Contrary to Viral Tweet, USC is Not Buying Lincoln Riley’s Homes

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The source of a viral tweet outlining the purported details of Lincoln Riley’s USC coaching contract says he is both irked and bemused by the attention his tattle has received.

In the wild flurry of news this week about the increasingly high-paying college football coaching carousel, some particularly eyebrow-raising rumors emerged about what USC offered Riley to pry him from Oklahoma.

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On Monday afternoon, the account of Robert Hefner V tweeted that he had learned—but “not confirmed”—Riley’s USC contract was worth $110 million, and included provisions that the Pac-12 school would purchase Riley’s two Oklahoma homes at a half-million dollars above asking price.

Part of the tweet was debunked Tuesday by a Norman, Okla.-based realtor working for Riley, who told Sportico that the school would not be purchasing Riley’s properties, one of which had already been on the market for months. (The realtor spoke on the condition that his name not be published.)

Nevertheless, Hefner’s missive had been re-tweeted more than 20,000 times, quote-tweeted by a bevy of blue-checkmark accounts, and further amplified in national media outlets like Axios, Fox Sports, and SB Nation.

The other details Hefner tweeted have not been independently confirmed by Sportico or any other professional news media. A USC athletics spokesperson said Tuesday that the private school would not be disclosing the terms of Riley’s employment agreement, and emails sent to Athletes First, the sports agency that represents Riley, did not receive a response.

So, who is Robert Hefner V? A college sports reporter? A fan-site operator?

No, Hefner is an Oklahoma City-based energy investor and scion of a prominent oil-and-gas family in the state. In a text message conversation with Sportico Tuesday, Hefner complained that his tweet was drawing attention away from his family’s deepest passion.

“In all candor, I’m annoyed that so few people care about energy and so many care about this sports tweet,” Hefner texted, after declining a phone call. “People will never know how hard I work in energy!”

Asked about how he arrived at the information, Hefner said he received it from “someone who I do trust that is likely to have knowledge,” and that the information “seems directionally correct.”

Hefner would certainly not be the first non-journalist to come out of left field on the Internet with a big sports scoop—or, conversely, to dupe media outlets into blithely signal-boosting unfounded online gossip.

In 2012, a 16-year-old high schooler broke on his Milwaukee Brewers blog the scoop, from an anonymous source, that Ryan Braun’s drug test had been compromised by the mishandling of his urine sample.

When the New York Jets signed free safety Ed Reed in 2013, that nugget belonged to Jake Steinberg, a college student at Wisconsin who Sports Illustrated later dubbed as “the power broker for the back end of the Jets’ roster.”

On Nov. 1, Tom Campbell, a Houston-based photographer and Texas A&M graduate, tweeted that he was “hearing a repot [sic] from a credible source” that a monkey belonging to Texas special teams coach Jeff Banks had mauled a child that was Trick-or-treating for Halloween. Banks’ significant other, Danielle, later took to Twitter to clarify that the ape, which belonged to her, may have bitten a kid, but that Campbell’s tweet had overstated the nature of the attack.

More often than not, however, the overheated machinery of sports scuttlebutt, especially in the viral age, leads the crowds along many blind alleys.

Earlier this year, Javier Vega, a car salesman and 49ers podcaster, sent NFL Twitter abuzz when he posted that the team was “hammering out” the details of signing quarterback Matthew Stafford. When that ultimately didn’t happen, Vega took grief online.

“People say stuff on the internet that they wouldn’t say to your face. That’s just kind of how I took a lot of it,” Vega later told The Athletic. “At the end of the day, I’m just still a regular guy.”

Around the same time, ESPN.com was forced to retract a story that Miami Dolphins coach Chan Gailey was fired, after the erroneous news had been posted by a Twitter account posing as ESPN’s NFL reporter Adam Schefter.

For his part, Hefner downplayed concerns about the accuracy of his information.

“Regardless, it’s started a great conversation around what’s happening in college football right now,” Hefner wrote.

In the meantime, he added, “I’ve enjoyed it and had some good laughs. Friends I haven’t spoken to in years, sprinkled all over the country, are reaching out, and it’s been good to reconnect.”

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