Throw the baby out with the bathwater!

LOS ANGELES, May 5, 2005 – One of the ways that you knew a school was a major football power was the thickness of its media guide. Past tense. No more.

“[T]he 2004 guides will be collectors’ items, the Tyrannosaurus Rex of their age,” said University of Pittsburgh Sports Information Director E.J. Borghetti in an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

Originally designed to gather key facts for writers and broadcasters, the “press book” morphed from a collection of mimeographed sheets to a pocket-sized, saddle-stitched, printed book in the 1960s. With advances in color printing and typography, most went to letter-sized, perfect-bound books in the late 1980s or 1990s.

When the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) saw an explosion of specialized recruiting guides about the same time, they banned them and saw the contents incorporated into the “media guide,” turning the books into combination reference guide and sales piece for the university and the football (or other sport) program it represents.

The result? Missouri won the national award for the best football guide in the nation for the 2003 season and constructed a Brontosaurus-sized follow-up with perhaps the biggest guide of all for the 2004 season: a staggering 614 pages in an oversized 9-by-12-inch format, with a gold-leafed-stamped cover!

And the Tigers had company. Texas, formerly the home of the largest guide in the nation was, according to its sports information staff, down to 478 pages for 2004, “but that’s down more than 100 pages from last year,” according to a staff member. She was right, the 2003 guide weighed in at 592 pages!

Most of the school football guides in the major conferences run about 400 pages. Georgia had 420 in its 2004 guide, Tennessee’s was 392 pages long, national champion Southern California had 388 and crosstown rival UCLA had 368, of which the last 50 were dedicated to a glossy preview of what prospective student-athletes could expect if they enrolled.

No more.

The NCAA passed legislation this past week which mandated a limit of 208 pages for any printed media guide. Why?

To save money? In its story, the Tribune-Review noted that Florida had saved about $20,000 by cutting 100 pages from its football media guide from 2003 to 2004. That won’t make much of a difference in a $30 million or so annual budget.

To create parity? Do you – or any prospective student-athlete – believe that a 208-page guide from Bowling Green will compare with the 208-page guide from Texas? There is a difference in content, you know . . .

University of Kansas Associate Athletic Director Doug Vance predicted this would happen. In 2002, he told Lawrence Journal-World sports editor Chuck Woodling, “It’s out of control. Everybody tries to out-do the other guy. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some legislation.”

There is nothing the NCAA loves more than control.

A better solution would have been to limit the use of such guides to media only and prohibit their use for boosters or for recruiting. Properly focused on their original mission, such guidebooks would narrow quickly to less than 300 pages to cover the current and historical information needed to report on a team. Schools with big football traditions like Texas, Penn State and Alabama have a lot more to talk about than Troy State, Nevada-Las Vegas and Buffalo. They should have the option to tout their history to news media, but a lot of that will go into online “media supplements” when the season starts.

Watch for the supplements to be sold in packages with the printed guides, and worse yet for the NCAA and the schools, watch for the rise in outside publishers who put together their own guides to the big teams, totally outside the control of the NCAA or anyone else.

Once those books – undoubtedly to be attached to fan website subscription packages – start becoming popular, replete with interviews and pictures of players and cheerleaders, will the NCAA then ban boosters from buying them?

Your local First Amendment attorney wants to know . . .

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