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Bobby Petrino and social media prove a bad mix

By Terence Moore, Special to CNN
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Fri April 13, 2012
Bobby Petrino was fired as Arkansas head football coach after failing to reveal a relationship with a female member of his staff.
Bobby Petrino was fired as Arkansas head football coach after failing to reveal a relationship with a female member of his staff.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Social media is playing a role in some of the biggest college football scandals
  • New media have created a slew of investigative reporters among average citizens
  • Arkansas fired Bobby Petrino for not disclosing his relationship with female employee

Editor's note: Terence Moore is a CNN contributor and a sports columnist of more than three decades. He has worked for The Cincinnati Enquirer, The San Francisco Examiner, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and AOL Sports. He's on Twitter @TMooreSports.

Atlanta (CNN) -- Where have you gone Walter Cronkite, and why have you been replaced by the likes of woopig.net?

Well, at least in the world of sports journalism.

Bobby Petrino is no longer calling Hogs at the University of Arkansas, because somebody by the handle of "hoggrad" on that popular woopig.net website for Razorback fans first reported that the Arkansas football coach wasn't exactly watching game film that evening.

Let's just say Petrino was the April Fool on the first day of this month courtesy of a motorcycle, a crash and a blonde.

Then along came a police report, a lie and a firing.

Arkansas fires Bobby Petrino
Students react to Petrino firing
Bernie Fine accuser tells his story

The story began on woopig.net, with much help from hoggrad, whose new handle should be Woodward or Bernstein.

We're in a different place, folks. That's because new media have created a slew of investigative reporters among average citizens through personal blogs, Twitter, YouTube, talk-show radio, cellphone cameras and recorders, Facebook and fan websites.

As a result, those who run professional sports teams have combined with athletics directors on the collegiate level to use a new approach regarding highly successful coaches, managers and others involved with scandalous situations: They whack them.

Not only that, they whack them immediately, before their franchise or university gets embarrassed by several more waves of comments at the end of somebody's Internet post.

Petrino fired as Arkansas head football coach

"All of this (instant reporting of scandal) in regards to how it relates to the electronic media has certainly heightened the information and interest and lessened tolerance," said Georgia Tech athletics director Dan Radakovich, who has worked for big-time intercollegiate athletic programs for nearly three decades. He also is on the executive committee of the Division 1A Athletic Directors' Association.

These intentional and unintentional scoops by nonjournalists go beyond college sports. It's just that the Petrino situation and others have placed those on campuses in the forefront of it all.

"(Electronic media) certainly has sped up the process. Before, it may have taken a lot longer to make a decision (on whether to fire somebody). You had to talk to a number of different people before you felt like -- or the organization felt like -- they had gathered enough information to be able to make a reasonable or rational decision," Radakovich added. "Now I think that all comes a lot quicker. And, in some ways, there's an expectation that the decision should come quicker. I just hope that in these circumstances that the gathering continues to be thorough and that all sides of the issue are being reviewed."

No problem there.

In January 2003, everybody saw many sides of Larry Eustachy, and it wasn't pretty. The Des Moines Register ran a photo of the former Iowa State basketball coach drinking beer and kissing women at a party near the campus of the University of Missouri after an Iowa State loss.

The Eustachy photo was the first in a string of high-profile sports scandals broken by a random person.

Electronic media has certainly heightened the information and interest and lessened tolerance.
Dan Radakovich, Georgia Tech athletics director

This one started when a reporter for the Register clicked onto a link on an Iowa State fan site that eventually led him to a fan site for the Missouri Tigers. Moments later, the reporter saw pictures in living color of a plastered Eustachy. They were posted on the site by a Missouri student who snapped the pictures at the party.

The Register acquired the negatives from the Missouri student, published the photos, and Eustachy was fired.

That same year, ESPN received an audiotape of a 2002 telephone conversation between the wife of Syracuse associate head basketball coach Bernie Fine and a former team ball boy. The tape featured Fine's wife, Laurie, confirming to that former ball boy, Bobby Davis, that she knew he had been molested by her husband.

The tape came to light at the end of last year, and among other things, it contributed to the end of Fine's 35-year tenure under legendary Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim.

There also was that 2010 tweet by former University of North Carolina defensive lineman Marvin Austin. It talked of parties and gifts for North Carolina football players, and those revelations led to the Tar Heels receiving NCAA probation, vacating two seasons worth of games and the firing of popular coach Butch Davis.

Eustachy. Fine. Davis. Their firings were in contrast to what university bosses did in the past to guilty but effective employees: nothing.

OK, little. If the situation was bad enough back then, university bosses might deliver a private or public reprimand. They might even clench their teeth while issuing a fine, a suspension or both.

But firing such a person? No way. Not if we're talking about that generation's Petrino, who isn't in line to become the next pope, but who has those worshipping (as in giving financially to) the University of Arkansas as if it were the Vatican of college football.

Petrino had a 21-5 record during the last two of his four years at Arkansas, and one of his Razorback teams earned a berth in the coveted Bowl Championship Series for the first time in school history.

More impressive, Arkansas was picked as a contender for the national championship this season.

If that isn't enough, Arkansas plays in the Southeastern Conference, where life revolves around breathing and football. So, if this were 20, 30 or any of those years before "tweet" meant more than what birds do, Arkansas officials would have shrugged over Petrino lying about being alone, when he left a ditch on the side of a rural Arkansas road with four broken ribs and a cracked vertebra after he crashed his motorcycle.

College suspends woman in Bobby Petrino crash

They also would have covered their ears when their 51-year-old coach later confessed that he was riding with a 25-year-old female employee of the university named Jessica Dorrell. And that he hired Dorrell under dubious circumstances. And that Dorrell wasn't his wife or the mother of his four children. And that he gave Dorrell a $20,000 gift at some point for unknown reasons.

Finally, did we mention that Dorrell was engaged to be married in June to Josh Morgan, the director of operations for the University of Arkansas women's swimming and diving team?

Woopig.net surely did.

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