Iowa buys domain names that could criticize coaches

Updated: March 20, 2007, 10:44 PM ET
Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa -- If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em.

The University of Iowa has come up with a proactive method for fighting Web sites built to criticize its coaches by buying domain names.

Web sites ripping college coaches have popped up in increasing numbers in recent years. But the ongoing battle between Internet sites and athletic departments took a new twist last summer when University of Iowa officials purchased seven domain names, including firekirkferentz.com, in order to keep them off the market.

The move didn't become news until this week when, ironically, it was posted on Deadspin.com, one of the most popular blogs on the Web.

The school also purchased the domain names for potential sites about women's basketball coach Lisa Bluder, men's basketball coach Steve Alford and athletic director Gary Barta. According to Iowa associate athletic director Rick Klatt, the move was made as an extension of the school's licensing program, which protects its name, image and logo, and to protect some of its high-level employees.

The initial purchase costs of the sites was $674.82, and each site costs $25 a year to maintain, Klatt said. Anyone who types those names into a browser is directed to the school's official Web site.

"In one sense, we're attempting to provide some level of protection to the individual," Klatt said. "On a much smaller scale, because they are all dot-com extensions, they could be commercial Web sites where people could make money off that Web site ... it just seems wrong that someone could benefit from that."

Iowa's move has raised questions of whether the school is trying to prevent its fans from criticizing its coaches, a tradition as old as sports itself. Klatt said Hawkeyes fans still have a host of venues for expressing themselves.

"There's plenty of opportunities for free speech. Letters to our director of athletics, e-mails to our director of athletics. There's multiple sites available for the fans of the Hawkeyes to express their opinions on coaches performance," Klatt said.

Though Iowa bought the rights to stevealfordmustgo.com, it missed out on one such site: firestevealford.com.

Founder Michael Handley, a former Iowa student who now works as a systems architect in Jacksonville, Fla., said he set up the site in late 2003 as a favor to a friend, who became frustrated with what he said were Hawkeye-based message boards that banned people who made negative comments about Alford.

Handley said the site now generates as many as 2,000 unique visitors a day during February and March. A lifelong Hawkeyes fan who grew up in Cedar Rapids, Handley said his site is simply a forum for discussion.

In fact, it carries just one rule: Personal attacks on Alford or other site members is prohibited.

"If you don't like him as a coach, fine, but if you don't like him as a person or things like that, you're not going to talk about that. It's all about his ability as a basketball coach, not his personal life," Handley said of Alford, whom he has never met.

These days, anyone with a little ingenuity and a few bucks could start a Web site designed to blast any coach they want. To wit, redshirted.com -- the company that sold firekirkferentz.com to Iowa -- still had 20 coach-related domain names for sale as of Tuesday.

Klatt realizes the school can't stop every Web site that may pop up, but he said that, at a cost of $175 a year, it seemed like a reasonable investment for Iowa.

"In no way is this a perfect solution to a problem that's been created as a result of the many new ways people communicate," Klatt said. "This was an imperfect attempt to provide some level of protection."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press