In the 24/7 news cycle, it's incredibly easy to get caught up in the raging waters constantly flowing downstream. Events that happened last week seem like a year ago and last year seems like another lifetime altogether. Every now and then though it's worth taking a break from the neverending rush to look back and examine the anatomy of a story more closely to better understand the current sports, news, and media environment.
One of those stories is the sensational rumors and reports of Nick Saban being the new head coach at the University of Texas.
A week ago, The Internet was all aflutter that Nick Saban would ride into Austin, Texas as the all-conquering messiah of the Texas Longhorns football program. The story moved quickly from "crazy rumor" to "hey this may actually have an outside chance of happening" to "HOLY $%#! this could be real!" rather quickly.
How the story evolved from rumor to report to retraction is a prism through which the entire sports media landscape of 2013 can be viewed.
It began with the reports of Mack Brown stepping down at Texas and creating a job opening in the first place. Given the original source of the report (Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com) and the follow-up (Brett McMurphy of ESPN) there was now clearly a Saban-sized hole in Austin.
But in spite of the rumors, there was nothing definitively linking Saban to Texas aside from some real estate maneuvering and desperate dot connecting.
Until Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram stepped in. Stevenson, the paper's TCU beat writer, reported on Twitter that Saban to Texas was a done deal in this tweet that set the ball rolling. As you can see below, it's only saved via manual RT because Stevenson deleted the original.
Hahahahahaha dude… RT @FollowtheFrogs Source close to Texas executive council of regents says Nick Saban will be next Longhorns coach.
— Flash Recinos (@Recispieces) December 11, 2013
After the tweet spread like wildfire, Stevenson was silent for a while. His next tweet was a contender for Backtrack of the Year. Not only did he question his own reporting, he said that he didn't have enough information to write a story on the matter. How does someone feel confident to tweet a report, but not write a story about it considering this would be the scoop of a lifetime? In hindsight, perhaps we can see why Stevenson ran away so fervently from his fateful Saban to Texas tweet.
If I had more information to write a story I would have. Source was very confident. I'll believe it when I see it.
— Stefan Stevenson (@FollowtheFrogs) December 11, 2013
I have no vested interest in Texas' next coach. Just reporting what a reputable source is claiming. No linked story, not fishing for hits.
— Stefan Stevenson (@FollowtheFrogs) December 11, 2013
Stevenson was far from alone in causing the Saban to Texas story to snowball. Specifics of the deal were reported by Oklahoma City sportscaster Dean Blevins. He had a Texas source that said Saban was offered $100 million over 10 years and a piece of the Longhorn Network.
Texas source tells me: "Saban sitting on 10-yr deal worth $100M & 1% of #LonghornNetwork." Smart way 2 get cooperation w non-stop TV cams
— Dean Blevins (@DeanBlevins) December 10, 2013
Even though Blevins didn't say Saban had accepted the contract, having those numbers in public view added legitimacy to the reporting of Stevenson. Having those individual pieces floating out there in the Twitterverse caused individuals to put the puzzle together on Saban leaving Alabama for Texas being a fait accompli.
There was more though. An Oklahoma football site, Football Brainiacs, put forth the strongest reporting on Nick Saban agreeing to terms with Texas and that it was a "done deal." They even stressed that their sources were "very good."
We have word now from two trusted sources that Nick Saban to Texas is a done deal. One of the sources said the money he will get is substantial (obviously) but we haven’t got any word on what that number might be.
UPDATE: for those asking for exact dates on when this is going to happen. We don’t know. We are telling you what we know which is that we have two very good sources that have told us that Nick Saban is going to Texas and one of the sources said that the money is going to be substantial. We would not have run this unless we trusted the sources.
We received word from one source saying it was going to happen and then we contacted a second source asking for confirmation and the second source confirmed. That’s what we know.
I'm surprised Texas Source missed out on being named SI's Sportsman of the Year.
In 2013, everyone with access to the internet or social media has the ability to be a reporter and break news. That's the central reason why the Saban rumors and reports gained traction with the masses. Let's not forget that Deadspin broke arguably the most memorable story of the calendar year – Manti Teo's fake dead girlfriend – and beat every single mainstream outlet to a huge expose right beneath their noses. Who broke the Washington Nationals acquiring Doug Fister from the Tigers? SB Nation Daily Dish writer Chris Cotillo. A high school student. Ohio State blog Eleven Warriors reported they were 99.7% sure Urban Meyer would become the new Buckeyes head coach in 2011. Meyer went on TV and denied it. Then he became the new Buckeyes head coach.
In that light, it was entirely possible that Stevenson, Blevins, and Football Brainiacs could have been right. Possible, but still unlikely.
And that's where the gap still exists in the 2013 sports media. Taking a step back – how likely is it that a TCU beat writer from Fort Worth would beat Chip Brown, who has broken nearly every major news item from the Longhorns, to this story? How likely is it that an Oklahoma City sportscaster would beat Brett McMurphy? Or an Oklahoma fan site getting the scoop ahead of Yahoo? None of those gentlemen are based in Austin. You wouldn't expect a Detroit Free Press columnist to break news about Derrick Rose or an NBA beat writer in Portland to get scoops on Kobe Bryant. Perhaps all these individuals had good intentions and Texas Sources ran amok and led them astray. Nevertheless, it's pretty unrealistic to expect a sportswriter to jump to an entirely different beat in an entirely different town and break the sports scoop of the year.
So why did those people in those places drive the Saban to Texas story? We're more connected than ever before. A rumor in one town can become a report in another town which becomes repeated and recycled on blogs with national followings. Tweets from Fort Worth are retweeted around Texas, then the south, then the nation. The interconnectedness of social media means stories travel faster and farther than ever before. And, with the salacious nature of Nick Saban leaving Alabama for Texas, any inkling of a deal was going to be feasted upon by the sports world like ravenous sharks sensing a drop of blood in the water.
That interconnectedness is a great thing, but it should also lead fans to be more careful than ever before when it comes to breaking news. Yes, some forms of new media are going to break stories in this environment and have just as much reporting capabilities as mainstream outlets. And with more reporting, more sources, and more stories than ever before that sheer volume means some of them aren't going to turn out to be true. That's not so much an indictment of individual reporters as it is the current state of media. Even the best reporters may stub their toe every now and then and stories can certainly change – see the fluidity of Brown's resignation for example.
Perhaps the takeaway from the Saban to Texas firestorm is for everyone to take a deep breath, stop, and consider all the pieces of information at hand in this infinitely expanding media landscape. That's easy to see in hindsight, but how many of us will take the time to look back when the next big story is already on the horizon.