BYU came out on top to prove its strong fan base in NCAA’s 6th Fan Competition, winning $100,000 for the school to be used for the general scholarship fund.
The contest called for fans of each NCAA school to tweet using their school’s hashtags #BYU and #6thfan. For every tweet using those two hashtags, a vote was recorded for BYU. Fans could also vote online at the NCAA’s 6th Fan website.
For BYU, the contest was a chance to show the world how passionate Cougar fans really are.
“This competition means a lot to BYU,” said David Almodova, assistant athletic director of marketing. “We’ve always believed BYU has the best fans in the nation, and this contest was a chance to prove it.”
Once the competition became publicized, BYU moved up the rankings quickly. The first round of the contest ended on Feb. 17, and the NCAA awarded each of the top 16 schools $10,000. At that time, BYU was in eighth place. The NCAA then formatted the remainder of the contest in a head-to-head style, with match-ups lasting one week at a time.
BYU’s first opponent was ninth-seeded Western Carolina University. BYU topped WCU by receiving 54 percent of votes and advanced to the Elite Eight to face the No. 1 seed, North Dakota State University.
“North Dakota State was probably our most heated round,” said Dan Haslam, BYU sports marketing representative. “By that time in the competition, a ton of our fans were fully invested. We had already won $10,000, but we wanted to win the whole thing.”
BYU got out to the early lead in that round, but North Dakota State kept firing back. NDSU was also using web scripts that sped up the voting process. The scripts were not outlawed by the NCAA, so BYU made its own.
The contest remained close all week, with a slight lead in BYU’s favor. However, late in that week, BYU found itself losing to NDSU by several percentage points.
“At first it was confusing,” Haslam said. “We did not understand how NDSU could have put in so many votes so quickly. Then we realized they were getting help from UCF. With that, it seemed like we were going to lose.”
But the tides turned late Saturday night when the NCAA found a large amount of “illegal” votes and removed those votes from competition.
“External, automated scripts used to create fake email accounts in order to manipulate voting totals were used to vote in the 6th Fan contest dating back to Feb. 24. As a result, all votes cast since that date through email registration have been removed for all schools remaining in the contest,” said an NCAA press release issued on its website.
Fans of UCF and NDSU generated the illegal voting bots. The penalty gave BYU a 82%–18% lead to advance to the Final Four.
What happened next was perhaps the most pivotal point in the entire 6th Fan Competition for BYU.
Since UCF fans were voting against BYU, fans on CougarBoard organized a voting purge against UCF to see if they could knock it out by voting for UCF’s opponent, University of Texas-Pan American. Within an hour, UCF lost.
BYU junior Chad Burton was involved in the CougarBoard push to take out UCF.
“It was interesting,” Burton said. “I don’t think BYU fans would have voted against UCF if they hadn’t voted against us. But the game is the game.”
BYU jumped out to an early 60-40 lead against UTPA, and then, an illegal scripting program was the downfall of another BYU opponent.
The final round was against Western Illinois University, who made it to the finals through a well-organized campaign.
At this point in the competition, the ROC was offering free food and prizes to students who would come to vote. The grand prize, an all-expenses-paid trip for two to any BYU football game, was claimed by someone who voted more than 60,000 times in the final week. No illegal scripts were run by the opponent, and BYU won with 62 percent of votes, taking the $100,000 grand prize.
The NCAA plans to honor BYU as the winner of the 6th Fan Competition at the Final Four, in Arlington, Texas.