Bigger Rift: Ferentz/Barta & Iowa Fans, Or Perception & Reality?

Welp, today's Kirk Ferentz and Gary Barta press conference/evade-a-thon came and went, and while it might not have been satisfying to some (especially the rubbernecking types who really wanted things to get worse in order to validate their preconceptions), it was at least a way for Barta and Ferentz to address the horrible rumors surrounding the program in their own way. For better or worse.

Still, it was certainly just a little surreal to see Gary Barta up there talking about Iowa's drug testing policy for an aggregate of about half an hour, all while Kirk Ferentz groused about the Internet like some sort of neo-Luddite (except, y'know, he was right this time) and 80% of the reporters danced around the words "drug dealer."

So, how does the UI's official website title its transcript of the press conference?

Ferentz, Barta Talk Football

Okay, let's just ignore "adressed." Typos happen. We need to talk about "Ferentz, Barta Talk Football." Talk football? That's like saying The Wire is about wire.

The last thing Barta and Ferentz were talking about was football. Well, okay, that's not the last thing they were talking about--that would be something totally random like how many Four Lokos a Clydesdale can put down before things get a little too real--but as someone (and I wish I could remember who) pointed out, nobody was asking Ferentz about any fourth quarters yesterday, were they? Those guys wish they were talking football. They were talking drug policy and message control in the wake of a pretty large failure on both fronts. And of course, the UI's going to try to deflect the focus on that reality when it comes to sending press releases, but don't out-and-out lie to us, guys.

Ah, but that's not the only transparently ridiculous measure of damage control the UI did today.

HawkeyeSports.com, which is the 1980s-era Pravda of Iowa athletics, also issued a "State of the Union" after the press conference, excoriating pretty much everybody who has ever used the Internet for their role in this debacle, and if that sounds like an exaggeration, please, read on:

Here's a message for all the weblogs, internet forums, wikis and podcasts: the state of the University of Iowa football program is in excellent hands and the UI athletic program remains one of the nation's most proactive in terms of drug-testing.

[...] Never a fan of the internet or social media, Ferentz felt the need to clear the air with a press conference after reporters began calling parents of current Hawkeye players.

"That's really one of the reasons we got together today," Ferentz said. "I learned of some phone calls that were placed to some of our parents, some of the alarming content, just ridiculous questions they were asked. I'm not a huge fan of the social networks, but so much misinformation out there. I have no idea what's out there other than the feedback I got from maybe some parents; seemed like it was time to address this."

Now, look. As I mentioned earlier, Ferentz has a point; the disparity between what actually happened and what the rumors--which were as doom-filled as they were inescapable--suggested was imminent was so vast that Ferentz and Barta really had no choice but to hold this presser. If anything, they should have done it sooner. I heard things like 20 or even 27 suspensions coming, a massive drug ring involving [INSERT PRETTY MUCH ANY BLACK PLAYER REALLY] and several "prominate" local businessmen, every single player that was tested after DJK's arrest flunking his drug test, and more.

People, these things aren't true. They're lurid and shocking and the type of thing you hear and want to tell everybody about, but if Kirk Ferentz wants to turn this whole thing into a referendum on social media, he's going to win that fight without breaking a sweat. Message boards and social media are not reliable sources of good information. We don't report on them here at BHGP, we sure as hell don't at CBS unless it's from other professional media members, and we don't think any of you readers should be taking these rumors at face value until they're validated by someone with an actual professional reputation to uphold.

That said, this isn't the first time Ferentz has taken this tack, and the more the Internet proliferates as a medium of communication, the more he's going to come off as out of touch. Granted, that's hardly his primary concern now or ever, but he can easily hate the Internet without getting together with Barta and Iowa's lawyers to write that anti-Internet jeremiad thinly veiled as a "state of the union." Plenty of boosters, season ticket holders, and students use the Internet too, and they probably don't enjoy being told by the coach of their favorite team that they're awful people for wanting to find out more about the most jarring arrest in program history since Cedric Everson and Abe Satterfield allegedly sexually assaulted that freshman girl back in 2007. If Iowa wants to stem the tide of unsourced rumors, it needs to do a better job of setting the record straight offline and online, to old and new media members, and more quickly than holding some press conference and sending a bitchy press release six days after the shit started going down.

So whose side am I on? What's the point of picking one? The UI athletic department, for all its advances in using the Internet to promote its teams, proved itself to be extremely ill-equipped to deal with negative information and how fans cope with it online. And the way those fans cope with an absence of information is to pass along the worst things they hear. This is that fishbowl that drove Lute Olsen and his family out of Iowa City thirty years ago, and it's ridiculous. As athletic professionals, Barta and Ferentz need to be able to manage that. As supporters of the Hawkeyes, fans need to be able to keep their heads and not tell as many people as possible that DJK dealt drugs to all his friends while the staff pretended not to notice. Can we do that? Can we act like adults on both sides of the equation when there's even a hint of crisis? Please?

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