In his junior year of college, UF history senior lecturer Steve Noll was bored in his dorm room, thinking of fun things to do. Fast forward 40 years, and he’s pulled off arguably the biggest hoax college sports has ever seen.
During the widespread formation of All-American teams, Noll and three friends invented a team, naming the top 15 rookie players in the nation under a made-up organization, the National Association of Collegiate Basketball Writers. Noll said they did it to “tweak the nose of people in power.”
They mailed certificates to the chosen players from his parents’ home in Garden City, N.Y., for big-city legitimacy. Noll sent certificates under the name Andrew G. Miller, the supposed secretary of the organization. Under this name, he also contacted the Associated Press with news of the new team, which caused it to spread to newspapers across the country.
The certificates stated the team was created in honor of the association’s made-up founder, Leo G. Hershberger, Noll said.
But the creation of the team was no joke. They spent hours sorting through newspapers in the library to pick the 15 players. Noll said they tried to find valid candidates.
“We wanted it to be a legitimate team,” he said. “Not just a bunch of jokers.”
The “association” received several letters from players’ schools thanking them. The sports information director at University of Notre Dame even requested a new certificate because they accidentally misspelled forward/center John Shumate’s name on the first one.
A few years later, Noll and one of the pranksters, Reed Bohne, were traveling near Notre Dame and decided to stop in and ask the same sports information director to see the school’s All-American awards.
“The guy is taking us around and, right in his office, there’s the damn thing right on the wall,” Noll said.
They didn’t identify themselves and asked to take a picture of the sports information director. When he posed on the side of the office opposite from the certificate, Noll and Bohne told him the lighting was better near the certificate.
Noll said he and his friends were afraid of being found out.
“Today, people would Google it and say ‘There’s no such thing as that,’” Noll said.
Leon Douglas said he was excited when he received the award in 1973 as a freshman at the University of Alabama. Though he had never heard of the award, he thought it was real. He was the only player who was told it was fake. He said he has no hard feelings.
“There’s no significance to the award, but here we are talking about it,” Douglas said. “That’s significant enough for me.”