Back in the day, TigerBlog's introduction to Princeton athletics was mostly through covering the men's basketball team for the local newspaper. TigerBlog was issued a media credential, which gave him access to the players and coaches. TB obviously wrote pregame stories, attended games, wrote game stories afterwards, wrote feature stories, focused on recruiting in the off-season and generally did the basics that sportswriters do.
Princeton played in the Oldsmobile Spartan Classic at Michigan State in 1990, and TigerBlog was the halftime guest of then-radio play-by-play man David Brody during one of the games (Princeton knocked off Arkansas-Little Rock and then fell by two to Michigan State in the final). It wasn't long before TB was part of the game broadcasts as the color commentator, with just Brody on the road and then with Brody and Rich Simkus during home games.
All of this brings us to Jon Solomon. For those who don't know, Solomon runs a Website called princetonbasketball.com, the focus of which is obvious. Solomon does most of the same types of things that TigerBlog did back in his newspaper days, with a focus on the written word and on audio content. Like TB, Solomon has a media credential, which like TB gets him access to the players and coaches.
There is a major difference, though. TigerBlog did all this because it was his job; Solomon does it because he is a fan. He makes no secret of that, and the focus of the site is from the fan's perspective.
He follows the entire Princeton basketball tree, which means that the site offers links to stories about any former Princeton player or coach and their current teams, whether it be Will Venable in the Major Leagues or Judson Wallace in Europe or John Thompson with Georgetown or anyone else.
There can be no doubt that Solomon's site is a good one and a great source of information for any Princeton basketball fan, especially in one area: recruiting. GoPrincetonTigers.com (or TigerBlog or any official university publication) cannot talk about prospective athletes until they've been admitted officially and returned their card that signifies that they've accepted the admissions spot. Solomon's site can say anything it wants anytime it wants.
As a result, Princeton basketball fans can follow the recruiting process from start to finish and then get game-by-game updates on athletes who have said (or had their parents or high school coaches say for them) that they were attending Princeton. Solomon can link to information on athletes who have even remotely mentioned they were interested in Princeton, whether they end up here or not. No University publication can do this.
This subject, and the larger ramifications of it, were covered recently by the Washington Post in an excellent story about the continued blurring of the line of what makes someone a "journalist." As an aside, one of the writers, Eric Prisbell, is a former Trenton Times writer; as another aside, TigerBlog first saw the story when it was one of the links that Solomon puts on his site.
It took TigerBlog awhile to warm up to the idea of offering Solomon the access that he has. Most of the reason TB is okay with it is because Solomon himself has proven he can be trusted not to abuse this access, and the result is a quality product.
At the same time, Solomon sits in the stands during games, not in the press section. TB always wants to make a point of seeing if Solomon cheers during games but can never remember to do so while the game goes on. If there are any rules of journalistic integrity remaining, can at least it be the idea of not cheering in the press box (something that TB has seen more and more of through the years, and it makes him cringe)?
TigerBlog, of course, always wanted Princeton to win when he was covering the team for the paper (at least after he got past the whole "being a graduate of Princeton's biggest rival" thing), but it's not something that ever was visible outwardly.
One of two things happen when a reporter covers a team for a long time: Either the reporter becomes a fan of the team, or the reporter starts to root for everything that can possibly go wrong for the team to go wrong (we call the latter "The Eckel Theory"). There's almost no middle ground.
When it was a bunch of newspaper guys in a press box, the worst thing that could happen was they'd compete to see who could say the funniest, most sarcastic line. Now, there are greater ramifications.
When you have someone who has great access to coaches and that person wants to help the coaches, especially in recruiting, it puts them in position to cross a line that a university can't have crossed. If Solomon wanted to, there's little stopping him from being a quasi-recruiter of his own as he interacts with recruits and potential athletes.
There are two issues for Princeton in all this. First is the idea of what to do to make sure that no compliance rules are being violated, even if nobody at the university is directly involved in them.
The second is the one that directly affects us here at TigerBlog HQ. Who is entitled to a credential? NCAA tournament credentials used to read: "full-time, salaried employee of an accredited media organization." The NCAA used to prevent reporters from Websites from getting credentials. Now the issue is beyond that, to bloggers and as we move along every "social networking" function.
TigerBlog's rule for issuing credentials used to be "are you producing some original content off of the credential?" Even that doesn't work anymore. Solomon runs a legitimate site; what about the next person who comes along who calls himself a media member and has some homemade site? What if it's an anti-Princeton site?
The sport of lacrosse has skyrocketed in terms of the number of Websites there are. TB routinely gets requests from sites he's never heard of before. Should we let them in? What about people who request a photo pass and then want to sell the pictures?
Factor into all of this the point that Princeton athletics has become its own media outlet, with a Website, a blog, a TV channel and everything else.
Today, it's all changed, and it will continue to change. Princeton has an equal responsibility to protect itself and to offer access to legitimate media members, but the definition of what is a legitimate media member isn't so obvious.
None of the issues are as clear as they used to be. You write for the paper? Here's your pass and your seat on press row. You don't write for a paper? There's the ticket office.
It's a policy that is outdated. The new policy? There really isn't one.