Even the most avid MU sports fans may have never heard of David Reid and Nick Witthaus.
They’re not the latest blue chip recruits. And neither has competed in organized athletics for years.
Still, the two have made a big impression on Tiger fans.
Reid and Witthaus run Tigerboard.com, the largest Web site devoted to MU athletics.
“As a Columbia native, I grew up in Tiger country. Seeing the black and gold banners hung up around town and hearing the Mizzou fight song everywhere, you can’t help cheering on Ol’ Mizzou,” Reid said.
He wanted to give out-of-state fans the same opportunity to keep up with the Tigers.
“In 1995, the Internet was rapidly gaining popularity and campus computing gave incoming students their own Web space on a campus server,” Reid said. “So I thought: ‘I’ll post my commentary on how the team looks for those people who want to know the real state of the team, instead of just a dry box score.’”
Reid asked other fans to e-mail comments, which he would then post along with his own impressions. He received so many e-mails that he put up a discussion forum where people could post their ideas and respond to others directly.
Today, Tigerboard receives about six million to eight million page views per month, which corresponds to about 60,000 unique users, Whitthaus said.
“Those numbers are about four times what they were in 2000,” he said.
Tigerboard has developed its own subculture among the most ardent Missouri fans. Individual user names run the spectrum from “KU kid” to “OlivoForPresident.”
For instance, subscribers can choose to block messages posted by fans of certain schools.
And posters can dole out “mob points” to anyone who becomes unruly or vulgar in commentary. Once a person acquires enough mob points, 50 for non-subscribers and 125 for subscribers, from at least 10 different users he or she is kicked off for a day.
“It helps keep the board clean and promote a better sense of community,” said Witthaus. “I made it up on a whim one night because I was getting frustrated with all that was going on. So far, it’s been one of my better ideas.”
Witthaus has eliminated the “smackboard” where posters could argue back and forth because some got out of hand.
“I thought people would go over there and be clever, but they ended up just being stupid. It started spilling onto other boards, so I didn’t see the point in keeping it up,” he said.
Whitthaus said he did this in order to keep the board as civilized as possible.
The list of rules on the site even includes a snarky warning about Kansas which says that since it’s common knowledge that Kansas stinks, posters shouldn’t start their messages repeating that information.
Soon after starting the board, Reid was getting messages from all around the country thanking him for keeping people up to date.
Despite its popularity, or rather because of it, Tigerboard nearly went extinct in the summer of 1998.
“I didn’t realize how busy Tigerboard was until one day I got an e-mail from campus computing explaining they had to take it down because it was getting too many visitors,” Reid said.
He later learned that Tigerboard accounted for about 76 percent of all traffic to the student Web server.
Reid could not afford the cost of hosting a Web server, but didn’t want Tigerboard to disappear.
Word soon leaked to the community that Tigerboard might be gone forever and Reid said he received a number of e-mails wondering when the site would be back up.
One of those e-mails was from Witthaus, an MU alumnus living in Chicago. When Witthaus learned of the problem, he told Reid that he had a Web server and would host Tigerboard at no charge.
“The way I see it, without Nick, Tigerboard would be a distant memory,” Reid said.
“I found it a good way to keep track of what was going on at Mizzou since there wasn’t a whole lot of coverage in Chicago. I pretty much got addicted to it,” Witthaus said. “I told him I would pay for hosting it if he would help run it.”
“He wasn’t looking for fanfare or recognition; he just saw a need and wanted to do what he could to help the Tigerboard community survive,” Reid said.
Witthaus now handles most of the responsibility for running Tigerboard while Reid is completing graduate school.
“I usually spend about one to three hours a day on it,” Witthaus said. “But if I really get working on something, then it could be ten or twelve hours.”
“I follow sports pretty regularly and keep up on computers,” he said. “That pretty much takes up most of my days.”
Occasionally, Witthaus will receive some feedback from players who are discussed on the site.
“Everybody says players don’t read the board,” he said. “But sometimes we’ll hear from them directly or through a third party that either they weren’t really happy about this or it was pretty cool that you wrote that.”
Overall, running Tigerboard has been a rewarding experience says Witthaus, who is in the process of redesigning the site to add more features and make it faster.
“I approach it more from a computer geek side because I like that stuff,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be doing it for six, seven years now if I didn’t enjoy it.”
Despite the long hours he puts in, Witthaus said he feels fulfilled.
“It doesn’t dominate my life,” he said. “I don’t do body painting or anything like that. I’ve just always enjoyed Mizzou sports. It was pretty easy to run with it when the opportunity came,” he said.