BATON ROUGE, La., — A video of one of Louisiana State's practices turned up on the Internet before their game against Georgia earlier this season, and coach Gerry DiNardo closed his team's practices.
DiNardo, who was fired Nov. 15 after LSU fell to 1-8, wasn't alone in being sensitive to possible spies.
With the popularity of sports Web sites on the Internet, many college football teams are trying to figure out how to cope with the problem of the immediate spread of privileged information.
"It's amazing the amount of things you can pick up on the Internet," Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. "You never want to be put at a disadvantage, and I'm seriously thinking about closing my practices because of some of those reports."
Many teams have already taken that step to avoid information from leaking out via the Internet. Others are limiting access to print media, and in many cases, only to reporters who cover the team regularly. That means electronic media--sports Web sites which don't have a newspaper or television affiliation--aren't allowed at practices.
"We take a lot of heat because we don't issue credentials to Web sites and we don't let them attend practices," said John Humenik, the sports information director at the University of Florida. "There's a lot of misinformation out there. We feel the industry has to do a better job in helping sports departments in policing this whole new medium."
While a number of fan-run Web sites specialize in rumors and don't have much credibility, there are many sites that have posted legitimate--and detailed--practice information.
Oregon coach Mike Bellotti found that out before a game against Michigan State earlier this season, when offensive and defensive plays that the Ducks had worked on during practices were detailed on a Web site. Oregon lost the game 27-20, and Bellotti banned who he suspected was responsible from practice for a week.
"The next step would be to close practice," Bellotti said at the time. "I don't want to do that."
Other coaches, like DiNardo when he was at LSU, have. Colorado has tried to crack down on Internet spies and is one of seven teams in the Big 12 Conference to close its practices. An owner of a Web site who was banned from practice last year sued Colorado to regain his access, though his claim was thrown out by a judge.
"Unless you know the coaches, you're not getting in," Colorado sports information director David Plati said. "We've had problems with information getting out and heard horror stories from other schools. Sometimes this stuff is out there a half-hour after practice."
Virginia's George Welsh has had closed practices for 18 years and the emergence of information on the Internet gives him yet another reason to limit accessibility. But he knows even that might not prevent leaks.
"I've heard stories where even when practices were closed information was getting out," Welsh said. "That's someone on the inside. Fortunately we haven't had that here yet."
Some teams have tried using the Internet to their benefit, even the defending national champions.
"We'll look at Web sites for information on opponents," Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer said. "Anything you can get to help you would be beneficial."
Fulmer cautions that there's a good chance the information could be inaccurate, though. It's a common concern, as countless Web sites are springing up to keep fans apprised of the latest developments with their favorite teams.
Notre Dame coach Bob Davie has gotten Internet reports on his practices that he calls "ridiculous," and said he'd be reluctant to believe any information he got on another team.
"It could be like the day of the false tip sheet," Davie said. "I remember years ago in college football, teams might leave a tip sheet lying around in the locker room. But you never knew if it was real or not."
Davie has had some personal experience with inaccurate reports on the Internet. A rumor spread last month that Florida coach Steve Spurrier was going to take over at Notre Dame and reporters contacted Davie about his job security.
"There's just too many people out there with too much time on their hands," Davie said.
A big part of the problem is that many of the Web sites don't follow journalistic ethics and aren't careful enough to determine whether their information is accurate.
It's an obstacle that sites like "thesabre.com," an independent online publication that covers Virginia's athletic teams, has had to overcome.
"There are a lot of sites out there that give the Internet a bad name," said Michael Ingalls, general manager of the site. "We have to convince them that we're different. It's good for the fans if they know what's going on, but that it's done in a professional manner."
That's not the case with many fan-maintained sites, where rumors fly and inside information is revealed to anyone with access to a computer. That's the growing concern for college teams.
"To them information is power," said University of Southern California sports information director Tim Tessalone. "We're just going to have to deal with it the best we can."