June 1, 2006
CLEMSON -- On May 8, the Anderson (S.C.) Independent-Mail unearthed a bizarre story on the recruitment of stud tailback C.J. Spiller.
Citing "sources close to the Clemson football program," the piece intimated that Florida committed an NCAA violation the night before signing day by dispatching prized signee Tim Tebow to schmooze with Spiller at Spiller's home in Lake Butler, Fla.
Tebow already had enrolled at Florida, so he was technically a member of the Gators' football team. And having a member of a football team recruit on that team's behalf the night before signing day is an NCAA violation.
The newspaper ran a 630-word story on its front page, breathlessly touting a "scoop" that ultimately amounted to nothing. The Independent-Mail undoubtedly had a considerable amount of egg on its face after the episode, as did Clemson coach Tommy Bowden.
Spiller, regarded by some as the top prospect in Florida last season, spurned the Gators on signing day for Clemson. That begs the question: Why in the world is the Tigers' staff so preoccupied with Florida's recruitment of a player Clemson got anyway?
It was easy to read between the lines and figure out exactly how this story was set in motion. Bowden and his staff had a beef with Gators coach Urban Meyer and his staff, so they tried to air their complaints publicly. The Independent-Mail took the bait.
In its reporting, the newspaper apparently made a hurried but unsuccessful attempt to get Florida's side. A school spokesman said Meyer was unavailable, and that was that. The piece ran quotes from Bowden, who said a visit between Tebow and Spiller the night before signing day "is a violation of NCAA rules." Again citing sources with Clemson's football team, the paper said the matter had been forwarded to the NCAA for investigation.
The message boards had the expected buzz the day the story ran, but before long the issue was much ado about nothing. Several outlets that follow the Gators followed up on the story and found that the issue long since had been resolved.
Florida's compliance staff reportedly interviewed Tebow and Florida's coaches on national signing day, after hearing of Tebow's visit. Gators compliance director Jamie McCloskey told media outlets that no rules were violated.
"NCAA rules do not legislate friends," McCloskey told the Tampa Tribune.
The other side of the story also contained some important details that Bowden and the Independent-Mail apparently missed: (1) Tebow and Spiller have been friends since ninth grade; (2) Tebow didn't make efforts to recruit Spiller on the night in question, and Florida's coaches apparently didn't ask him to; (3) Spiller invited Tebow to his home, which is about 30 miles from Gainesville.
Spiller himself criticized the Independent-Mail's story when he participated in an interview with the website GatorCountry.com. By extension, he made Clemson's coaches look childish for going public with their tiff.
"What's funny about the Anderson paper saying that is they don't know Tim and me," Spiller said. "Tim never tried to recruit me to Florida. He joked around a lot, and he'd say it would be fun playing football with me at Florida or things like that, but that's about it. We talked a lot about the pressure of recruiting and making good decisions.
"He knew exactly where I was coming from when I couldn't hardly sleep much before signing day. He went through the same thing the nights before he said he was going to Florida. It was good having him around, because he didn't talk recruiting and everybody else wanted to."
The Independent-Mail committed a grave error in the initial story by not bothering to find McCloskey, Spiller or Tebow. The paper looked even sillier by making no attempt at a follow-up story to give Florida an opportunity to respond to serious allegations of an NCAA violation.
Even though Clemson ended up signing Spiller for its most highly touted addition in more than a decade, the anger from its coaches goes back a few years. In January 2004, Clemson got a commitment from a supposed stud in receiver Mike McIntosh. But McIntosh reneged and signed with Florida, and the Tigers' staff wasn't happy that McIntosh reportedly watched the Super Bowl at the home of then-Gators coach Ron Zook a few days before signing day.
In the end, though, there really was no justification for such juvenile behavior. This was a case where Bowden should have kept his mouth shut, instead of pushing a non-story on a newspaper that at least temporarily forgot the rules of Journalism 101.
BASEBALL SEEKING DIFFERENT "TITLE"
After beating Wake Forest in the second game of a three-game series during the last weekend of the regular season, Clemson's baseball team secured its first ACC regular-season championship since 1995.
Players, coaches and administrators basked in the accomplishment, and media outlets played it up as the Tigers went into the ACC Tournament on a tear.
There was one problem, though. In the ACC's eyes, Clemson's "title" will get no official recognition, because the conference recognizes only its tournament champions. And in baseball, that philosophy doesn't necessarily make a lot of sense.
Let's use Clemson as the example. By winning 15 straight games to close the regular season, the Tigers all but assured that they'd host an NCAA Regional and Super Regional. With a strength of schedule and RPI rated at or near the top of the country, there was no way Clemson was going to be shipped anywhere in the first two weekends of the NCAA Tournament.
In other words, the Tigers had little to play for at the ACC Tournament. Sure, they went in hoping to win it for the first time since 1994. But there was absolutely no doubt that this team's sole focus was on the NCAA Regionals.
"There are bigger things ahead of us," coach Jack Leggett said, "and we've just got to keep our focus on the prize at the end."
The key issue here is value. What's more meaningful -- emerging from a grueling, 30-game conference schedule with the best record among 12 teams, or winning an eight-team tournament that might amount to nothing more than a glorified practice for some teams?
There's no doubting which side Clemson is on this year. And it's hard to disagree.