Make no mistake about it, college basketball is big business.
Recently I was discussing the quest for 2010 big men on the campuses of Kentucky and North Carolina with some fans from both schools.
The reason both schools are working so hard to line up big men for the 2010 year isn’t because they can’t find players. These two schools are so nationally recognized that they have thousands of big men who would bolt to their program if given the opportunity.
In addition to being on a national power, the teams play nearly all of their games on national television, with massive fan bases. Both schools’ basketball programs have a deep reach into pro basketball, which means that players that attend those schools will make connections with coaches, players, scouts and ex-players who can help them land a big paycheck in the future, even if it’s not playing on a roster.
But both schools can’t take just any post player. They need power players, players who are good enough to help them maintain their status as a national force. This is because for big time college basketball, it’s not just about winning, it’s about money.
As a result, college basketball recruiting is a huge piece of the business of college basketball, and has been a cottage industry for some time. There are scouting services and websites that have proliferated over the past few years.
Traditional media and scouting services hate, absolutely hate, the sudden infusion of new people into what used to be their own domain. They sneer at the concept of ‘fan’ websites following high school recruiting and claim that it’s all amateur. This, despite the fact that many new services are run by coaches, journalists or ex-players.
On one hand, the criticism is correct. There is an issue already in high school basketball recruiting where independent people can inject themselves into the recruiting process where college coaches can’t. Traditional newspapers will complain that anyone can start a website, obtain media credentials and get right next to highly sought after recruits. This is a straw man argument, however, because ‘anyone’ can start a newspaper, ‘anyone’ can start a newsletter, and there is no difference between a media outlet which is a printed paper circulating to 10,000 people and a website with 10,000 unique readers.
The only difference between any of these media outlets is management and integrity. Claiming that somehow printed scouting services or newspapers are any more legitimate just because of the method of distribution is a hollow argument. I would point to examples such as the New York Post and other methods of yellow journalism that pervade printed, established media to illustrate that the legitimacy of a media outlet is completely dependent on the ethics of the publisher, and nothing else.
It’s quite easy today to pick up any newspaper and find a story with poor or non-existent source attribution, laden with opinionated bias represented as fact, and in many cases, outright interpretation of the facts. Irresponsible journalism is rampant across printed media, television media and the radio airwaves, so the idea that these legacy media outlet have any credibility in pointing out who is a legitimate news source is a farce.
Are there people injecting themselves irresponsibly into the world of college basketball recruiting? Absolutely. But it’s not limited to online publishing.
One specific item is how there is so much focus on ‘ranking’ players in a particular class. I must preface the following by mentioning that many colleagues who I respect and who have contributed at one time or another to our sites run ranking services and publications. They work hard to produce accurate representations of the talent levels in a given class.
But I have always maintained that our site’s focus was on actual scouting and following the players. Ranking a player as number 10 in his class is not the same as discussing how a specific player will fit in at a certain program or what that player’s specific abilities are.
Rankings are fun for the fans, and they have their place. But for us, we are more focused on strategy, contribution and long term prospects. The perfect example is a 6’8″ post player who can rebound like mad but doesn’t score much. He’s incredibly valuable to a team with scorers on the wings, but in a ranking system he’s likely a dud.
This is not to take rankings to task. I mention the concept of rankings merely to point out that rankings were created by established, printed media, decades ago, in almost all cases by people who had never coached or played basketball at any level.
In other words, exactly the way that those same media outlets complain about the ‘new media’ today.
The difference is now there is far more scrutiny. For us, our sites have contributions from journalists, players, ex-players and coaches. Some of our contributors have worked for or played for NBA teams, some for Division I programs. So while we constantly hear the ‘old media’ complaining about our new media, we can’t help but wonder who decided they were the experts.