By deciding to go all digital effective immediately, the Buckeyes and primary rival Michigan have opted to save some cash and a few trees. After all the talk we've heard about OSU's athletic department trying to cut costs wherever possible during the current economic downturn, this seems like a necessary move. In fact, it is one that has been kicked around at various levels for a number of years.
But in the ever-competitive world of recruiting, I'm not sure that this won't come back to harm the Buckeyes in some way down the road.
The NCAA has had its eye on media guides for some time, and plenty of groaning backpacks were granted relief in 2005 when guides were capped at 208 pages. Prior to that, OSU's 2003 and 2004 media guides maxed out at 360 and 346 pages, respectively. I remember Texas in particular putting out a guide that contained what seemed like a thousand pages during that time.
Rather than make the move out of benevolence aimed at the media, the decision was primarily made to prevent schools from enjoying a recruiting boost by putting out ridiculously oversized guides that merely served as recruiting handbooks for high school prospects. Not only did the NCAA cap the page limit, but the number of colors allowed to be used inside the guide was set at one.
Here is my thought, though: won't this most recent decision have some sort of impact on recruiting? If not for Ohio State, than at least for some of the smaller schools in the Big Ten?
Ron Zook has to be licking his chops in Champaign, Ill., with this development. The head coach for Illinois has made no secret of his desire to recruit within the state of Ohio, and he has had a certain level of success in the past few seasons.
When a 17-year-old football player is sitting in his living room surveying all the mail that he has received from prospective colleges, that glossy Illinois media guide will assuredly stand out more than any Xeroxed pamphlet the Buckeyes have sent him. Now, I am not suggesting that any given prospect will be swayed to join the Fighting Illini instead of the Buckeyes based solely upon the merits of a single publication, but to me that does add one advantage to other schools.
Although the NCAA rules state that schools can not produce more than one media guide a year, there is a loophole if the guide in question is for a special event. Examples given are for a postseason event or spring football session.
This wording has allowed the Buckeyes to essentially put out two guides in each of the last two years. One has gone to beat writers during spring football and is sometimes labeled as the spring guide, and the other one has been released before the season and is labeled as the media guide.
In 2007, the spring guide contained all the pertinent info about the team and measured 160 pages. The media guide – in name only – was 208 pages and had no practical value whatsoever other than to catch the eyes of recruits. I remember carrying it around during photo day that fall and having players on the team stopping me so they could admire the cover modeled after a football helmet – complete with buckeye leaf stickers.
In 2008, OSU abandoned all pretense and labeled both the spring and fall guides as media guides, perhaps recognizing that we would all use the spring guide as the reference book necessary to write about the team and put the fall version on a bookshelf somewhere. That tradition looked to continue this year, as the spring media guide checked in at 168 pages.
Now, the guides will go online and news outlets will be forced to print off necessary pages for those times when internet connections are not readily available. Believe it or not, those times do exist.
But will this have an impact on recruiting? I can't see how it won't on some level.
To me, it is taking one piece of ammunition from a team's arsenal. While OSU absolutely has built-in recruiting advantages that other teams do not, this does put it at a disadvantage in one category.
Head coach Jim Tressel has said that the team has cut back on what it sends recruits over the years in an effort to make letters from OSU special for those receiving them. Will a link to an online guide provide the same feeling?
Unless every school in the country opts to follow suit – and why would they? – this move will allow other schools to make up a small amount of ground on the Buckeyes and the Wolverines. The rest of the Big Ten can – and should – use this opening to try and promote their universities in a way that the typical front-runners are not.
But hey, at least it saves a few bucks.