Steve Alford learned to play and coach collegiate basketball from the legendary Bobby Knight. Alford was a star in the heyday of Indiana University basketball at a time when Knight was at the top of his game. Alford learned a great deal from Knight. A recent Alford decision shows this influence in a profound way.
I actually saw Steve Alford coach at the NCAA Division III level in his first gig. He coached a small school in Indiana that knocked Wheaton College out of the tournament on our home court in a season (in the early-1990s) when Wheaton made the NCAA tournament for the first time in many years. My nephew was a star on that team. (Wheaton has since been to many NCAA tournaments and several years ago lost a heart-breaker to Washington University, St. Louis, on the Wheaton court. Washington U. won the tournament. That Wheaton team, led by the best Wheaton player ever, Kent Raymond, could have been the best team in the nation! It certainly was one of the two best.) After a small college coaching stint Alford was then off to Iowa, where he clearly had mixed success on the court in the very demanding Big Ten. I thought his stay at Iowa would be long and fruitful but it was not. His rigid style and approach did not work well in the end. Now he is the head coach at the University of New Mexico, certainly not a household name in Division I basketball.
Alford’s name surfaced a few days ago regarding social networking. I found the story interesting for a number of reasons. It is safe to say that Alford hates it. In fact he hates it so much that he does not allow his players to Tweet at all. And he only allows them to Facebook if their posts are monitored by his basketball staff. He is so consistent, for which you must respect him, that his own son, a walk-on freshman on the team, must abide by the same rule.
Alford told the Albuquerque Journal that any violation of his “code of conduct” could result in disciplinary action and after a third violation of his Twitter/Facebook rules the player could lose his scholarship. Wow, that is pretty serious determination to have this his own way. On most teams the question is how often you can get a DUI or drug charge dropped and still play. In most cases the answer is “several.”
If you’ve followed the development of social media in sports you had to guess that some coach would eventually institute such draconian measures. It is not surprising to me that Steve Alford decided to do it. He is, well, a lot like his mentor Bobby Knight. Which means he is rigid and reactionary to social change and any disagreement with his own views of things like social networking and its value or role in social life.
Understand that Bobby Knight won and won big, at least until he lost it. He self-imploded more than a few times. I don’t know about Steve Alford’s personal style of coaching but in this case he sounds more like Bobby Knight than most successful modern coaches, including the very good ones who have high ideals and standards for their players. As much as I personally would want to control what my young players did off the court I would not take these measures in the modern context. Alford might win this battle but I believe it will cost him a war. It seems to me that he believes his personal view of social media is not only right but that he is willing to allow it to become an issue as to who he will even recruit to play for him. He might be right about this decision (I doubt it) but there seems to be no clear way that this will allow him to relate to modern young men who play basketball and grew up using this technology. These kids grew up in this media culture, for better and for worse. Coach Alford seems determined to force them to conform to his own culture, from another era, if they are to play for him. I think he reveals, by this decision, that his increasing loss of touch with modern kids has taken an unfortunate turn. Controlling social media is a good idea. A good coach would take the time to teach his players what he expects of them in terms of off-court behavior. But a good coach cannot control the social life of his student-athletes. We have more than a few instances where this new expression of “free speech” has harmed young athletes and their teammates. Banning it altogether, however, will likely harm only one person – Coach Steve Alford.
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Ever since I attended a lecture many years ago by Neil Postman I have been enthralled by the effects of technology on society. Of course, at that time the Internet was still fairly new, and social media was not even inside the heads of those who would eventually create it.
Despite the ills of social media, when used properly, they have many good things to offer people. And I think the recent backlash by groups–like Anonymous–against those who would suppress the use of this technology shows what can happen when people take a heavy-handed approach against it.