Sports Reporters Embarrass Themselves Over False FSU Ineligibility Story

Photo is from the FSU-Delaware State game.
Photo is from the FSU-Delaware State game.

When the site “Reddit” claimed that Florida State University’s bowl eligibility was invalid due to an ineligible opponent, many mainstream media sites rushed to cover the story, without closely factchecking the report, or considering the source. It’s just one more example of fake news, which continues to seriously undermine public trust in the media at a time when it is badly needed.

Two days ago, reports began to surface that the 6-6 Florida State Seminoles may not be bowl eligible, because their 77-6 win over Delaware State University came at the expense of an ineligible team.

“The sleuths in the college football section at Reddit first detailed Thursday morning why FSU’s win over Delaware State may not officially count,” writes the “Dr. Saturday” section of Yahoo Sports.

“Here’s the issue in a short summation. FCS schools can have a maximum of 63 full football scholarships divided among all members of the team as the school sees fit. Over the past two seasons, Delaware State has spread out an average of just under 55 full-time scholarships to 70 players. Here’s where that obscure rule comes into play. In order for an FBS team’s win over an FCS team to count, the number of full-time scholarships awarded must equal 90 percent of the maximum (63). Delaware’s state average of 54.8 is under 90 percent.”

FSU did respond. "Florida State has received confirmation from Delaware State that the 90 percent requirement is satisfied for the 2017 season, allowing the victory to be used in determining bowl eligibility,” reports the Tallahassee Democrat. “Media reports suggesting otherwise failed to account for a long-standing NCAA rules interpretation that permits institutions to use academic scholarships and other forms of non-athletics institutional aid received by student-athletes in the computation of this requirement. These media reports represent incomplete information, as they only reflect athletics scholarships received.”

In addition, the NCAA backed FSU’s statement, The Orlando Sentinel reports.

Oops.

The problem came from so many venerated publications relying on a story generated by someone on Reddit known as “bakonydraco.” This journalist also writes such sports stories as “Ohio State-Michigan as Austria-Hungary”

As for the site itself, I decided to check out Reddit. I was invited to “Become a Redditor” before I had even viewed my first article. In addition to dabbling in sports reportage, the site also features lots of ads to buy gold, as well as the story “ULPT: Don't smoke but want a smokers break? Buy a cheap E-cig with 0mg nicotine and go and join the rest of them,” and this one: “I had a bird that would drop seeds into the carpet and my air conditioner leaked. Surprise grass popped up overnight!” as well as purported photos of the Abominable Snowman.

We’re not sure why The Washington Post, Sports Illustrated and the New York Post would run this story considering the source. Thankfully CBS, SB Nation, and ABC News, reported both sides of the issue, including the refutation of the “Reddit” story and the NCAA ruling.

One can only imagine the editor at The Washington Post asking “You mean this was our source?!”

This is more than just deciding whether FSU keeps a streak of 36 straight seasons of going to a bowl game or a chance at getting 41 straight winning seasons. It’s about trends in journalism, where writers can’t wait to post anything just to be the first to do it, or to get clicks. This explains the woefully pathetic media trust scores (11% among Republicans, 34% among Democrats, and 15% among independents) from the Pew Research Center polls. Meanwhile, there is serious corruption in politics, economics and even sports. Nobody is going to trust the press if they keep doing this, and we need their accuracy more than ever these days.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.

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