First, let me say that I am sorry for calling Travis Haney names. It was wrong of me.
I use the anonymity of the @Oversigning Twitter account to help keep the discussion on oversigning instead of the millions of ad hominem topic changes oversigning defenders aggressively deploy, in their attempts to obfuscate whenever the topic is raised by opponents. (Try condemning oversigning to an Alabama fan sometime, and watch how fast he asks what school you went to. It’s pretty comical, really.) But given that anonymity, it is not fair of me to call Haney names. So I apologize.
I trust that Haney is a nice and generally good guy. The media members that have defended him make it clear he is a good dude. I don’t doubt that.
That said, I still very strongly disagree with what Haney has been doing lately. My frustration with what he is doing didn’t just spring from wanting to pick on a random media member.
Here is the background on how all this came about…
In early January, I tweeted Haney, asking if he knew what was up with the rapidly rising number of commitments in South Carolina’s 2011 recruiting class. It had become clear that South Carolina was going to be well oversigned, so I was curious as to how South Carolina coaches were explaining this, if at all. Haney privately responded to me to say that South Carolina coaches had told him that several players were likely to be grayshirted from the 2011 class. He added that the coaches had told him that these players had each been informed of this possibility. Haney wasn’t following my Twitter account, so I couldn’t respond in private, so I responded via public tweet to thank him and ask if he could follow up with the coaches to get the names of the players who had been told they may have to grayshirt. Coaches are not allowed to discuss specific recruits until after National Signing Day, but many will speak off the record to answer specifics on such questions. I wasn’t asking Haney to report the names publicly but to simply, as a journalist, check the coaches to make sure they weren’t just spinning him away.
(A relevant aside: Greg McGarity, the University of Georgia athletic director, in echoing Bernie Machen’s strong condemnation of grayshirting as an oversigning tool, said this last week about coaches who say they have been upfront with recruits about grayshirting:
“It’s a head-scratcher,” McGarity said. “I think the thing you focus on is, ‘What kind of conversation are you having with these young men and their parents up front? Are you making them aware of all the dynamics that could occur?’ I think the majority of the time that’s probably not the case.“
That is exactly why I was asking Haney to ask South Carolina coaches, off the record, for some specifics that might help reveal to him whether the coaches were being honest.)
Haney responded to my suggestion, again privately, to say that “recruiting” wasn’t his job. I tweeted back to him that my question wasn’t simply about recruiting. My question was concerned with the behavior of the South Carolina coaches, given that they appeared to be engaging in a behavior that many officials, fans, and media members have strongly condemned as unethical. Haney didn’t respond but simply blocked me from following him on Twitter.
OK, fine. Whatever. Pretty standard operating procedure among local SEC beat writers unfortunately. As Nick Saban and Alabama associate athletic director for football, Jeff Purinton, showed when Ian Rapoport asked questions in 2008, oversigning coaches and school officials in the SEC don’t take kindly to such meddling. At all. So Haney knows that such questions are likely to get him ripped by South Carolina coaches and school officials, who will make his job very, very difficult if he wants to press them. And going public with their evasions would only bring Haney all kinds of heat from South Carolina fans. He’d likely become something of a pariah with many South Carolina media members as well. No one likes a young punk messing with their favorite team’s coaches, of course.
So, realizing the guy just doesn’t want to get his head cut off or lose his job, I moved on from Haney. South Carolina was going to oversign, young, likely poor African-Americans in the South were going to get screwed by a Southern institution led largely by powerful white men (not that such historically relevant details matter I guess), and Travis Haney wasn’t that concerned… but then again, he’s certainly not in the minority among South Carolina media members and football fans in that regard, so, whatever.
