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“You can't have it both ways,” he said. “A lot of people don't want to acknowledge Hogville.net or any other website because it's not media — and we're not a news source. But if they don't want to acknowledge us having any information that's good, you can't turn around and say it's because of hogville.net that we don't have Coach Nutt anymore … If we weren't strong enough to voice opinion as news, we're not strong enough to run a coach off either.”
Though he has much the same faith in the validity of the boards, woopig.net owner Steve Jackson sees the Internet and talk radio as having had a real impact on the Nutt situation. Of all the people we spoke to, Jackson put it most flatly: without fan discontent and the new outlets that gave them a voice loud enough to be heard in Fayetteville, Nutt would still be at Arkansas.
Though not as big as hogville.net — the site counts around 10,500 active members — Woopig is older, founded in January 2001.
Jackson said that though the coaching scandals helped the boards grow in both size and prominence this year, it's really the availability of information on the Internet that's driving the message board phenomenon. Couple that with posters who spend countless collective man hours scouring the web for details on the Hogs, and you've got both a scandal machine and a real force to be reckoned with when it comes to generating news leads.
“With all the information on the Internet, you can find out information on what's going on anywhere,” Jackson said. “Late on a Saturday night, if you want to go look and see who has gotten booked at the Washington County Detention Center, you can. You might run across a Razorback player. Twenty years ago, I'm sure players were getting into stuff all the time, but nobody ever heard about it. Today, it's hard to sweep stuff under the rug.”
The true impact of the boards, Jackson said, was most fully felt in March, when a Razorback fan got Nutt's cell phone records from the university through the Freedom of Information Act, and discovered that, between November and January 2006, Nutt had made more than a thousand calls and text messages to a Fort Smith news anchor, Donna Bragg (Nutt eventually released a letter to fans saying any allegations of hanky panky between him and Bragg were false). The documents were soon online for all to read.
“The real information was out there for people to look at and formulate their own opinions,” Jackson said. “The traffic on the boards during that time was amazing, because people were either linking to the board where you could read about it, or e-mailing the actual documents … It gave people access to information they couldn't get before. Maybe the paper would have posted parts of it, but here, people got the whole thing.”
While some might consider stories like that a negative for the Razorbacks, Jackson says don't kill the messenger. “If nothing was going on up there for us to talk about, there wouldn't be anything for them to worry about. The message boards didn't make Coach Nutt send all those text messages. The message boards didn't bench Mitch Mustain. The message boards didn't cause Gus Malzahn to make a lateral move to another school. It's all the stuff that's going on.”