So you know I love a good blog war. And also a decent quibble over semantics, which would mandate noting that paid 'recruiting sites' are not, in fact, blogs. But actually, that makes this one way better. I've also historically often been strongly meh on recruiting coverage in general, for three main reasons:
1. The relative creepiness of engaging these teens about their sports program/college education selection process, and the pre-madonnaness it perpetuates
2. I don't totally trust the recruiting sites' business models
3. The awful quality of recruiting commenter offerings
But lately we (at least at BSD, the only place I regularly take in recruiting coverage these days) seem to have finally stipulated the core old saws of the #starzdebate (that, in general, more high-starz players are better and that starz are not causally indicative of a better team or program). Also, I've always liked Junny and have been curious to watch his bloggy career unfold, especially given his historical interest in recruiting.
So when this thread opened and closed yesterday at Lions 24/7, a site that has received more than its fair share of endorsements from the BSD family since its launch not long ago, I had to take a look. The main thrust (hey, now!) of the conversation is the proposition that recruiting coverage, specifically the interviewing of prospective recruits, should be left to the 'professionals' employed by the paid sites, such as Rivals, Scout, L24/7, & ESPN and that blogs such as BSD & Victory Bell Rings are causing damage to the landscape. But a few other attenuated issues & questions have arisen from that discussion:
1. A notion that bloggers who may also be season ticket holders who, as such, are Nittany Lion Club members and, as such, are 'boosters' may be doing damage to the program by putting it in danger of NCAA sanctions, if that organization were to determine that these Blogger Boosters are in any way persuading recruits to 'come to Penn Schtaaate.'
2. A notion that some corners of the recruiting landscape are more tolerated or approved by the Penn State coaching staff than others.
After some considerable deliberation and two huge cups of coffee, I have settled on my position. In an effort to perpetuate the absurd, which is what any blog war totally deserves, you can view my hat-donning position announcement after the jump (if you've made it this far):
Bloggers doing recruiting coverage and interviewing prospective college athletes is good for the future of these sports.
The college selection process is an exciting time for prospective athletes. It can be stressful, like it can be for students who don't necessarily have an athletic scholarship type future in college, but from the interviews I'm seeing, it sounds far more exciting and hopeful. To have major college sports programs interested in your teenage self and vying for your athletic services in exchange for their free education services has got to be a trip. It sounds like it's a fun thing to share with their families and friends and a lot of student athletes seem to really get a kick out of the announcement delivery. Now that characterization is obviously more favorable than the opposite, 'caring is creepy' pole, which remains defensible when the subject is the interviewing of teenagers, but it's not unrealistic either. Recent prospect interviews seem to confirm it.
Bloggers, especially at a site as popular and with as many readers as BSD, can offer additional exposure to these athletes and in so doing, increase the fun for them and their families. Perhaps more importantly in this age of social media, they can help engender a sense of community among the players and fans of possible future teams. And they can do this better than the paid sites can! Blogger readership isn't paying for the right to read their content. Bloggers aren't ranking any recruits (not yet, at least). And bloggers have the same rights to high school athlete access that paid sites do (at present, at least).
I admit it, I thought it was weird when Junny started calling high school kids to build content. But it looks and sounds like the recruits are into it, granting interviews (however static the info coming out of them, regardless of the conveyance machine bringing it to us, may be) and sending along happy pictures. And the BSD readership seems to be digging it as well. And, thank gawd, the recruiting commenter chatter here seems to have even picked up its game and isn't as gawd-awful as I remember it. There also doesn't seem to be any evidence that this coverage has been persuasive (beyond its obvious residence at a partisan fan site), such that the NCAA might get interested. But most importantly, it appears that Junny is gaining recruit trust. It seems like the easiest way to do that is to respect athlete announcement wishes. We've already seen what damage the Ricky Bobby first to break news steez can do, and Junny & BSD have so far avoided it.
And all this is what the paid recruiting sites' 'professionals' should be afraid of and what it looks like the L24/7 thread seems to indicate they are beginning to be afraid of. The competition. Trustworthy, a huge, free, audience, and a growing sense of community between athletes and fans. These are real services and a real threat. So until bloggers start doling out recruiting rankings (while it doesn't seem remotely practical, still, please don't) or producing 7-on-7 camps, I think we're looking at an improvement to what I've long considered a murky landscape. At the very least, the development should be worth keeping an eye on.