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|VOL. 47, NO. 2 • JULY 2009 • .PDF VERSION|
You've lived the scene: In the press box above a darkened stadium, clock ticking toward deadline, looking for one elusive factoid to complete the story.
You turn and ask the guy sitting next to you, but he's got the same deadline and no answers. And then you start flipping through a well-worn media guide.
In the happy ending, you find the fact, file the story and head home, lugging the media guide along.
But maybe you've heard: Those days might be ending. The media guide – in those situations and others, a sportswriter's best friend – is fast becoming an endangered species.
More than two dozen schools, including big names like Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin, will not print media guides for the 2009-10 school year. The Pac-10 has proposed NCAA legislation to eliminate printed media guides as a way to cut costs. The Big 12 has endorsed the idea. The Big Ten's big boys have done it, and that league is leaning the same way.
It's going to be on the Internet, they tell us. Everything's going online anyway, right?
But if the thought of dealing with erratic wireless on deadline doesn't concern anyone, there's also the added task of finding the information on those convoluted, complicated school Web sites. Does anyone think these things are going to be uniform in setup?
We could debate whether getting rid of media guides actually saves significant cash, or whether it's a shortsighted move that might cost the schools publicity. Doesn't matter which, because it's happening, and the movement seems to be growing.
The good news, and there is some, is a proposal from the Southeastern Conference to the NCAA. Schools would be allowed to print media guides, but could not send them to recruits.
"The intent is it would be a media guide," said SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom.
You know, like they once were. Like pro sports teams still produce. Bios of players and coaches, historical records, etc. No need to show the waterfall in the weight room, the air-conditioned lockers, or the fantastic beauty of the co-eds.
When media guides became part of the recruiting arms race, they got thicker than a metropolitan phonebook. The NCAA limited the number of pages to 208 several years back, but didn't solve the problem. Some guides are almost exclusively dedicated to recruiting.
Meanwhile, the rushing records can't be found.
So removing the recruiting sections would be nice. Media guides for Olympic sports might still be a casualty o f the economy, but football and basketball guides would remain. Schools could continue sending them to boosters and selling them to fans for keepsakes. But they wouldn't need to be nearly as elaborate, and the costs would go down.
Also, the all-time rushing stats might find their way back into the books.
This is a good, well-reasoned proposal, and something we should get behind. Aside: Why is it that college football's most-covered league seems to get the need for media coverage?
"There was a feeling amongst the group," Bloom said, "that historically speaking, the media coverage we've been able to obtain, there's a positive relationship there. We didn't want to cut off the communication and relationship we've had with the media. Our group felt media guides are good media relations."
See? The SEC gets it.
Others don't. Or don't care. Or don't think they can afford to care in these economic times.
John Humenik, the executive director of CoSIDA, says the consensus among sports information directors he's spoken with is to favor the SEC's proposal. Humenik recently participated in a discussion at a meeting of the NCAA's recruiting cabinet, which is considering the various options. He believes the SEC proposal has a chance to gain traction.
But even if the SEC proposal passes, it wouldn't take effect until the 2010-11 school year. Also, it's not a mandate to produce media guides; some schools and conferences almost certainly would not.
We should applaud the SEC for its stance. I hope its proposal succeeds, and that schools see the need to continue printing media guides – true media guides. If you agree, you can send your endorsement along to UCLA senior associate A.D. Petrina Long, chair of the NCAA's recruiting cabinet.
But it feels like too little, too late. The ship has sailed. We might slow it, but it's not turning around.
"No question, these things are going to disappear as we know them," Humenik said. "It's not a question of if it's going to happen. It's when."
So here's something that might help: The AT&T Cotton Bowl is planning to partner with collegepressbox.com to produce a DVD with 131 media guides – all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision (I-A) teams, plus the 11 conference guides – as well as the NCAA record book, rule book and statistical manuals, provided to all FWAA members. Each conference would receive a number of DVDs to distribute to media, as well.
You could download all of the information to your laptop, or carry the DVD in your bag. It wouldn't be on paper, an d for many of us, it wouldn't be nearly as easy as flipping through the media guide – at least, not on deadline.
But it's a good option, and considering what seems like the inevitable demise of printed media guides, it might be the best available idea.
Otherwise, as those ever-earlier deadlines approach, we'll have to hope the wireless is working, and the Web site is up, and the information is presented online in a easily accessible, coherent fashion.
If not, we can ask the guy next to us.
George Schroeder of the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard is the president of the Football Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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