College sports information departments across the country just had their jobs become more difficult in the wake of the scandal popping at Notre Dame with Manti Te'o's fake dead girl friend.
There is little doubt about that after a brief visit with Arkansas sports information director Zack Higbee. He said his office already did checks that might prevent these type of stories, but they'll become deeper.
"We ask questions and we'll do a better job of asking more," he said. "We'll do a better job of taking notes. I can see where some of these instances would have caused us to ask more questions, but I'm not sure we would have caught this one."
Higbee said the UA sports information department has practice in some types of background checks on stories that the media is interested in telling about a players life. He said he saw several national media outlets check out the background of D. J. Williams a couple of years ago when there were stories about a father in prison and the details of what put him there.
This writer covered that story, starting with a prison visit in Arkansas where Williams told inmates of his father's story. That led to more national stories when Williams was named the John Mackey Award winner, given to the nation's top tight end.
"I know that most everyone checked prison records, the arrest history, all of the stories about his dad," Higbee said. "They were checked thoroughly. They wanted to do that before it was written. I am a little surprised that (the Te'o stories) weren't researched a little deeper.
Higbee has experience running Heisman Trophy media campaigns. He was SID at Florida when Tim Tebow was quarterback and worked closely with the national media as they explored those stories of mission trips and family background.
"You ask them questions and get into detail," Higbee said. "I think that experience helps us here (at Arkansas), but I guess you can only go so deep. I think sometimes you just have to believe the youngsters. At the same time, you never forget that they are 21 or 22 and that they haven't been through this and you have to be careful.
"I do think everyone across the country will be a little more careful and keep good notes and check them. You just are going to have to after this."
Will there be meetings on it? Will sports information departments share ideas and policies?
"Probably," he said. "I think as sports information directors, we'll talk. This is pretty incredible. You'd never believe it could happen, but it did."
The UA sports information department monitors interviews closely. Generally, a member of the SID department is close by during all meetings between student-athletes and media. Rarely do they intervene or say a word. But they are ready to help an athlete who gets into a tough spot in areas of privacy.
If questions get into game plans or injuries, sometimes they'll advise the student-athlete that it wouldn't be good to answer those queries.
It's an interesting time with Facebook, Twitter and other social media. UA student-athletes do have those accounts and would be easily reached by fans or those wanting to play a hoax. It's a good bet they get some coaching on them, too. And I bet they listen closely as more of the Manti Te'o news comes out.
State of the Hogs: Te'o
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