This time of year is often known as “the silly season,” as media organizations that cover football full time try to find ways to keep reading coming back during the doldrums. There are previews, and countdowns, and all manner of ways to remind people they still exist.
Mind you, we do the same thing. There’s nothing wrong with getting readers to return during the off-season. But among the good, there’s the inane, the kind of fluff that exists solely to generate needless debate and page views while offering no real analysis once so ever.
Essentially what First Take does every morning, only in written form.
There’s no better example of the kind of needless waste than the form of countless award “watch lists” that pop up every off season.
“There are the 50 guys you should watch for this one award,” their creators cry. “We’re doing you a service, getting you excited for the season while telling you where the talent is across the nation.”
So where is that talent? The same place it was last season.
We wrap the offseason in awards: we end the year with the list of All-Americans, which nearly every major media organization feels they should have their own list of, and before those same players take the field again, we’re handing out the same awards, to many of the same guys, only with a different name attached.
“Our star quarterback was named a 2012 Second team All-American, and 2013 Preseason second team All-American,” the team will say. The media will refer to him in the same way throughout the year in countless story after story. “Games like this is why he was named a preseason All-American,” you’ll read.
The second of those isn’t an award. What did a player do to earn it since January? Sure, he’s working hard in the offseason, as are all players. (Well, almost all) But we, the media, eat it up. We post the lists. Schools send it out in press releases, hailing their players who are on the lists. Conferences then follow, posting the information in their media guides, and mentioning it in speeches to the press on media day. It’s one of the greatest tools for promoting a team, hoping to convince fans to come out for the home opener.
But that’s where it’s value ends. It’s promotion, plain and simple, and the media not only supports it, they’re the driving force behind it.
The preseason “awards” are absurd, but they don’t hold a torch to the “Watch Lists.” 25 or 50 names to watch for an award only one player will win, whose name may or not be on the list to begin with. At the bottom of the list, names no reasonable person would expect to be in contention, there to fill out a round number determined by an editor sitting one day sipping coffee behind an expensive desk in his office.
No one at the beginning of the season is looking at 50 names for an award. They’re looking at five, maybe 10 tops. Others may pop up as the season goes, but there are never truly more than a handful of players in contention.
I understand these lists, these awards can be used to help a school get into the spotlight, and gain momentum with fans heading into the season. I bet if you asked every SID in the country, the vast majority would tell you they love these lists, they’re free press.
But, as a member of the media, we should be striving for something more. Something more than drivel that gets your name in a school’s public relation materials; something more than inciting an argument over which player is better on school’s message boards. There are things that can be done to inform and entertain, but actually raise the level of discourse about college sports.
Who are the players that didn’t make last year’s All-American lists that are on the rise? Sure, they’re on the back end of these lists, but they’re names are buried under the names of those that did, and far too often go unnoticed. Who are the guys that will never appear on an awards watch list, with an amazing story of just making it onto the team.
There are great stories to be told, and there are great writers out there telling them. We need more of it.
We’re not above it here at OVC Ball, I know. We’re just as culpable as many other media organizations across the nation. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do better. And we’re going to.
This is really a flaw in journalism as a whole, as a business model. Good writing doesn’t alone keep you employed if no one reads it. Conversely, readers will keep you employed, even if it’s not good writing.
We can do better, and we can do both.
We can start by ending the “Watch list” madness.