The past week or so's been a great lesson in why the overactive immune system that is the message board community is both a blessing and a curse to the mundo del futbol de universidad.
Without gettting too wonky or nut-deep in information theory and other things that will never, never get you laid, there's an ongoing debate about exactly what the role of the expanding, raucous internet medium surrounding conventional news media and wire services is. Some think it's a replacement, a leaner, meaner, more economical spout for information to flow through, both critiqueing and supplanting conventional media. These are the Glenn Reynlolds types of the worlds, the Instapundits who believe that in the future, the news will be whatever people post on the web followed by a single word: "heh," or "indeed," or maybe "RTWT."
Then there's everyone else, the people who aren't sure what it is but keep posting content and assuming that there's some kind of role for websites, and that it lies somewhere between posting pictures of fart jokes and fact-checking conventional media. Or perhaps it involves both. Speaking of...
Take that, Les Miles. You've been nailed by the new media!
Whew, that felt good. For everyone, Les included.
Back to the other thing the interweb can do: exchanging information of both the accurate and inaccurate variety. The past weeks been illustrative of the strengths and weaknesses of the online vetting and confrimation of stories. First there's the Avery Atkins story. Message boards were all over this story for weeks, bubbling with a persistent but surprisingly measured message that yes, Atkins was in trouble, but that things were still up in the air. We reached the fridge and actually pulled out our last moldy piece of respectability by calling the sheriff and seeing if Atkins had any warrants sworn out for him; he didn't, and that was all there was to be said.
In this case, message boards were spot-on, insisting in many cases that he was gone due to family problems three or four days before the major media got a hold of it. In other cases, though, message board communities can run 180 degrees in the wrong direction with a story with amazing consistency with existing fan beliefs. This tendency warps even further when the story has to do with a rival school.
For instance (clearing throat, assuming creepy movie guy voice here) :
Did you know that a NCAA official visited Auburn recently? Hmm...whaddya think THAT means, huh? COULD BE A VERY INTERESTING SUMMER IN ALABAMA ha ha ha ha...
Bama boards went--and are going--nuts with insinuation, innuendo, scuttlebutt and calumny about Auburn. This is nothing new, since football slander is in fact the third largest export of the state of Alabama (#2, Automotives, #1 Alabama Freshman OL Andre "The 8th Continent" Smith, who will be 7 feet tall and 420 rock-solid pounds by the time he graduates.) Never mind that the NCAA official in question is Rich McGlynn, an Auburn grad who was brought on to work in the compliance department.
A dream job for an Auburn grad with intimate knowledge of the NCAA's byzantine regulations governing football? Nope--a Bobby Lowder conspiracy to co-opt the NCAA's men by buying them off, that's what that is. Keep in mind that we're not saying we don't think there are Auburn boosters holding black masses and selling cases of AK-47s to janjaweed in Darfur to fund illicit activities--we would totally believe that about the strange, successful, and always shifty bunch of people who call themselves football boosters--but in this case blame Human Resources for selecting the perfect candidate for his dream job, not the Don of Opelika's endless, sinister machinations.