JACKSON, Miss. Chris Spencer is a wanted man.
The 305-pound 17-year-old supposedly was spotted in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Later, he was said to be headed to Baton Rouge, La., because he had family there. Both reports proved to be wrong.
For months, strangers phoned Spencers home seeking information about his next destination, as many as five calls a day. He suspects he is being watched and his phones have been tapped.
Spencer isnt a fugitive. He is a senior at Madison Central High School in Mississippi and among the most coveted offensive linemen in the country.
Before Spencer announced that he would sign a letter of intent with Mississippi today, the first day of the national signing period, he found out just how pervasive recruiting coverage has become in recent years.
"You cant make a move without people knowing what youre doing. If I go to a basketball game somewhere, its on the Internet the next hour that Im at this place or that place," he said.
Not long ago, college football fans had few sources of information on which players were being recruited by their favorite teams. Now, fans can surf through a tidal wave of recruiting facts, stats and hearsay on the Internet.
"There is more awareness by everyone of what youre doing," said Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe, who has been recruiting for 20 years. "It is much more of a spectator sport."
Scott McKinney, co-host of a syndicated talk-radio show that focuses on Southeastern Conference sports, said the dramatic increase in recruiting coverage is directly linked to the Internet boom.
"Fifteen years ago, fans gathered around universities on signing day waiting to find out who was out there. They had no clue," he said.
Now, thanks to the Internet, fans "know whos committed, whos leaning where, what their chances are of landing a certain player," McKinney said.
At McKinneys last count there were more than 100 Web sites dedicated to recruiting news. Some do solid reporting and others are not so reliable.
And then there are the fan pages and chat rooms, where speculation and rumors abound and even accurate information is distorted.
Inevitably, a recruiting rumor that begins on the Net makes its way to talk radio.
"It may start out as Joe Smith is leaning toward Mississippi State because he likes the school," McKinney said. "By the end of the day its gone through 300 or 400 hands and Joe Smith is committed to Mississippi State because his brother once played basketball there and his first cousin is the vice chancellor of academic affairs."
A friends mother told Spencer that she read an Internet report that he and teammate Mike Espy, a wide receiver also headed to Ole Miss, were spotted at Alabama and planning to become members of the Crimson Tide.
Neither ever went to Alabama. And Spencer has no relatives in Baton Rouge.
Espy said one Web site reported he was probably going to Florida State, another to Tennessee. He fielded about two calls a night from reporters looking for updates before committing to Mississippi.
"Sometimes it got a little tiresome. But when it got like that, I just didnt pick up the phone," he said.
NCAA spokesman Wally Renfroe said that if players, coaches and parents are concerned with the growing scrutiny of young athletes, it hasnt been brought to the national panels attention.
Those involved consider the increased attention and rumor mongering just a nuisance.
"The funny thing about it, most all these people with the recruiting service that call you, they are associated with the same people," Spencer said. "They just have different names. How many Rivals people do they have?"
Rivals.com recruiting coordinator Bobby Burton said the frequent calls are used to curtail Internet speculation, letting the athletes speak for themselves.
But Burton admits, "The rumor mill will never die. Its like trying to stamp out gossip in a small town."
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