Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Jan. 2, 2008 — the day after the Cotton Bowl. Somewhere, the Razorback football team is weeping into their jerseys and bemoaning the newly minted Curse of the Red Legs following a 38-7 drubbing by Missouri.
Even at that, the end should come as a relief. The Hogs have done fair to middlin' this season, ending up 8-5 and winning a berth — win or lose — in the best bowl game they've made it to in years.
Off the field, however, it has been A Season in Hell.
If you've read this far, you probably know some of the things I'm talking about: The e-mail napalm dropped on then-quarterback Mitch Mustain by Coach Houston Nutt's pal Teresa Prewett (and the ongoing lawsuit over the university's handling of the incident). The unhappy exit of both Mustain (to USC) and UA defensive coordinator Gus Malzahn (to Tulsa) — and the fan discord that festered in their wake. The like-clockwork stories of Razorback players getting arrested, on charges ranging from shoplifting to credit card fraud. Coach Houston Nutt's 1,000-plus text messages to That Other Woman. Repeated rumors that Nutt was history. Fans upset and motivated enough to pitch in and hire an honest-to-god airplane towing a “FIRE NUTT” banner over the stadium — an anonymous effort that Nutt eventually called “gutless.” All that, and the eventual firing/resignation/going-away-party for Nutt, who — much to the chagrin of the Nutt Busters — came in for a pillow soft landing, handed a $3.2 million severance package (paid for by the private but ticket-supported Razorback Foundation) before being scooped up by Ole Miss faster than you can say “Platinum Parachute.” Need I say more? Ears bleeding yet? I could go on if you'd like. No?
What connects all these sad tales — either by way of their sordid conception or the chatter that kept them alive long enough to germinate and spawn into real news — is that a very good argument can be made that they all came to us via what might best be called the fan-based media: blogs, message boards and sports talk radio. In the last five years, the boards and sports radio have grown faster than the Duggar Clan. Hogville.net, the biggest Razorback-themed message board on the Internet, boasts 28,000 active users. In December 2006, less than four years after it was founded, the site logged 12.6 million hits, with visits by over 100,000 distinct computers a month.
Though the message boards regularly feature fibbing, bullshitting and outright lies that would put a Smackover used car salesman to shame, they're also where nearly every major story in Razorback football last season broke — stories that quickly trickled down to sports radio and (as much as some old school reporters seem to hate it) television and print coverage. Newspapers, which devote the most dollars to reporting, often found themselves dead last, by 24 hours or more, in reporting major news developments.
As for whether those on The Hill at UA are really listening, coaches and administrators talk a good game about ignoring the growing din. That said, if there's one truism about public officials of any stripe — maybe going all the way back to the time when a few of them lost their heads after a certain “Let them eat cake” remark — it's that they tend to keep their ears to the ground when it comes to the grumbling of the peasant class.