In case you missed it, Pitt fans got to have a bit of fun on Twitter yesterday.
The Panther faithful hijacked a Twitter thread designed for fans to ask questions of Arizona State coach and former Pitt coach Todd Graham at Pac-12 media day on Tuesday afternoon, Within an hour, the #AskASU hashtag became one of the top trending stories in Pittsburgh on the social website.
Initially set up by the Arizona State social media director to take serious questions for the first-year Sun Devil coach, the #AskASU thread was quickly bombarded with hundreds of “questions” from testy Pitt fans.
Graham, who unceremoniously left Pitt for Arizona State after one year and informed his players by text of his decision, was derided for everything from his high-octane offense to his lack of loyalty.
The hashtag was the No. 2 trend in Pittsburgh on Twitter by mid-afternoon Tuesday, getting upwards of 20 new tweets every minute. There were roughly 300 “questions” in the first hour and the traffic increased rapidly after that, drawing interest from national college football writers.
Deadspin posted on the bit too. A lot of credit should go to the guys at Cardiac Hill, who really led the dog pile of fun then kept it going. Some small factual corrections/background to the story, though, is needed.
It started shortly before Fraud Graham was to have his turn at the media day presser. Where the national media had their own jokes ready.
ASU coach Todd Graham beginning his session now. Eager to see whether he stays for the whole 20 minutes.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) July 24, 2012
Believe me, there were several along this line. Graham is now a running joke for more than just Pitt fans.
Now, this #AskASU thing was actually for each school. It was a Pac-12/Fox Sports idea.
if you want to ask a coach or player a question at Pac-12 media day, use #ASK[team initials]
— Lisa Horne (@LisaHorne) July 24, 2012
It’s just that things never go as planned with these sort of hashtags.
Todd Graham is up at the podium. If you have a question for him, use #AskASU
— Lisa Horne (@LisaHorne) July 24, 2012
And as the hilarity ensued. Getting noticed everywhere for the way things went awry. Well almost everywhere…
Hey! #AskASU is trending! woot woot!
— Vykky Hawkins (@VykkyHawkins) July 24, 2012
That was the social media person for ASU. Well, I guess if you believe all publicity is good publicity.
Even some players noticed. Like Devin Street.
But it was not to be.
Now that’s just a shame, because back when Fraud Graham made his slink out of Pittsburgh, Devin Street was crushing him on Twitter. Helping to set the narrative that is now permanent on Graham.
Graham had only been at Pitt for one season before bolting, and his former players took to Twitter to let the world know how they felt about it. Among the tweets were the following:
“For someone who said they read the bible everyday, he must’ve missed the pg that said ‘thou shall not lie’,” tweeted defensive end Brandon Lindsey.
“He wanna preach so much he needs to read “Thou shall not lie,” tweeted wide receiver Devin Street.
And while Street and other Pitt players clearly got instructions later this year about being a little more careful on Twitter, Pitt had no problem letting them loose back in December.
The players’ reactions via Twitter provided a fascinating dynamic, especially since the school didn’t try to ban them from commenting or minimize the response. College administrators often make heavy-handed attempts to diffuse charged situations. Pitt, which was also angered by Graham’s actions, did not.
“There was a period of time for about three days where we wanted to allow our young men the opportunity, for a lack of better term, to vent,” said E.J. Borghetti, Pitt’s senior associate athletic director for media relations. “You had a lot of people who were hurt and disappointed, feeling shock, anger and maybe even some sadness. It was very emotional. We were not going to put a gag order on our kids. We didn’t give them any ground rules or parameters. We only told them, ‘Don’t lower yourself because someone else did. We trust you to use your best judgment in representing our university.’ Ultimately, moving forward, I don’t know what you would gain [by putting them under a gag order].
“And we were largely pleased with how the guys handled themselves. I sincerely do believe if you treat people like adults, they’ll respond.”
Borghetti, 42, said it was eye-opening from an observational standpoint to read on Twitter about the players’ mindset.
“It’s amazing how you can get a truer sense of what they’re thinking and feeling on Twitter than if they are sitting across the table from you. It’s almost as if they’re more liberated that way. It is a strange phenomenon.”
Having given the players the freedom to tweet and speak freely added to the Fraud Graham story in a way all the columns, posts and talk of hypocrisy, double-talking and overall skeeviness that goes with the coaching carousel couldn’t.
It helped to fully lock-in that Fraud Graham has no loyalty except to himself. That he was the bad guy. That he would say anything, but not mean it. He has tried several times now to reset the narrative and failed miserably. In no small part because social media allowed the players to lay bare how it impacted them.
Because social media could lay bare how he used the same speech over and over at each school. Graham got his wish to move up the ladder to a couple BCS schools in the past 18 months. It meant more exposure for him, but it wasn’t what he expected. It wasn’t Tulsa and Rice any longer. It was that craved more national attention — only Graham’s story was no longer under his control.
That it worked out well for Pitt and the players doesn’t mean schools should be mellow about social media. It is so easy to blow-up in your face. (Think Tino Sunseri’s tweet last fall or even Ashton Gibb’s frustration after losing to Louisville in 2011.) Given how easy it is to lose control of the message in social media, the paranoia sometimes seems justified. To the point where monitoring is now a full-time job or business opportunity.
The business plan of Varsity Monitor is simple. Major universities like North Carolina, Nebraska and Oklahoma pay $7,000 to $10,000 a year and Varsity Monitor keeps an online eye on their athletes.
Among the services the company and others like it provide is a computer application that searches social media sites that athletes frequent, looking for obscenities, offensive commentary or words like “free,” which could indicate that a player has accepted a gift in violation of N.C.A.A. rules.
Remember, the fall of Butch Davis and the still ongoing UNC mess came about because Marvin Austin tweeted that he was partying down in South Beach. Many noticed and questions arose about how he was able to pay for it — and the bottle service at a very hot club.
There’s no easy or good answer to any of it. The basics still apply: remember that everyone sees anything you put out there, so don’t put something out there that you wouldn’t actually say in public. It’s not a private conversation. Yesterday just happened to be one of the better days.