The power of the internet

Behold the power of the internet. That is what Arizona fans were confronted with on last Thursday night. One piece of bad information led to an entire fan base scrambling for information and the parties involved having to smooth things over. It also happens to be the second time the internet has caused problems for the Wildcat coaching staff this year.

The internet is a powerful tool. Obviously, if you are reading this it is something that you use to gather your information. It has transformed how the world does business, manages their homes and gets their daily news. We now live in a world where the next morning's newspaper contains old news. People can get a wealth of information at the touch of a button and don't want to wait until the 10:00 news.

It is also a world with varying editorial standards. Even on networks like Scout and Rivals individual sites have different standards for what they will report and what they want. Some will only use on-the-record sources, while some will report rumor an innuendo.

Increasingly web news services are using unnamed sources. ESPN, who seems to be in a never ending quest to break stories, uses numerous unnamed sources. Those same standards do no fly at more traditional media outlets. In Tucson neither the Arizona Daily Star nor the Tucson Citizen will use unnamed sources except in the most rare of circumstances. They will often lose scoops because they need someone to go on the record.

The unnamed source has created controversy. Now only the reporter is held accountable. The writer cannot point towards his source in defense of erroneous information.

Essentially this is what happened Thursday night when a report on another network claimed that Wildcat commit Jerryd Bayless had gone back on his verbal commitment to Arizona. This came from a national recruiting writer and was a nationally syndicated story.

There was only one problem, it did not happen, or at least not to the extent that was originally reported.

Bayless did not de-commit. If he told someone that he did, he certainly did not tell anyone connected with the University of Arizona. My sources (here we go with sources again) told me that the staff and Bayless had a lengthy conversation after the original story ran. Bayless told the coaches he was committed and that he never de-committed.

Bayless told that same story to several media organizations including Scout.com.

"I am still committed to Arizona," Bayless told Scout.com West Coast Recruiting Analyst Greg Hicks.

That is the power of the internet. Because the original writer got erroneous information, you'd assume from a trusted source, suddenly people all over the country and the world were scrambling to learn more about what was going on with Bayless.

I myself was blindsided. I was watching the Suns/Lakers game and logged on the computer after it was done. It was pushing 11:00 when I read the news. I was scrambling to find out why my sources did not call me. Only an hour later did I learn, they could not inform me because they could not tell me about something that did not happen.

At the time I did not know this and was scrambling to find out what happened. Without some kind of confirmation, I could not run a story. What was written on another network was not enough for me to go on. I had to have one of my trusted sources confirm or deny what was going on. It took almost an hour and several phone calls to get someone I felt comfortable enough with telling me he was still committed before I would put up a story.

Now, this does not mean that Bayless isn't wavering. This does not mean that Bayless couldn't change his mind. All it means was at the time of the story Bayless had not de-committed.

In fact a few days later the same reporter ran an interview with Bayless that indicated he was indeed still committed, but not closed to other programs.

Without an on-the-record source we don't know how or why the information became public. Did someone just make a mistake? Was it the case of someone jumping the gun? Or could it be something else? Could someone be trying to put some doubt in Bayless' mind by floating a rumor?

Since I don't personally know the writer and have no idea who the source was, I cannot comment. I don't want to attach a devious intent to the information, but it would not be the first time someone has used the media to manipulate a situation. This is not the first time something like this has happened. Many a site has gone on record with something that came from a source only to be wrong. Even the best of sources can give you erroneous, or partially erroneous information.

Internet message boards can even be trickier. Here you have a myriad of people, mostly anonymous, posting messages. Some are very dialed in, while others are as disconnected from what is going on as possible. In most cases it is impossible to tell who is who.

A few months back a message board thread started about Chase Budinger not being happy with his choice of Arizona and may want to play volleyball instead of basketball. It turned out to be completely false. Someone got some third or fourth hand information that had been corrupted and taken out of context and posted on the web. While it was never reported as fact by any media service, it was a lead that had to be investigated. The whole situation wound up being embarrassing to the Budinger family and caused a few restless moments for the Wildcat coaching staff.

What began as someone innocently wanting to break a story, became a headache to many.

Most are familiar with what has happened at Texas. When Chris Simms was the quarterback someone posted his telephone number on the internet and he was forced to get a new number because he was deluged with calls from fans, opponents' fans and critics.

A few years later Texas had to close their practices because a photo of an injured player that was taken with a camera phone was posted on a website. The photo went up faster than the Texas training staff could inform his family.

It will be interesting to see what will develop in the years to come. My guess is we will see people use the net to spread disinformation in an attempt to get their team an advantage. It would not be hard to damage the reputation of a recruit, a program or a player with a widely spread rumor.

I would also venture to guess that a major internet hoax could happen in the world of college athletics. There have been a few cases where fake information was leaked to find out if people were stealing information. One well respected recruiting analyst created a recruit years ago and within days most of his competitors were writing about the kid and some college coaches were claiming to have video of the kid. A few years later there was a host of e-mails about a Canadian recruits. One was a 7-2 small forward and another was a 6-5 quarterback who ran a 4.3 40. I am not sure if anyone ever bit on those rumors, but I did have to answer a few questions from fans who saw copies of the e-mails.

It has happened recently in the world of entertainment. It was not too long ago that a press release reporting the accidental death of actor Will Ferrell was posted on several reputable sites. Ferrell obviously did not die but it took several hours for the incorrect reports to be put to rest.

We live in a new age in terms of reporting, one that has a new set of challenges and outcomes. We learned that the hard way the other night. We may never know what exactly happened that night, or what the intent was. What we do know is that the internet is a very powerful tool, just one that cannot be completely trusted.


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