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Derek Redd: For NCAA, there are bigger problems than hashtags

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- We should all stand and applaud the NCAA today, as that venerable institution has rid college athletics of one of the great evils of modern times.

So, to the Great Hashtag Scourge of 2013, we say this: You never had a chance.

The association decided last week that member schools would be forbidden from placing hashtags on football fields.

For the non-technologically inclined, those are the cute little phrases that come behind number signs on Twitter feeds.

According to what Rogers Redding, the national coordinator for college football officials, told USA Today Sports, schools can place those hashtags on the sidelines, the walls and other sites in the stadium. They just can't put them on the field.

You know, the area on which the national and regional television cameras are transfixed for three to four hours each weekend.

The concern, in the NCAA's eyes, is those hashtags can become another form of advertising. And it can be ... for the schools. Mississippi State placed #HAILSTATE on its field almost two years ago and other schools followed suit. The NCAA apparently is worried that it might spiral out of control.

While no one wants to see #ChicosBailBonds plastered on anyone's football field, that also precludes Marshall from putting #thunderingherd or any other relevant hashtag on the Joan C. Edwards Stadium turf. Same goes for Pitt and #h2p, its shorthand for "Hail to Pitt."

In this ever-evolving world of social media, hashtags are becoming a quick, cheap and easy way to promote an athletic program. Not all recruiting budgets are created equal. So if something as simple as a hashtag can raise a university's stature - if it helps the Sun Belt gain a little ground on the SEC - shouldn't that university be able to promote itself where it's most visible?

Look what Florida Gulf Coast University was able to do with #DunkCity. Those eight letters helped make FGCU a nationwide phenomenon and didn't cost the school a dime. And the targets athletic programs are trying to reach the most - 17- and 18-year-old recruits - are some of the brightest stars of the Twitterverse, their noses buried in their smartphones.

Now, no one has said college coaches can't use those hashtags in their tweets. The NCAA just won't let their schools place them on the most widely seen 100-yard-long piece of real estate on their respective campuses. Apparently it's worried about over-commercialization.

Meanwhile, college football teams can play in bowls named after steakhouses and pizza places and department stores and chicken wing joints. And they can play those bowls in stadiums named after banks and for-profit colleges and investment firms. But that's ... y'know ... different ...

Or something.

Now some of you might consider this a mountain made from a molehill and you might be asking, "What's the big deal about this, anyway?" To that I say, "Exactly."

Doesn't the NCAA have more pressing issues to worry about? Its image has taken a significant hit with the missteps of its Miami investigation. And its UCLA investigation. And its Ohio State investigation. And its Auburn investigation. And NCAA President Mark Emmert decided the best answer was to growl at reporters at his Final Four press conference.

If that's the battle the NCAA is fighting, why in the world should it wear the badge of Hashtag Police? All that does is perpetuate the image of the NCAA as the Keystone Kops ticketing jaywalkers while the bank heist is happening right behind them. And didn't the NCAA make a big deal earlier this year about streamlining its rulebook?

If hashtags were important enough to legislate, it could have been done right. Monitoring the practice or keeping them school- or team-specific would have worked. And as college athletic budgets keep expanding, here was a way to allow schools to stand out without digging deeper into their pockets.

But the NCAA, in its mind, decided to squelch a problem before it actually became a problem.

Which might be the first time anyone was able to say that about the NCAA.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.


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