Weeks went by, Signing Day arrived, and sure enough, South Carolina was oversigned by multiple players. Both the Oversigning.com community (with input from South Carolina fans) and GamecockCentral.com (Rivals) pegged South Carolina at 5 oversigned (with another major recruit likely still to sign). Same old, same old… except that a brief mention of some additional and odd details from a local reporter (Phil Kornblut) caught my eye. South Carolina had decided, the day before Signing Day, to pull the offers of two long-time commits: Lorenzo Mauldin and Jordan Montgomery. Kornblut didn’t have many details in his blurb, but it sounded like Mauldin and Montgomery weren’t academically qualified. But quite a few other South Carolina commits were also rumored to not be academically qualified. And Jadeveon Clowney, believed by many to eventually sign with South Carolina (as he did a couple weeks later), was also rumored to not be academically qualified at the time. So what was going on with Mauldin and Montgomery? Why were they the two to have offers pulled… and why did South Carolina coaches wait till the last moment to let them know they would not be getting LOIs for Signing Day?
The next day brought the spin of the South Carolina coaches on the situation. And it came via Travis Haney, in a report loaded with excuses and downplaying of the highly questionable behavior by South Carolina coaches. Basic questions of why the coaches handled the process this way were not asked. Huge holes in the coaches’ explanations were uncritically advanced as fact. Anonymous sources (almost surely South Carolina coaches) piled more onto Mauldin and Montgomery by saying they weren’t academically qualified and that Montgomery had injury issues. And so on.
I ripped Haney’s spinning and downplaying of the situation a few days later. Some of his media friends, whom I respect, quickly jumped to his defense to argue that he was simply reporting what the coaches had said. I argued that his report went way beyond just reporting what some coaches said, and I still believe that to be the case. At the very least it could have been worded a whole lot more cautiously, and it could have included questions or answers concerning very obvious holes in their story. But Haney is just a reporter and not a columnist I was told, so I was asking too much of him. I disagreed, but I saw the point, and again we moved on.
But then, just a few days later, Haney wrote an opinion piece in The Post and Courier that blasted Jadeveon Clowney for his indecisiveness and delay in choosing a college. In the article, Haney asked numerous very critical questions of the high schooler. So apparently Haney – after all the refusals to ask tough questions of South Carolina coaches, after saying that recruiting coverage isn’t his job, after all the downplaying of highly questionable behavior – has no problem strongly criticizing and questioning public figures. He would simply rather do that with voiceless high schoolers than with powerful coaches backed by millions of fans and state institutions.
So, after I highlighted the Mauldin/Montgomery situation, and after I and at least one active Twitter follower of mine reached out to people at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chip Towers responded that he was concerned by the situation as well and he quickly highlighted the case in a Feb. 15th blog entry on AJC.com. Towers then reached out to the players and finally tracked down Mauldin to give him a voice on the story. Towers’ report was published yesterday, and while he pointed out that Mauldin (who being a ward of the State of Georgia has few good options) still hopes to join the friends he has made at South Carolina someday, Towers noted that Mauldin said he felt he had been “shoved away” by South Carolina coaches. Towers also raised the obvious questions about how South Carolina handled the situation.
Towers’ report was very balanced, well-researched, professional, and gave a voice to a voiceless player whose side of the story had gone unreported in the face of the South Carolina coaches’ spin on the situation. Commendable journalism by Towers and the AJC. The story was then highlighted by many others, with South Carolina’s behavior being condemned by most, including several reporters who rightfully ripped me for calling Haney a fraud. (Andy Staples, who strongly defended Haney and condemned by abusive tweets, said that there was “no doubt” that South Carolina coaches “did Mauldin dirty.”)
Oversigning is exactly what Bernie Machen and Greg McGarity have publicly called it recently: morally reprhensible and repugnant. There is absolutely no excuse for it, and any reporter seeing it should be going after the coaches engaged in it with tough questions.
But it was also wrong of me to anonymously call Travis Haney a fraud. He’s a good dude, and his friends in the media are ample testament to that. I am not sorry for strongly challenging him to ask questions of the South Carolina coaches and officials engaged in this morally reprehensible behavior. But I shouldn’t have called him names and won’t be doing it in the future.