From someone's interpretation of "inside knowledge," to a never-ending flow of message board posts, to the comment sections under GoVolsXtra.com stories to the lightning-fast world of Twitter, the Tennessee fanbase has been engaged in one massive game of Telephone since the Vols' embarrassing finish to the 2011 season.
If I took everything I've read or heard during the past two weeks to be absolute fact, I'd be covering a program that is looking to replace every member of its coaching staff, including head coach Derek Dooley. It'd be a program that has had, roughly, 14 contentious team meetings since the 10-7 nightmare. And it'd be a program that would basically have to start all over on the recruiting trail because, of course, every one of UT's 21 commitments would now be looking elsewhere.
The majority of it has been absolute nonsense, the byproduct of one of the most disappointing finishes in UT football history combined with the natural progression toward a time of year many simply label as "Silly Season."
"During the time of year where there's no games going on, people are always going to try to fill that void somehow," said UT spokesman Jimmy Stanton, who has gone from swatting down rumors at baseball's winter meetings with the Houston Astros to, well, doing the same at UT since he came to the school in 2010.
It was never more silly than last Friday, when the polarizing sophomore wide receiver, Da'Rick Rogers, took his turn through the rumor mill.
Already at the center of controversy because of bad body language, a poor performance against Kentucky and things he may or may not have said in the week leading up to the game, Rogers had his status with the team come into question.
A local TV station and a former Vol were one of the many outlets to "confirm" that Rogers was, in fact, off the team. Numerous others, including the News Sentinel, countered that Rogers wasn't off the team, but was in a similar boat as former safety Janzen Jackson was earlier this year: Not off the team, but not with the team.
So fervent was this rumor that UT took the unusual step to acknowledge it.
"Da'Rick Rogers has not been suspended," Dooley said. "(He) is still a part of our football team."
End of story, right? That's yet to be determined.
Neither Dooley nor Rogers have addressed reporters since the Kentucky game and neither is expected to do so anytime soon. The narrative isn't over, but for now, it's at least been shoved aside.
Why UT, a program that typically does not even acknowledge rumors — let alone respond to them — felt the need to quash this one, though, leads to another question. What caused this rumor to rise to the top and prompt a response?
In a 2005 podcast with National Public Radio, Nick DiFonzo, a psychology professor at Rochester Institute of Technology who has devoted his career to this kind of question, outlined the four reasons why certain rumors gain traction. At the time, he was addressing why rumors were rampant in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — an infinitely more important event than anything that has ever occurred in the world of UT athletics — but the basic philosophy applies to rumors as trivial as high school gossip.
1. The rumor agrees with a currently held attitude
How this applied: Rogers' popularity with fans waned throughout the season because of a perceived bad attitude. It crashed at the end when a number of them connected the dots after a handful of the team's seniors said that certain players were only "playing for their stats." Earlier in the week, Rogers had talked openly about how special it was for him to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards.
2. The rumor comes from a credible spokesperson
How it applied: As mentioned above, a local TV station and a prominent former Vol reported that Rogers was off the team. No one, including the News Sentinel, had named sources, but that's become standard procedure when covering college athletics in 2011. It's hard to find anyone who will go "on the record" at this time of year.
3. The rumor is heard repeatedly
How it applied: It's as simple as this: Twitter. Because of Rogers' prominence, the story was tweeted and re-tweeted by not only local writers and fans, but by fans all across the country and national writers whose respective followings can reach into the hundreds of thousands.
4. The rumor is not rebutted
How it applied: The Twitter-centered news cycle has turned seconds into minutes, minutes into hours and hours into days. Not hearing anything from Dooley or anyone at UT until later in the afternoon — about five hours after the rumor was reported by credible sources — felt like an eternity.
"All of us," DiFonzo said, "are gullible in every way, shape and form."
Did UT do the right thing to address the rumor? Or should it have done what Auburn did last year during the Cam Newton fiasco, when it adopted a uniform policy to "no comment" any and all queries about the quarterback's eligibility status?
According to Fred Koenig, a social psychology professor at Tulane who also spoke on NPR's 2005 podcast, UT made the right decision if, of course, there was no truth at all to the rumor.
"It gets the message across that the rumor floating around is not true and not fair," Koenig said. "Anybody that hears it and passes it on is gullible because of it."