By Chuck Burton
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — On Saturday, it was a head-scratching lead-in on head coach Andy Coen’s press conference on Lehigh’s historic 40-38 win over Towson in the playoffs.
The consensus from the folks I talked to coming out of the room was: why would you lead the press conference with that question? It seemed like much ado over nothing – though none of us, it must be said, read the tweet in question, either.
Five days later, it broke that the NCAA would be suspending junior WR Ryan Spadola, and he would not play in Lehigh’s FCS quarterfinal game against North Dakota State.
This came in late Thursday from the NCAA Website:
“The football committee was very disappointed with the unsportsmanlike action taken by the student-athlete,” said Jim O’Day, chair of the Division I Football Championship Committee and director of athletics at the University of Montana. “This was a very unfortunate incident, but racially insensitive characterizations are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The offensive language of this nature by Mr. Spadola, whether intentional or not, was unsportsmanlike and discredited the championship overall.”
As already self-reported by Lehigh, Keith Groller of the Morning Call andmyself, Spadola’s sin was posting a tweet.
What had happened was the player was commenting on a social media post from another person, where he used a racial reference from another user’s post in a response with his name.
From there, it was spread by other users until it got onto the computer monitors of Towson fans and media, where it caused a ruckus – and ultimately led to his suspension.
There’s no question that the post was not a smart thing to do.
But did it merit a suspension from the NCAA over it?
Technically, Spadola broke no NCAA rule on social media, because there pointedly is no social media policy for NCAA participants in any sport. There are restrictions on coaches for using social media for recruiting purposes, but that’s it.
And it’s not like Lehigh didn’t do anything about the situation. Spadola was publicly reprimanded, the coach and athletics staff took steps to prevent things like this happening again. It was stated that Spadola broke Lehigh Athletics’ social media policies, and Lehigh dealt with those rule violations.
Spadola is the first NCAA player in any sport who has gotten suspended over a Twitter message.
Whereas the NCAA looks the other way when suspected major violations affect QB Cam Netwon, QB Terrelle Pryor, RB Reggie Bush or a countless supply of FBS players over the years, it sure is funny that the NCAA works so nimbly to prohibit a Lehigh football player from playing in the postseason due to a — at best — secondary NCAA violation involving an inappropriate tweet.
When Auburn, USC or Ohio State get suspected of major wrongdoing, the NCAA hems and haws, and only does something long after the bowls are over. But when they find out about a violation that’s not even, technically, a violation, a player gets suspended. It seems like nothing ever changes at the NCAA.