Big Ten Realignment; Media Overreactions

This year has not been a good one for sportswriters. With stories breaking on Twitter, the journalism landscape has changed quite a bit just in the last few years. But I think there are several guidelines that were applicable in 1950 and 1990 that are still applicable in 2010. For example, getting the story right is pretty important.

In 2010, I feel it’s not always about being accurate. It’s about being first. In 1950, this would have made more sense to me. Being the first really meant something back then. If your newspaper broke a story, nobody else could take ownership of it. It wouldn’t be until the next day—a full 24 hours!—that another paper could relay that news.

But now that we live in a 24-hour news cycle, does it even matter that much to be first? Any “breaking news” tweet gets retweeted in some form or another by a thousand different people. How you came about piece of information is likely different from how I came to that same bit of info. By the time the news becomes official, who even remembers where they first heard it?

The most prominent examples of sportswriters jumping the gun this year involved NCAA Tournament expansion, NBA free agency, and most recently, Big Ten realignment.

If you think back to the Final Four weekend, it was reported by many news outlets that a 96-team Tournament was a “done deal.” Enjoy the Duke-Butler game, they told us, because starting next year the Tournament won’t be the same. The NCAA was going for a quick cash grab, blind to the fact that fans would rebel and the greatest event in American sports would lose most of its luster.

Except, of course, it didn’t happen. The NCAA—whether it was their plan all along or their response to the public outrage—announced it would expand, but only to 68 teams. The door was left open for further expansion down the road, but March Madness is safe at least for 2011.

This offseason’s NBA free agency—also known as The Summer of LeBron—was even worse. At least with the NCAA Tournament, most media outlets were reporting the same inaccurate report. Free agency brought about dozens of false reports: LeBron is going to Chicago. Chris Paul and Carmelo are headed to New York. Wade is going to Chicago. LeBron is definitely staying in Cleveland.

Every report started with these four magic words: “Trusted sources tell me.” It became a joke. Everyone was lying to everyone, something that the public realized before journalists did.

The sports media jumped to conclusions regarding the Big Ten conference realignment, too. To be fair, many outlets got the two divisions correct. But Michigan and Ohio State fans were enraged over the report that “The Game” between the Wolverines and Buckeyes would not longer be played at the end of the season, as it had been every year but one since 1935.

Last year’s Game was played at the end of the regular season. It will stay there for at least the next two years, despite initial media reports.

The Michigan-OSU situation was very similar to NCAA Tournament expansion. Going by statements from the two schools’ athletic directors, it seemed like The Game would be moved. Much like after hearing NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen speak at the Final Four, many thought a 96-team field was inevitable. Likewise, the NCAA left the door open for further expansion in upcoming years. The Big Ten assured fans that The Game would remain at the end of the regular season through 2012, but the issue may be revisited at that time.

Did the Big Ten gauge the feedback and decide it was a bad move? Did they plan to split UM and OSU into different divisions all along, but never planned to move the date of their matchup? Or had they yet to make up their minds?

We’ll never know. But we do know not to believe the media reports until they are made official. Maybe the media will take a page out of the NCAA and Big Ten playbook: take note of our disapproval and change accordingly.

2 thoughts on “Big Ten Realignment; Media Overreactions”

  1. I couldn't agree more. The percentage of sports media dedicated to predicting future outcomes has reached an all-time high (emphasis on predicting as opposed to reporting).Yesterday, the ESPN Sportscenter hosts' were exuding fatigue in their faces and voices as they said "And now the college football season is ready to begin". They were so tired of speculating that they couldn't wait for live competition. Unfortunately, we (the fans) love speculation and gossip so it is our own fault for providing high TV ratings and web page hits for faulty reporting.

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