The world of college football recruiting can be a wild one. This past week, we got a reminder of how ugly it can be, too.
It all started two weeks ago, when a twitter account supposedly belonging to Homestead High School football coach Ahmad Ward announced that a certain recruiter was banned from the University of Florida. The twitter account, which has since been deactivated, followed up that tweet with another clarifying that it wasn’t the UF program as a whole that had been banned, but repeated the “certain recruiter” line.
And that appeared to be the end of it. OK, maybe Ahmad Ward had some sort of fight with said “certain recruiter” or maybe they just never got along. But Ward made it clear that he had no problem with the University of Florida recruiting his players, so no harm done, right?
Fast forward nine days later, to last Wednesday night. A Rivals message board post- written by a user named skibbyskibby who somehow claimed to have inside knowledge despite writing with the prose and logic of a four year old- asserted that the tweet was the direct result of a serious recruiting violation by a UF assistant. In part, the post reads:
Things are about to get very nasty with the NCAA. A recruit has a video of two UF assistants offering cash.
Going to get very interesting. The Homestead staff banned UF from their campus. Now, a video has been provided to the NCAA showing exactly why. Could be a death penalty situation. No school has ever been busted for such a blatant violation.
Immediately upon reading the post, two things set off my BS detector. One, the tweet from Ahmad Ward claimed that only one UF recruiter had been banned, yet in that short excerpt, the message board poster stated that it was “two UF assistants” as opposed to one- and what’s more, the post goes on to state that “Homestead banned UF from their campus” when again, Ward’s twitter account clearly stated that it was just the one recruiter who was not welcome. And two, Miami- the school that this poster roots for- has been guilty of far more egregious transgressions, not once but twice, while USC, SMU, and Penn State have all been hit with similarly bad stuff if not worse. It would take somebody quite uninformed to not know that, and someone quite delusional to think of it as the worst violation a school has ever committed.
Luckily, it wasn’t difficult to debunk. I traced the IP address of the initial poster back to the University of Miami campus (their medical school building, to be exact), which proved that the poster was in some way, shape or form affiliated with UM. That, along with some solid reporting work by Zach Abolverdi of SEC Country eventually helped kill the rumor, and expose the message board post for what it was: a sad attempt at a troll. And as it turned out, the poster himself admitted exactly that. There was no recruiting violation. UF did nothing wrong. End of argument.
Hopefully, this incident will be remembered as a badly crafted rumor and nothing more. If the troll was also responsible for creating a fake twitter account under Ahmad Ward’s identity, he failed to keep the facts of his own lie in order. If that really was Ward’s twitter and thus completely unrelated to the troll, the guy failed to understand simple English, math, or whatever else caused him to interpret “it was just one recruiter” as “the University of Florida was banned from Homestead High School.” Which unfortunately speaks volumes about the education level of the average Miami Hurricane fan given that so many fellow Canes fans believed it.
But the troll had accomplished his objective, at least in the short term. The seemingly damning rumor was then, in full, copied, pasted, and spread to every corner of the internet. Message boards from 247 to Reddit and everything in between lit up with threads about the idea that UF had been caught cheating. A quick search of the internet showed that within a couple of hours of its inception on Rivals, the post was copied into a Miami Hurricane Facebook group called Category 6, and that was how it took off; most of the message boards I discovered with the copy and paste jobs (among them ElevenWarriors, SECRant, and TigerBoard) featured threads created about the topic within an hour or so of the Facebook post, all by ignorant people who either failed to think logically about it or simply opted not to.
It also spread on social media the same way, thanks to an even more ignorant Georgia twitter account:
The rumor eventually reached high school recruits, prompting UF coaches to text them en masse to assure them that the rumor was false.
There are still a few sub-mysteries that remain unsolved, like whether or not that was really Ahmad Ward’s twitter account or just part of the Miami fan’s ruse (and because the account was deactivated, we’ll never know for sure), but thankfully, enough of the truth has been revealed that we can put the rumor to bed. In case this hasn’t yet been made clear, the University of Florida did not offer money to a recruit.
Now, though, there’s another problem. The clown who started the rumor has shown how easy it can be to start nonsense rumors in an effort to affect recruiting, and thus may have inspired or paved the way for more idiots like him to do the same in the future. And though Gator fans will likely be even more wary and skeptical of such a rumor in the future than they were of this one, there will always be those fans of rival schools who believe it, or at least pretend to, and incessantly hawk recruits about it. As if most recruits’ phones don’t blow up enough already. It’s a sorry world we live in where people care so much about recruiting 17 year old kids that this is what it’s come to, but, well, here we are.
Truth be told, I hate writing articles about internet troll jobs, and as far as I can remember, this is only the second time I’ve ever done it (after the Neil Cool disaster). I’d much rather talk about the sports side of things. Every now and then, I’ll take advantage of the dumbest portions of rival fan bases as free tickets to a virtual circus, but deep down, I can’t bring myself to care what people do or say on message boards most of the time. I just stay out of it, mostly.
But I can tell you, Mr. Miami Hurricane troll, that virtually nothing good ever comes out of lying, especially for fun. And the typical anti-troll lines like “you’re really that bored?” or “find something productive to do” don’t really apply to you, because this is worse than a typical troll. The long winded nature of your “bombshell” post, along with the increasing likelihood that you also faked Ahmad Ward’s twitter account, suggests that this was a multi-step plan dreamed up quite awhile in advance. That you would care that badly about where 17 year olds want to play football, and go that far to try to affect it, gives the Miami Hurricane fan base a horrible reputation. And the more Miami fans that believed it, the stronger that reputation grows. Good luck explaining to kids why they should play for such a fan base.
And while your response to all that would probably be that you don’t care what a Gator has to say, I’d warn you that it’s precisely this type of carelessness that made your program a dumpster fire in the first place.