COLUMN: The Big Ten Misinformation Campaign By 'Content Creators' Needs To End

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic, people who follow the Big Ten Conference have been misled by inaccurate news breaks. This needs to stop now.
By Matthew Stevens , |

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- I have seen enough to know that I have seen enough.

From a self-proclaimed Ohio “content creator” who identifies himself by the name “Sir Yacht” to a recent report out of Michigan citing unnamed sources by saying “what I’m told” that begins with the lede “A Little Birdie tells me” and to a former ESPN SportsCenter anchor citing unnamed sources on his syndicated radio show, enough is enough.

Folks who genuinely care about the Big Ten Conference athletics product and its 14 member institutions have every right to be frustrated right now but assuredly part of that anger should be directed at a misinformation campaign that is producing information these folks can’t possibly trust.

The parents of Big Ten football players have executed a rightful defense of their son by writing letters and protesting the decision made by the Big Ten Conference on Aug. 10. I don’t and would never question a parent’s desire to want the best situation possible for their own son or daughter. So, the anger toward the 14 voting members of the Big Ten’s Council of Presidents and Chancellors along with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren is easy to understand even if you’re on the opposite philosophical stance. However, where’s the anger on the misreporting of facts by clearly unqualified journalists trying to cash in on their five minutes of social media fame?

Try to picture yourself in the situation of Tim and Lisa Ford. Since tight end Luke Ford transferred from Georgia following the 2018 season, the family and friends in his hometown of Cartersville, Ill., have been patiently waiting for the No. 1 consensus recruit in Illinois in 2018 to play for his home state school. Go ahead and count his parents, Tim and Lisa, at the top of that list. They’ve waited through an NCAA transfer waiver appeal denial and now must stay patient during a coronavirus epidemic to wear the orange and blue in representation of the University of Illinois.

Unfortunately, Tim and Lisa Ford have been lied to constantly. They were told by Dan Patrick on his Sept. 1 radio show that “From a source, if (the) conference can pass updated safety measures and procedures, Big Ten targeting Oct. 10 to start football season”. As parents and fans, like Tim and Lisa Ford, continue to search through the non-stop desert of depressing news surrounding the COVID-19 epidemic, these are the kind of breaking news elements they’re striving for. Has the public relations messaging from the Big Ten Conference and Warren been done well? Of course not. It's been way below average. 

Unfortunately, all of these "reports" are mirages in the desert news search being done by parents, fans, players and others. I would go so far to encourage Big Ten parents to write letters to Patrick requesting he not provide them with insufficient reporting and unfulfilled hope. He should know better.

And for the ones who don't know better, we now we come to folks being lied to by a self-proclaimed “content creator” who goes by the name “Sir Yacht”. Amongst his breaking news proclamations over the last month made by this Youtube and TikTok video creator includes the breaking news of the start date of Big Ten football (Oct. 10), speculation that Ohio State and Nebraska will leave the Big Ten after this season and Ohio State will be an independent, ACC commissioner John Swofford wanting Ohio State to join his conference with Notre Dame and a vote of no confidence toward University of Michigan president taking place Mark Schlissel.

None, I repeat, none of those things have either happened within the specified time period or been verified by any other news outlet. None.

He who identifies himself as “Sir Yacht” tweeted out Friday “Source said again B1G statement still could come today. And whether announced today or tomorrow, the B1G will be starting on October 10th 100%.”. Needless to say, no statement has been made by the Big Ten Conference and no other news organization has confirmed the Oct. 10 start date. When it became obvious “Sir Yacht” was going to be factually inaccurate with this latest claim, he countered any potential backlash by tweeting Sunday “So I obviously have said the B1G football news will “100%” break on a certain date and have been incorrect a couple times. I am not a reporter and am learning to not say 100% until it’s official. But the information I have is good. I stand by the October 10th start date.”

Well, at least he's learning reporting false information is bad, right?

