Monday, March 9, 2009

Are You Paying Attention?

Inside Lacrosse's Terry Foy, one of the very capable members of the "new media" that has overtaken the sport, was in the press box late Friday night at UMBC Stadium after Princeton's 6-5 win over the Retrievers when he innocently asked a question that TigerBlog has been wondering about for years.

"Do your guys read what we write about them?" Foy wondered.

His question was asked in the context of a player at Virginia who had been moved of IL's weekly Player of the Year watch and then responded with a huge game. Could that be a coincidence, Foy was wondering, or had he drawn inspiration from being moved off the watch list?

Back in the day, TigerBlog used to wonder if Princeton athletes had even heard of newspapers like the Trenton Times or the Princeton Packet, let alone read them. The local papers were the main - and in some cases only - source of information on Princeton athletes prior to the rise of the Web, and yet there was no indication that these athletes were aware of that fact.

Then the Web came along, and everything did a 180 (TigerBlog used to say "a 360" until realizing that meant a complete circle that brought us back to where we started). Today, word on Princeton athletics exists on and here on its subsidiary blog, as well as countless other sites. A quick search can take athletes to anywhere on the internet, and people no longer care if they're reading the Web version of a newspaper that's printed, a student newspaper, a sport-specific Website or any other source of news.

These days, the feeling is completely reversed. There's no question that Princeton athletes are reading about themselves in any number of places. The Princeton Office of Athletic Communications operates on the assumption that every opposing coach and player is reading every word written about their team on our sites and that Princeton athletes and coaches are doing the same. TigerBlog has heard any number of coaches and athletes make reference to the spin that comes from other schools, just as the opposite is probably true.

The real issue, though, is whether or not there is a correlation between what an athlete reads and subsequent performance. Can an athlete be so slighted by being dropped from a Player of the Year watch list after one down game that he/she can use that as motivation for a huge game the next time? Can an athlete from one school read something on another school's site and use that as part of preparation for the upcoming contest?

It seems a little artificial to think that way. In many ways, if an athlete needs that kind of lift, then the usual motivational factors such as team and pride and competitiveness have failed, which isn't good.

On the other hand, maybe what an athlete or coach reads provides the last little piece needed to put them over the top after all the other factors leave them just short. That would mean that whoever is doing the writing has some power to control the outcome, something TigerBlog has always thought was a ridiculous notion.

But it is a new world. Maybe TB needs to rethink that position. And if it's actually the case, then TigerBlog, and those like TB, have more power than they thought. Maybe we all need to be paid more?

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