Will it be done as a cost saving move by the NCAA? Will it be done out of a deep-rooted concern for the environment? Will it lead to an all-out web site arms race between colleges and universities, and potential collegiate athletics Armageddon? Will it really matter to anybody?
The "it" I am referring to is the current debate by the NCAA on whether or not printed media guides should continue to be produced. And if you think I am joking about the on-line arms race, I did not make this up. This came from the lips of a sports information director during a College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) conference call yesterday.
media guides, which have been used as recruiting tools more than as
an effective, efficient source of information for media, lead to an
all-out web site arms race between NCAA members schools?
There are two competing proposals on the table. One, backed by the PAC 10 and Big Ten, would eliminated printed guides entirely. The other, put forth by the Southeastern Conference would allow for continued printing, but ban their distribution to recruits.
There were some very interesting tidbits that came out on the call:
*Ohio State does not pay anything for the production of their media guides. It is done by a consortia that includes the Columbus Dispatch.
*North Carolina does not pay for their guide(s) either. It has paid for a buy a donor, and they want to retain printed guides to distribute to alumni and other donors.
*Coaches demand that what THEY want printed be included in the guides because they want to leave it with recruits after a visit.
*What schools do is often determined by the judgement of their compliance officers. One school said that they were told that if they call the on-line resource a "Media Guide" or "Recruiting Guide", they are bound by NCAA rules and restrictions regarding size, design, and layout. However, if they just call it an "Athletic Program Information Guide", they can do whatever they want.
So what does this mean for sports media people? Depending on who you talk to in the sports media world, you get different opinions. Yesterday, I posed the following questions to sports media professionals in print journalism, on-air broadcasters, and SID offices. Varied responses are listed after each question.
1. Will the elimination of printed media guides in favor of web only content have any impact on the way you prepare for and do your jobs?
"Yes. The NFL largely eliminated media guides at the Super Bowl this year in favor of thumb drives given to reporters on Day 1. I didn't even open my thumb drive until I returned home from Tampa. Because we tend to work on small, highly portable laptops with screens that are small enough as it is, it's inconvenient to switch back and forth between screens to check information. It's much easier to reference a book."
"This is a dreaful decision for broadcasters. I'll respond to you tomorrow. But basically it is unworkable during a live telecast."
"As long as I can get it one way or another."
"I will always remember taking the SEC press guides home after media days.... To be under weight on my plane I had to only take a tooth brush and tooth paste and the media guides to be under 50 LBS. It used to be incredible ... Remember Florida, I think being the heaviest.... probably 5 lbs or 100 trees which ever was more. What they need to do is use common sense.... and DON'T try to out do the others..."
" Not really. I might be quicker to grab a printed guide now, but I use the stuff online all the time already."
"Probably not. It all depends on how easy it will be to use the online media guides. There should be a company working on a solution for this: searchable stats, facts, history, etc."
2. If printed media guides are eliminated, what will NCAA member schools need to do with their web site content to make it usable and user friendly for your purposes?
"As an NFL writer, I'm pretty much out of the NCAA loop. I will say, however, that merely providing reporters information that's fully available to John Q. Fan."
"That varies from school to school and conference to conference. Some school and conference web sties are better than others."
"It would be more convenient if the material were available in HTML format instead of pdf only, but it's not the end of the world either way. It's just a headache sometimes when a slow site doesn't load the material I want to see quick enough."
"Make sure it's all well organized into webpages and not a giant PDF that will slow down computers that older and smaller colleges might be using."
3. If schools only make PDF copies of media guides available, are you more likely to work with them on your computer or will you print them for use?
"I would think reporters would print them, although PDF files aren't always standard sizes, so that can be problematic."
"Use online. The only one I think I'd even consider printing would be the team I cover regularly."
"Work with them on my computer. They will need to make extra space in the press boxes for all these laptops they'll have in them now, though."
4. What do you want and expect to be included in a "media only" media guide? What can you do without or live with if you had to go online for the content?
"Comprehensive statistics and year-by-year stats, results."
"Mostly, I need historical info: scores, rosters, records, etc."
"All I need are the coach/player bios and the numbers -- records, previous results, statistics, year-by-year stuff. Media guides could easily be half the size they are now if they removed all the unnecessary recruiting stuff about how great the campus, program and town are."
"I doubt I can live without anything in that book, especially when you're on the air on the radio doing a broadcast. If anything, more might be nice."
5. Proponents of the total elimination if any printed material are citing "cost savings considerations" and "environmental reasons". Do you agree or disagree that this move will help in either or both areas and why?
"I don't see how it wouldn't help."
"I'm sure the schools spend plenty, not only producing guides, but shipping them all over the country. I receive guides from Notre Dame and Texas A&M every year and have never covered either school even once. Also, sometimes we'll receive three copies of the same guide, addressed to a current employee as well as someone who hasn't worked here for years. There does seem to be a lot of waste because of needless shipping and schools not updating their mailing lists...Don't know about environmental concerns, except that if you visit any halfway-large newsroom, you'll see hundreds of old media guides sitting around until the sports editor gets tired of looking at them (this happens about every five years or so) and makes people clean their desks or bookshelves. And then they're just thrown away, not recycled."
"Agree in both areas. It's simply extremely expensive to print, and people see that. Also, that's more paper being manufactured that might not be recycled and contribute to environmental problems."
"Save the paper and printing. I see tons of that stuff thrown away after every event."
6. Are there other issues that you,as a sports media professional, feel are more important that need to be addressed by SIDs and the NCAA in general?
"This issue is not important to me. As long as the material is available online, it won't affect me or my staff whether they continue printing media guides or not. I'd PREFER that they continue printing something, even (preferably) if it's a smaller guide -- maybe the size of the bowl supplement they'll print in December. There are lots of things SIDs and the NCAA could focus on that would be more relevant -- their silly blogging rules, postgame and practice accessibility issues, hell, maybe getting a football playoff system together. Printed media guides are a convenience, not a necessity."
"Yes, the availability of information to media organizations, especially university student medias that are usually just fed leftovers and are disrespected."
There is more to come, and this is just the start. The bottom line is that this move will further marginalize smaller schools and conferences who may not have the staffing, budget, or infrastructure to move into an online environment only.