The Oregon Club of Portland and the Internet

Is information put out at a booster club luncheon sensitive and if so do booster club members have an obligation to keep quiet about what they have heard?

While attending the weekly Oregon Club of Portland luncheon last Thursday I heard club president Michael Schindler give a strong admonishment to attendees to "get off the Internet." He was speaking in regards to attendees taking information presented at the luncheons by Oregon athletic department personnel including football coach Mike Bellotti and then spreading the information on sports fan-based Internet sites. He cited that taking notes or using recording devices during the luncheons was prohibited and suggested that if attendees wanted to share information received at the event with others to use their "telephones".

Although Schindler's words could have perhaps been phrased in a more meaningful way, I understand his intentions perfectly. In the heat of the excitement of the game film replay or Ken O'Neill's door prize jokes or Bellotti's Q&A session, fans might incorrectly recollect a point made. Or, they may take a comment made out of context, or match a quote with the wrong speaker or reveal some small detail that in the hands of Oregon's opponents could prove to be "counterproductive".

I know working from experience as a journalist that reporting correctly isn't easy. You must be objective, responsible, and have an eye for detail. You have to double-check your facts, your sources, not to mention your spelling and grammar. Quoting people correctly takes some practice. Fans with the best intentions who write as they speak in conversation may fall into any number of traps that could have far-reaching effects once their "take" is cut-and-pasted on multiple Internet sites.

For example it was posted on one of the eDuck message boards recently, "Zoomer says, ‘we're ready'." The poster was speaking of comments made by Oregon assistant head coach Neal Zoumboukos at an Oregon club luncheon held outside of Portland. Now the question is, were those actually the words used by Zoumboukos? Was it really Zoumboukos who spoke at all? Now obviously I admit this specific quote doesn't represent locker room bulletin board material. But it may be that Schindler and members of the Oregon athletic department fear the next attempted quote might. Worst yet, what if some out of town reporter somewhere used such a comment under the guise of "reportedly, coach Zoumboukos stated…." Now of course this is hearsay and no reputable journalist would subscribe to such a practice particularly in regards to anything potentially controversial but I have seen it done by those known within journalism circles as using "yellow" tactics.

I do know that members of the Oregon athletic department are particularly sensitized to information posted on the Internet. Probably where this fear was first publicly realized was prior to the 1999 Michigan State game when a reporter from the Fighting Duck Review posted notes regarding plays he saw in a closed practice on the journal's Internet site. Later, after the game was played, Michigan State coaches reported that they had read those notes and accordingly developed counter measures as they prepared their game plan. Coach Bellotti publicly admitted his displeasure in this leak of confidential information.

Being an inquisitive mind, I asked coach Bellotti at the conclusion of the Oregon Club of Portland luncheon if there was another outbreak of a Michigan State-type situation behind Schindler's comments regarding the Internet. He said not that he was aware of, but he also said he doesn't personally read the Internet. When I asked Schindler what prompted his comments, he pointed me in the direction of Duck athletic fund director of development, Chris Bjork. Bjork told me that the comments were actually prompted by detailed practice reports getting posted on a private email list, not the Internet at all. I suspect that members of the private email list believe that because it is private they can be much more forthcoming in the sharing of information. They may want to now take note from this experience that such activities are under scrutiny regardless of whether they are operating off the Internet.

For my part, I can't see much difference between something that is spoken over the telephone from something that is conveyed in an email other than the email is in writing. I also have trouble with broad-brush negative comments attributed to the Internet in general. If critical comments are going to be made, I think they should refer directly to the specific incidence and Internet site in question.

Perhaps a more disturbing thought is how can a fan club or an athletic department enforce Internet behavior or control the use of comments made at their events and functions? One can argue that fans have a right to speak their minds short of libel and slander. After having some experience in this matter, I believe that Oregon fans that subscribe to eDuck do act responsibly when it comes to posting information they have received directly from official sources. Furthermore, when coaches or others have characterized their comments as "not for print," fans tend to respect those wishes right alongside of working journalists.

Unfortunately, fallout of all this could be that coaches will have to be more guarded in what they say at fan club meetings and events. I don't think it is reasonable to think that athletic departments can quit supporting these events as such appearances are critical to a school's mission to market their program and generate donations. But if a fan is willing to plunk down cash for tickets, parking, lunches, club benefits, tailgates, raffles, auctions and donations, they are also probably going to want to talk about their sports interest with like-minded individuals and groups on email lists and yes, on the Internet. And unfortunately, fans can't always distinguish between what is deemed sensitive information from other information.

In the end, I have a feeling it will be the clubs and the athletic department staffs that will have to make any process changes to accommodate today's ubiquitously used communication media not the other way around.

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