Top Independents join TheInsiders network

TheInsiders.com network's ranks have swelled recently with the addition of several highly respected and previously fiercely independent sites.

SEATTLE - Don Yates knows a little bit about freedom. Fighting for it, after all, is his profession. Yates, you see, is in the U.S. Army, stationed at Ft. Lewis, about a half hour south of here in Washington state. Yates also has operated a Web site, VandyMania.com, that has been free as a flock for four of its six years of existence.

Freedom, as he defined it via his profession and his hobby, came under attack on Sept. 11, and Yates immediately pondered the short- and long-term consequences to his loved ones.

"If I got sent to Afghanistan," Yates recalled, "what would happen to VandyMania?"

Yates says he found his answer – and comfort – in TheInsiders.com.

He is not alone. VandyMania.com is part of a wave of previously fiercely independent sites that recently have joined TheInsiders.com.

The most recent addition are GoJackets.com, home of The Hive, a site that long has prided itself on being the premier independent site covering Georgia Tech sports, and CoogFans.com, the top site covering University of Houston sports.

Among the other prominent – in some cases, legendary – independents who have joined are ACCBoards, one of the largest message board sports communities on the Web; CyberBears.org, one of the oldest and most vibrant team sites on the Internet; BeaverFootball.com, a top site covering Oregon State; DukeBasketballReport, the No. 1 site covering Duke basketball, and Gridscape, the No. 1 site covering Tennessee.

Other prominent additions are OUInsider, which covers Oklahoma and features renowned recruiting expert James Hale; Monter Draft and College Basketball News, featuring leading NBA draft analyst Chris Monter; RainbowSportsNetwork.com, the top site covering Hawaii; RaiderInsider, featuring coverage of Texas Tech by nationally recognized recruiting expert Max Emfinger and writer Thayer Evans; StruttingWolf.com, a leading fan site covering North Carolina State, and Terptown.com, a leading site covering Maryland.

TheInsiders.com's deal with Yahoo! was influential in winning over many of the independents.

"I have come to believe that the Yahoo! deal will massively assist CyberBears' outreach to Cal fans wherever they are - which in our case means world-wide numbers that I believe way exceed any other University anywhere," said Chris Avery of CyberBears. "And I believe that the broadcast rights that Yahoo! now has - and will offer along with access to our sites - is just one step, the critical first one - towards a world where a broadband Internet will provide a primary access to audio/video connections to our Alma Mater. I think it essential for any website that considers itself to be 'the primary (even if non-official) Web site' for a University - as we do - to be a participant in this evolution."

Other considerations also were cited by the independents as reasons for joining the network. Some traded antiquated technology solutions for a scalable, stable platform that impressively, they say, sailed through the harsh demands of Signing Day 2002. Others were seeking to save the costs of site and message board hosting, software, tech support and other features that some say can run as much as $500 to $1,000 for large sites.

Making money was a distant goal. In fact, GoJackets.com, for one, plans to use any revenue generated to pay longtime staff members who have been contributing content and services for free, finally cover costs of operating the site, and donate to Georgia Tech causes.

Vision and leadership of the network were listed as important reasons for trading independence.

"I remained independent for the first five years of running Grassy.com and when I sat down and saw what TheInsiders.com offered I decided to research with other publishers what their thoughts were from working with (network CEO) Jim Heckman," said Bryan Knoll, one of the first leading independent publishers to join TheInsiders.com. "The consensus was that Jim followed through on what he said he would do. Based on that I decided to join TheInsiders.com and have been very impressed. There hasn't been a case yet where I was told something and it turned out to be untrue.

"I try to not only do what is helpful for our Hurricane community right now but also the long run," added Knoll, whose site covering Miami sports has been renamed as CanesTime.com. "The single attribute regarding Jim that sticks out the most is his entrepreneurial drive. You will not out-work this guy and that is something that the publishers in our network are seeing and reaping the benefits from. I think a lot of people can plan for today but Jim is working on what we're going to be doing next month, next year."

Knoll was typical of an overwhelming majority of the formerly independent TheInsiders.com publishers. Their stanch independence made them even utterly elusive targets for the late, great Rivals.com, which Heckman founded. Avery, for one, resisted any association that meant a "loss of identity" for CyberBears.

"We were very encouraged to see a 'new paradigm' evolve (after the demise of the old Rivals network) for potential relationships between an independent publisher like us, and a national network like TheInsiders," Avery said. "Jim (Heckman), this time around, seemed to us to be clearly focused on 'publishers as independent entities' - who in turn participate in a network. This led us to open long conversations about ways and means by which we could preserve our essential culture as a Web site and publisher - yet also offer our readers the benefits of enhanced access to recruiting and other network features.

"Jim deserves a lot of credit for being flexible and willing to substantially adapt to our needs."

Yates was among just a couple who had a brief interlude under the old Rivals umbrella; when he left, he was resolute about not going back to a network.

"I was pretty set on staying an independent site," Yates said. "But it was time to be part of a group, rather than alone. Being able to do things youself, the way you want to do them, is nice. But it's also nice to have support, to have other publishers, to not be alone."



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