand responses,'' Jones said. ''It's cool to interact with fans like that.''
Not always, however.
It's just as easy for someone on the other end to post a disparaging comment. It might be the supporter of a rival school. Heck, it might be one of your own fans who's upset about a loss or a poor play. Most are able to shrug it off. For some, it's not so easy.
''I had a Facebook account and got harassed,'' Alabama safety Robert Lester said. ''So I got off it.''
On the other hand, Crimson Tide linebacker Nico Johnson uses Facebook to promote his off-the-field passions: raising money for diabetes research - having lost his mother to the disease about a year ago - and working with disadvantaged kids.
Some players have no use for the social media phenomenon. Others are just technologically challenged, such as Tigers offensive tackle Alex Hurst.
''I don't mess with Twitter. It's really not my thing, and,'' Hurst said, somewhat embarrassed at sounding like someone's grandfather, ''it's kind of complicated, too. I've never been able to figure it out. I've been on Twitter a handful of times but I'm always like, `Man, how do you work this thing?'''
While LSU and Alabama will be on opposite sides come Monday night, the players are largely on the same page when it comes to social media. And luckily for them, their old-school coaches are somewhat willing to accept this new-age technology.
''I don't know what I would do if they took Twitter away,'' LSU punter Brad Wing said. ''I'd be pretty bored.''
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963