The human-machine duopoly that produces college football's Bowl Championship Series (BCS) standings has turned coaches into politicians and fans into lobbyists. And in a recent case, one such "lobbyist" took to the Web to influence the coaches via online mischief.
The story started when the polls and computers selected the LSU Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide to play in the BCS National Championship game on January 9 in New Orleans.
As always, this selection was not without controversy, especially as the two teams played each other during the regular season for what many considered a boring defensive outcome. As a result, many experts and fans were against an LSU-Alabama sequel, even though the two teams are believed to be the best two teams in the whole of college football.
The Oklahoma State Cowboys tried to ride this wave of expert/fan discontent when they thrashed the Oklahoma Sooners by 34 points and clinch the Big 12 championship. An informal poll conducted by ESPN showed that 80 percent of Americans preferred Oklahoma State to Alabama as the opponent for LSU in the championship game.
One fan decided to take to Wikipedia to generate an online buzz that he hoped would affect the coaches voting in the polls.
One of the arguments against putting Alabama in the title game was that it failed to win its conference. So this Internet mischief-maker edited a Wikipedia article and inserted a quote Alabama coach Nick Saban supposedly made when he was the coach of LSU: “Anyone who doesn’t win their conference has no business playing in the national championship game.”
If that quote were indeed by Saban, it certainly would have come to haunt him now and probably undo all the nice political talking points he had made for his team to get the chance to play in a second title game in three years.
As it turns out, there was no recorded evidence he ever made those remarks. The Wikipedia article used as its reference for that supposed quote a column written by Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Dec. 8, 2003, titled “Saban ready for Oklahoma.” Burwell was one of many experts against an LSU-Alabama rematch. When he was alerted to the Wikipedia article, he was perhaps hoping that that quote was indeed true. However, after reading it, he had this to say:
Man, that’s a great quote, isn’t it?
There’s only one problem with it. There’s a good chance Saban never said it, because I have scoured the Post-Dispatch archives and my personal computer and office files and failed to find this quote in any article I ever wrote, or for that matter in the column that was listed as the source of the supposed quote.
Oh, how I wish it was legitimate, but it seems to be a fabrication of some Wikipedia mischief maker.
I can’t say this was a shocker, but it leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. As someone who has edited a few Wikipedia articles, I have always ensured that I do justice to the articles by staying completely within the body of knowledge for that particular topic. I am not Wikipedia’s greatest fan, but in the past I have read all Wikipedia articles with a grain of salt. In the future, my interactions with any Wikipedia article will be with a bucketload of salt.
— Paul Whyte is a Fulbright Scholar and was recently awarded a PhD in civil engineering at Michigan Technological University.