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February 22, 2004

Stop The Presses?

FROM THE NCAA COMES WORD that initial approval has been gained for big changes in the size, expense and format of college football and basketball media guides. An April vote is scheduled to decide the future of guides for Division I.

The proposal, No. 03-88, calls for converting printed media guides to all electronic formats. The cost and size of media guides triggered the initiative. Some guides are more than 500 pages, and many have elaborate foldouts, die-cuts and layovers. Most Division I schools distribute thousands of media guides to high school recruits, and this has become another element of the arms race that has ratcheted up overall spending.

Arms race elements though they may be, the guides are often disproportionately helpful to smaller and less glamorous schools that are creative enough to make their campuses appear bigger and better than reality.

A less restrictive proposal is also pending, No. 03-32, which would prohibit media books from being distributed to recruits (but not from being printed altogether). The books could still be provided to media, alumni, students and boosters.

Not surprisingly, many D1 SIDs are unhappy with the proposals. Many of them derive great pride from their involvement with the content and design of quality media guides that portray their institution in the most favorable manner possible. Further, the curtailment of media guides would have a significant effect on the quality of their jobs, as the guides are often the best parts of their responsibilities.

The initiative for the elimination of the printed guides is based upon the assumption that the huge majority of intended recipients have access to the internet and would be comfortable in switching to online methods for information.

However, many SIDs are skeptical that sports information consumers are ready for the everything-online proposal The SIDs counter that technology is not as widespread as the initiative’s proponents claim. As examples of the difficulty, they cited failure of laptop batteries and the need for three or four CDs to handle the entire media guide contents. Plus the frequent waits for downloading graphics.

Furthermore, many people simply prefer printed information over the online alternative. For many purposes a printed piece--particularly one with slick die-cuts, layovers and foldouts like the D1 media guides--has more value than a computer screen.

"Say you're being recruited by 20 schools and you get 20 media guides," said University of Utah SID Liz Abel, "You may flip through most, maybe even all, and you may look at one or two of them very seriously. But how many Web sites are you going to pull up, go to the media guide section, click on the right file and scroll?"

The difference is akin to reading a real printed newspaper—arms extended, in an easy chair, everything there without no mouse clicking, scrolling or waiting—or accessing that newspaper online. Certainly, they both have a place, but printed newspaper subscriptions have held steady at 55 million despite the ease of free access online editions.

Such is the popularity of the printed format that John Painter of University of Tennessee, Knoxville postulates a possible ominous outcome--that the guides will be printed anyway, outside of the institution's control. A crafty entrepreneur could gain access to the information and publish unofficial guides with the advertising as part of the publication.

“There could be casino gambling ads, alcohol ads, you name it," he said. "And then that will get into recruits' hands.”

(this 573 word excerpt was drawn from a 2178 word article in the NCAA News of 2-16-04)