Pitt Football: Social media changes everything
The news that Pitt junior receiver Jon Baldwin was leaving school and headed to the NFL shot across the Internet so quickly Tuesday night that it was old news by the time most people woke up Wednesday.
Or maybe it was no news at all.
Baldwin reportedly told Chris Steuber of NFLDraftScout.Com via text message that he was headed to the NFL draft, and Baldwin also had some parting shots for Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti.
According to Steuber, Baldwin had sent a text to him saying: "Heck yeah I'm leaving. It can only get worse. They had me running a lot of deep routes [this year] and yards were hard to come by. I barely ran intermediate routes; it felt like they were purposely trying to disrupt my draft stock."
That meant a headache for Pitt's sports information staff as every outlet that covers the Panthers wanted to talk with Baldwin. By midmorning Baldwin's family had denied the report and Baldwin -- through a written statement -- said it was a mistake and that he regretted what he had texted.
But Baldwin wasn't the only player or person who went high tech to express frustration over the ouster Tuesday of football coach Dave Wannstedt. A number of his teammates used their Twitter accounts and Facebook pages to express their outrage over the decision.
Pitt senior offensive lineman Jason Pinkston, for instance, wrote via Twitter:
"These people don't know they made the biggest mistake ever letting OUR coach go. ... You've done so much for me and my family. I would never of had this chance if it weren't for you. I know my mother greatly appreciates what you have done for us. He didn't deserve this from a guy who only came and switched us from ADIDAS to NIKE. Thank you, God bless, hail to Pitt and coach 'Wann' and his family."
Others, some who claim they are family members of players and some around the university, expressed many emotions on the subject on various fan message boards and blogs.
When a number of other players, such as Cam Saddler, Chas Alecxih, Todd Thomas and Devin Street, posted their thoughts on Facebook or Twitter they were instantly posted on message boards and some were e-mailed to the Post-Gazette.
And therein lies the difference in the world of media and media relations today: Because there are so many different outlets and so many different ways to get the message out, the days of being able to control it are long gone.
E.J. Borghetti, Pitt's senior associate athletic director for media relations, spoke Wednesday about the difference in his job compared to five or 10 years ago when a breaking story -- like a coaching change -- happens. He said it is far more difficult to get players to understand that what they post on social media sites such as Facebook are part of public record and can be seen worldwide instantly.
"The days of needing a TV camera or a reporters' tape recorder to reach a wider audience are no longer," Borghetti said. "Nowadays, anyone can hold a one-person press conference from their own cell phone or laptop. We no longer have the benefit of working ahead of the late TV news or the morning newspaper deadline.
"Everything is immediate now, everyone is a reporter now, and making matters worse is the fact that one impulsive decision by a young person, even if it is just 140 characters on your Twitter account, can create a storm. We really try to reinforce that to our young people, but the misuse of social media isn't just a problem among young athletes, it is an issue in the pro ranks and really in many walks of life."
Chris Peak, the publisher of the Pitt fan site Pantherlair.com, is amazed at how much his job has changed because of the new social networking sites.
It wasn't that long ago that Peak's medium -- a recruiting website with a message board -- was the outlet that was pushing ahead of the curve. Now he finds himself having to make sure he has his eyes elsewhere just to keep up.
"It is amazing, the flow of information and the way people have the ability to spread that information and control their own message," Peak said. "It used to be I covered recruiting with a phone or even e-mail. Now, I need to make sure I go to Facebook and watch all of these recruits pages and follow them on Twitter because they are constantly updating their status, and often it has to do with who they are visiting or who has offered them a scholarship."
Baldwin's situation, as well as that of the others who took to the cyberworld, highlighted the fact that the players were frustrated and disappointed that Wannstedt would no longer be their coach.
But it also highlighted the dangers of tweeting, texting or posting to Facebook when emotions are high because, as Borghetti said, once you release it, there is no taking it back. After the Internet storm involving Baldwin, his father Jeff said that his son was "misquoted" and that there was "no truth to that report" that he was leaving Pitt for the NFL. Then, Baldwin issued a statement through the athletic department:
"Yesterday, I received a text message from a reporter at a time when I was very emotional. Because of everything that happened, I wasn't using the best judgment and am very sorry about the things that were printed. I love my teammates and coaches at Pitt. I have not made a final decision on the NFL draft. My only focus is on my commitment to my team and preparing to win our bowl game next month."
NOTES -- Wannstedt has still not informed Pitt whether he will coach the BBVA Compass Bowl but according to a source close to him he is leaning toward coaching it, mostly because he cares deeply about his players. ... A few names to emerge as potential candidates to replace Wannstedt are Temple's Al Golden, also a candidate at Miami; Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops; Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, a former Pitt defensive coordinator; Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen; Boise State offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Florida defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, a former Pitt player, has expressed interest.
• For the second time in a year, Urban Meyer announces his departure from the Gators.
First Published December 9, 2010 12:00 am