In the world of recruiting websites, you have Rivals, Scout, ESPNU and Max Preps. And now there’s 247Sports.com, started last year and staffed by a number of former Rivals employees. They’re following the model of Scout and Rivals (who’ve both been around for over a decade) in producing team-specific coverage.
And then there are a ton of independent sites not affiliated with any major network but often act as big players in the local market.
When it comes to the team-specific sites, it’s very hard core. If you want to follow your college basketball and/or college football team year round in extreme detail, then these sites are for you. It’s all the information you can ask for, and some you didn’t.
These services are changing the way sports are covered on both the collegiate and high school level. To help make sense of all of it, I enlisted the help of the Northwestern site manager for Rivals (owned by Yahoo!): Louie Vaccher of WildcatReport.com
I asked both what the average fan probably doesn’t know about recruiting services, but should know.
Vaccher: “Coaches may not like us, but it’s clear that fans sure do. We fill a niche for those rabid, die-hard fans who want more team coverage than what they get in their local paper and who want to interact with other fans like them.”
True, star numbers don’t always equal results, just ask Notre Dame. And the wealth of knowledge available on these sites satisfies the geekiest of geeks.
So on a macro level what distinguishes Rivals and Scout from the competition from the rest?
Vaccher: “Rivals is sort of the biggest dog in the fight. We are the most established college sports website network out there. The Rivals’ network is pretty extensive, and I think all of the college site publishers leverage it. For WildcatReport, for instance, having a guy like Illinois recruiting expert Edgy Tim O’Halloran is invaluable.
As far as Northwestern goes, WildcatReport is simply the largest online community of NU fans out there. We were the first recruiting site – or website of any kind – to get a media credential from NU. (The irony is that a certain linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator by the name of Pat Fitzgerald was instrumental in getting us that credential.) I was also the first NU guy who called prospects and wrote stories, and the site just grew steadily over time. I have literally ten times as many subscribers as I had when I took over the dormant site in 2004.”
Pat Fitzgerald has certainly opined on the star rating system…
Vaccher: “Fitz let EVERYONE know on Signing Day how he felt about the work that I do. His “blitz” was tongue-in-cheek, but there’s no question that he doesn’t like recruiting sites or star ratings very much – even though he had a very different outlook when he was an assistant.
However, Fitz is not alone in his thinking. In fact, I don’t know any head coaches who really like recruiting websites. To them, we don’t know anything about evaluating players, and all we do is interfere with the process and put undue pressure on both coaches and incoming recruits. Assistant coaches sometimes like us, though.”
Critics accuse these team focused sites of being “cheerleader media” i.e. their site colors are the same as the school colors, and possessing a more favorable slant, which in theory would grant them better access.
Vaccher: “To me, you can charge many media outlets with some level of that same criticism. Does BTN promote the Big Ten? Of course it does. Do local papers in college towns favor the hometown team? Probably. Heck, the Chicago Tribune owned the Chicago Cubs until recently.
I try to be transparent about it. Everyone on my site knows that I’m a Northwestern fan. WildcatReport is my hobby, not my full-time job, and it’s my labor of love. I think the bottom line is that you have to write for your audience. Who is my audience?
Northwestern fans. So naturally, the stories I publish are going to have a Northwestern slant and be of interest to Northwestern fans. We criticize the Wildcats’ performance when it’s appropriate, but we don’t pretend that we’re 100-percent objective.”
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, MSN and Fox Sports
A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; and he’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.