We are coming upon KSR’s 11th Anniversary this fall and sometimes I can’t help but feel as if time just keeps passing by. That is especially true when I find pictures like the one above…this was around 2006 or so when we first decided to start promoting KSR at UK Football games. The crew above included most (although not all) of the early writers, the KSR girls who walked around tailgates promoting the site (in custom-made jerseys that were not of the highest quality) and a random guy who I don’t know (the guy on the far right). We were kind of a rag-tag bunch back then, I was much chubbier and had worse hair (if that’s possible) and we had no idea what was to come. But in many ways those were the most fun days as we just wrote whatever wanted, consequences be damned. It was a great time to be a blogger, back when no one knew what that even meant.
But now things are slightly different as social media has changed everything and the rise of KSR means that we have to be careful what we say because it does have repercussions. Posts that were made back then (such as the epic time when Drew’s account was legitimately hacked and someone posted something that were it to come out now, we would be the subject of nationwide Twitter scorn), would be received very differently now. And with that comes the rise of stories that are handled much differently at this point. Case in point, the rumor that went around the internet this weekend about trouble with UK Football. Back in the day, stories about what was going on “behind the scenes” in UK sports almost always started on the internet, and usually on message boards. These discussion threads often contained people that legitimately knew what was happening behind the scenes and posting under made-up pseudonyms (such as Freshshava, TCCat, CarolinaWildcats and some dude named Magloire52), news came out that virtually always beat the major media sites. I got my start on such forums and I will always have soft spot for them. What happened over time usually was that a poster would come with information, everyone would be skeptical and if it proved true, then said poster would get vaunted “Insider” status and be believed more in the future. It was a meritocracy of sorts and those that really knew what was going on (which usually meant they talked to an equipment manager, former player or Tubby’s secretary) became the real go-to people of UK’s internet world. Plus if something was too outlandish, message board moderators could delete it and police the worst of the excess. It was free-flowing but with a bit of control.
Now things have changed. Message boards aren’t quite as popular as they once were as people have instead moved to the world of social media. Blogs such as KSR can still be centers of UK-related information, but now any individual can push their “news” or “scoop” via Twitter and with just a couple of Retweets, it can enter the public’s mind. Without the “status” of a media platform or a history of postings as with message boards, there is no way for the public to know for certain whether the individual knows what s/he is talking about and thus rumors that would have once been quickly dismissed, now take on a life of their own. This happened with the UK football rumor over the weekend and put me (and others that cover UK in a difficult spot). After speaking with people around the program, I am convinced that there was no truth to the rumor in any fashion. But as the days went on, I kept getting asked about it more and more, thus showcasing to me that it was spreading. So what do you do? If you say nothing (as I chose to do from Saturday through this morning), then people see that silence as proof of “something going on.” A look at any UL message board today will show threads of UL fans convinced that the rumor must be true because “UK reporters aren’t saying anything.” I have received 20 different versions of the comment “you report on UL scandals but ignore the Football one at your school!” on Twitter from #L1C4 fans in the last few days. This mindset ignored the possibility that (GASP!) the whole thing was just made up to begin with and silence was considered proof. Such is the world we live in.
So today I tweeted out that there was nothing too it…others soon followed with similar agreement and to any reasonable reader, the whole thing can be put to bed. However others said to me, “you mentioning dignifies it and makes more people look up to see what was being said.” This is no doubt true and I am sure there are many of you that have done the same thing. But I am not sure how else to handle the situation…in today’s world there are no newspaper editors, message board moderators or blog writers who can make a rumor go away. If people want it to proceed it will…so it seems the only way to make it disappear is to acknowledge it…a PR 101 mistake in the old days that now seems to me to have been turned on its heels.
All of this brings me to the UK Hoops issues of the last few weeks. Everywhere I have gone people over the last month, people have asked me some form of “So tell me what’s REALLY going on with UK Hoops.” There is a distinct mindset shared by many…maybe even you. With all the dismissals and departures and the team down to just a few players and a new staff something MUST HAVE happened that is a bombshell that people don’t know yet. I will be honest, I thought the same thing as the story first broke. But I have spent a good deal of time over the last two weeks talking to former players, administrators, reporters and others trying to find if there is something else really going on…and honestly I just don’t think there is. In fact, if I were to summarize what I think caused the UK Hoops issues, it is this:
Matthew Mitchell over the last couple of years got away from what made him have success. In a number of different areas, his management of the program dipped because of mistakes in judgment and action. He spent less time around the players as he became involved in secondary issues and spent more time with his family. He relied on his (new) Assistant coaches to fill in for his role when he wasn’t around and because he didn’t cultivate those relationships properly either, they did not fill those voids. Mitchell has always been a tough coach, but like Calipari has/had with Orlando Antigua and Kenny Payne, Mitchell relied on his Assistants to be “good cops” to his “bad cop.” His initial assistants did that well but the more recent ones did not, in part because their relationship with him was not strong. As he drifted from the team, he wasn’t able to see morale/player issues developing and the success on the court made him ignore/dismiss the problems that he did see. Over time the situation grew worse and when four players left last year, rather than deal with the overall change, each was dismissed as “an individual problem.” Then when it happened again this year and a staff overhaul occurred as well, reality smacked everyone in the face. He lost his team and now has to work to get it back.
After a lot of time spent looking into the UK Hoops situation, the above is my conclusion. But there will be many who simply dismiss this offhand. I understand that mindset. But as I recently said at an event, I would equate the problems over the last two years to the dissolution of a relationship. Sometimes when two people break up, it is because of an explosive event, like one spouse cheating on the other. However most of the time, there isn’t a moment, but rather a gradual parting of the two parties due to small acts or mistakes that add up over time. Not every divorce is scandalous…many end because of the slow, methodical act of simply falling out of love due to a culmination of events that viewed individually, might be relatively minor. That is what I think happened with the UK Hoops program and Matthew Mitchell. The relationship became frayed slowly over time, not in one major scandal.
Is that the answer that the Internet (and many fans) want to hear? Maybe not. It is a lot more fun to speculate online, assume the worst conspiracy theory and then when its your rival, bring them down with continued innuendo. But often the truth is much more boring than most wish it would be. People focus on the UL scandals that I have talked about over the last few years (Ware/Behanan, Pitino/Sypher, Katina-Ramsey-Pitino-Behanan-Montrezl-T-Will-Minardi Hall ceiling-Coach Mike…well you get the idea) but they overlook the many I have been told that I never mentioned because I thought they were likely false. But that is just my filter and the filter for others, especially in the social media world, may be much different. The days of ignoring rumors or waiting for verified sources to dismiss fan chatter are basically gone…once people talk about it, then it becomes a story, whether or not it is true. To me the best way to handle it, is to acknowledge and deal with it. That is the new reality for media and those in the public eye, as the two situations with UK Football and UK Hoops have shown these last few days.