- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2009

Off in a side hallway at the ACC’s Football Kickoff last month sat one of the long-standing fixtures at preseason media events.

Stacks of freshly printed media guides - 208 pages of high-stock paper each - were available, a tangible resource for all but one team in the conference.

That school was Maryland, with a stack of notes replacing a shiny book. The school discontinued printing media guides this year, a decision that saves the department $150,000, said Brian Ullmann, Maryland’s senior associate athletic director for external operations.

“We had been wanting to put some more resources into our multimedia stuff online for a while and had a tough time harnessing those resources in terms of finances and personnel,” Ullmann said. “Clearly, the way things are going, in a couple years nobody is going to do a media guide. If they do, they’ll be minor.”

Maryland isn’t alone. At this month’s Big East media day, South Florida provided a one-page memo explaining its decision to move its printed version to its athletic department Web site. Since the spring, Michigan, Ohio State, Texas Tech and Wisconsin announced plans to scrap all media guides.

The changes influence conference offices as well. The ACC discontinued publishing media guides for each sport, though it did photocopy some hard versions for writers and provides reporters with a flash drive featuring an electronic version.

On the surface, it seems simple enough. In trying economic conditions, schools and leagues seek to preserve money for students - and for understandable reasons. There are even two legislative proposals to the NCAA; one from the Pac-10 to abolish media guides and another from the SEC to eliminate recruiting material from the books.

But there’s an intriguing trickle-down effect on boosters, coaches and schools’ own sports information offices that suggests the media guide isn’t immediately doomed to become a relic.

Among the strongholds for tradition is Navy, which plans to continue printing guides for all sports. Scott Strasemeier, the school’s associate athletic director for sports information, said the ability to scour through old media guides is helpful when he is researching details from decades ago.

Old media guides also were a primary resource for the committee Navy assembled to select the team honoring the 50th anniversary of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“I think we’re going to be losing our history if we get rid of them,” Strasemeier said.

There’s also the possibility of antagonizing crucial revenue sources when money is tight. Several schools, including North Carolina, provide media guides as a token of gratitude to their donors.

Steve Kirschner, North Carolina’s associate athletic director for communications, said the Rams Club and not the athletic department funds the cost of producing the guides. And while Kirschner describes himself as “very pro-change and pro-technology,” he also sees value in permitting a school to continue printing guides.

“We’re asking them more and more for more and more,” Kirschner said. “One of the things a donor likes, an older donor, is that printed publication they can put on their coffee table. I think you lose that branding. People are not going to print out and leave loose pieces of paper on their coffee table.”

Clearly, there is a generational issue in play as well. Maryland men’s soccer coach Sasho Cirovski, whose team has won two national titles in the last four seasons, remembers inheriting a program in disarray.

That included no media guide and essentially no historical perspective of a program that once was among the nation’s elite (and ultimately would be again). Last year, his program had a 64-page book, which included two pages dedicated to the 2005 title team.

“People like to open up a hardcover and have something they can have in their work bag or their desk as a resource. You don’t have a computer everywhere you go.” Cirovski said. “It’s part of a dose of reality with where we are with things. I guess I have accepted it. If all 27 sports are on board, I’m fine with it.”

That is the case in College Park. Football coach Ralph Friedgen, whose team will bus to Duke for an Oct. 24 game in a move that will save the department between $80,000 and $90,000, acknowledged the media guide cuts as another way to save money.

Still, there are costs. Between denying a minor pleasure to older fans who use a newly arrived media guide as a refresher course on the eve of a season to the perception of being the first in the league to eliminate anything, caution still exists.

“I understand the costs involved, and hopefully in the ACC, it’s a very competitive league,” basketball coach Gary Williams said. “The press guides are competitive just like any other aspect. Just talking basketball now, the only thing I worry about is if we’re the only school that doesn’t [print them]. How does that look to a recruit or to fans?”

The flip side is the potential for moving ahead of the curve. Maryland’s plan is to provide each team with a CD featuring embedded links to a sport-specific site to make up for the recruiting changes. The school anticipates updating its site with statistical information as a replacement to a media guide Ullmann said is out of date after the first game each season.

The school distributed an abbreviated, copied guide during its media day last week, but even that cost-conscious alternative could be zapped if the recruiting element that has seeped into the guides is eventually outlawed.

For now, media guides are merely endangered rather than extinct - and some schools are uninterested in making a hasty decision with the potential for unintended future consequences.

“Our athletic director sees the importance of printing media guides and is supportive of us doing so,” Strasemeier said. “We never take for granted the media that covers us, and we never will take it for granted. What the media needs is important to sports information and our athletic director. He sees the value in recruiting, too. It’s tough economic times, but he felt this was worth keeping.”

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