It should be noted Iowa athletics director Gary Barta, whose boss was one of the three members of the Big Ten’s COP/C to vote in August in favor of playing fall sports, said there would need to be a medical “miracle” in order to start a football season in October.

“If a miracle was handed to us today and said, ‘If you take this vaccine, you won’t get COVID,’ yeah, I suppose you could come up with a scenario where you could play in October,” Barta told reporters. “I don’t know between that miracle and where we are right now, whether or not we could get that done. I’ll wait and see what the medical group comes back with and then it will ultimately be up to the college presidents to evaluate that.”

Here are three things you desperately need to understand about “Sir Yacht”. One, his name is Joey Kinsley. Kinsley is a 2016 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in economics and was a member of the men’s basketball team. Two, he’s never been a paid journalist (but he also made that clear in his backtrack) and his LinkedIn page suggests he’s a “Digital Marketing Specialist” in the Cleveland/Akron area. Three, if he did anything like this consistent form of behavior as a paid reporter, he’d be disciplined by his editorial bosses and if this untrustworthy reporting continued, he’d be terminated for his lack of journalistic credibility.

However, none of these things stopped ESPN television commentator Pat McAfee from citing “Sir Yacht” on his nationally syndicated podcast show.

After “Sir Yacht” tweeted “Source: B1G officials just met. Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa and Michigan are set on playing this fall. Illinois and Northwestern are only schools that are not thinking about playing.” (None of which is true) McAfee retweeted “Sir Yacht” on Aug. 15 by saying “I don’t have a clue who Mr Yacht is here but... I think the “Pluck the schools from the leagues that ain’t playing” thing MIGHT HAVE SOME LEGS AGAIN.”

Two days later, McAfee said this to open his podcast show:

“Big Ten teams playing with ACC and Big 12 teams in a super conference was leaked out by a man named Sir Yacht. Sir Yacht, I don’t know his credentials but I do know that it got a lot of retweets and got a lot of hate from a lot of people but for me, it was a moment on a little bit of vitamins where I got excited about the chance of us having a super confidence with the ACC, Big 12 and SEC still playing and plucking other schools from other places.”

And right there, is the problem. McAfee self-admittedly had no idea the credentials of the reporter or if what he was spouting on his show was factually accurate and he didn’t care. It made him feel good so he projected it to his thousands of listeners and that’s an example of how this misinformation campaign has spread.

Tim and Lisa Ford love hearing news about the Big Ten starting up football. And it should be easy to understand why that is the case. But what happens to their spirits when the reporting isn’t anything other than designed to get their attention because it’s what they want to hear? Do they get an apology? Who are they supposed to trust afterwards?

Well, as the media ecosphere continues to get diluted by the Sir Yacht’s of the world, I don’t know if I’m capable of answering that for them anymore. Here’s what I can do:

I, as the editor/publisher of Illini Now/Sports Illustrated, can promise every piece that posted on this site can be tested up to the accuracy standards I was taught in the journalism school I graduated from 15 years ago and have done my best to maintain throughout my career.

My credentials as a reporter are readily available as are the background of Mr. “Sir Yacht”. When I need to cite a news source from a competing market to verify a report, I will do so. When I use unnamed sources, you can trust I’ll have multiple verified pieces of information before I produce breaking news on Illini Now/Sports Illustrated.

We should all strive to want and do better than what we’re seeing right now and to flush out those who are not up to a high standard of journalistic excellence.

As a reader, I beg this of you. If you see a tweet, Facebook post or report regarding news surrounding Big Ten football (whether it be on this SI/Maven channel, other SI/Maven channels or other outlets) please ask yourself four questions 1) Is anybody else reporting this? 2) Can any of his sources or colleagues verify this reporting? 3) Has this reporter had a consistent track record of accuracy and detail? 4) Is the reporter using his real name? If the answer is no, no, no and no. Please ignore it. Please move on to those working hard to give you the accurate news you need.

The Tim and Lisa Ford’s of the world need and want to know when their son is going to play football again. And they certainly don’t deserve to be constantly lied to.