A few weeks after the The Washington Post unleashed their 3 part series detailing Gary Williams’ recruiting struggles, Maryland beat writers Steve Yanda and Eric Prisbell are “at it again” today with a story linking the recruitment of high school superstar Lance Stephenson to Under Armour’s relationship with the University of Maryland.
Let me pull the curtain back a bit. First of all; Eric is an OUTSTANDING writer. He has been around the program for years; and despite the fact that Yanda is now the official basketball beat writer; Prisbell is still the secondary writer, and travels with the team. He has outstanding relationships with many people in and around the program, he is a thorough researcher, and is not afraid to ask anything of anyone. His interview with Gary Williams for the three part series is a compelling read.
I do not know as much about Steve. Steve is from Marquette; and is in his first season covering the team. He’s a very young man (21, and just graduated from college in 2008), and his previous writing was for the Marquette Tribune. I cannot tell you as much about him as a writer; only because he hasn’t been covering Maryland athletics as long. From what I’ve read, and from the questions I’ve seen him ask; I believe he has done a good job of covering the team in his first season and trying to develop relationships.
The most important thing that has come from both the recent 3 part series and this morning’s story is exactly what John Feinstein told Drew Forrester Wednesday morning. These articles are the proof of why it remains important that we have print journalists who are allowed to take the time, travel, and fully research these stories. There are unfortunately too many print sources that no longer even allow their writers to travel with the teams they cover (Washignton Times Wizards beat writer Mike Jones has recently fallen victim to that budget-cutting cost). This article today was well-researched and well-written; much like the 3 part series was.
When Lance Stephenson (a top ten recruit nationally) SUDDENLY had Maryland in his Top 4, there were murmors passed around College Park that Maryland graduate and athletic booster Kevin Plank may have bailed out Gary by intervening on behalf of the company he founded, Under Armour. These murmors were based on the fact that Plank was pursuing Stephenson as a potential UA spokesperson; and that Stephenson had visited Under Armour headquarters around the same time as his visit to Comcast Center to see the Terps beat Miami January 31st. The ties were logical. Gary Williams was under fire for what many consider to be poor recruiting in recent years, and Plank could use his status as preferred outfitter for MANY young athletes to help convince Stephenson to consider his alma mater. Those ties were further linked when Stephenson suddenly lifted Maryland to his Top 4 after not being believed to even have the Terps on his radar.
The Post did an outstanding job of detailing how such a relationship could be a recruiting violation. They even did a great job of discussing the individual relationships between Under Armour and the University; as well as Lance Stephenson and Under Armour.
But what they never did was somehow find something that might actually BE a recruiting violation. Instead, they found out that all three parties had ties. Which we all knew beforehand.
The best they could come up with was early in the story, when they got a quote from a Maryland staffer who said they would be speaking to Under Armour officials tomorrow about the Stephenson visit.
And in defense of The Post; when you spend time researching a story, you cannot suddenly decide to turn it into a blurb at the bottom of the paper that says nothing more than “Maryland officials will be discussing compliance with Under Armour officials Monday.” The Post also knew that a preview of the Maryland-NC State game wouldn’t garner as many web clicks as a headline that insinuates Maryland might be involved in potential recruiting violations.
But the story isn’t there.
Here are the facts…..
-Under Armour’s relationship with Maryland IS a recruiting advantage
-Nike’s relationship with the University of Oregon IS a recruiting advantage
-Mike Krzyzewski’s American Express Card commercials gave Duke a recruiting advantage
-Ashley Judd’s support of the University of Kentucky IS a recruiting advantage
-Michael Jordan’s NBA success IS a recruiting advantage
And to an extent, all of college sports is a race to find recruiting advantages. Universities who don’t produce successful alumni cannot establish such advantages.
But there is a line. Under Armour CANNOT pay an athlete to attend the University of Maryland. It just doesn’t work that way. But, Kevin Plank can pursue an athlete for business reasons; and can also hope (as someone who cares about the University of Maryland); that said athlete decides to become a Maryland Terrapin. If those lines are crossed, there is the potential that a recruiting violation has taken place.
For a company who just signed a $17.5 million deal to have all of the uniforms in College Park feature a small UA logo; it is extremely unlikely that the company would put themselves in a position to have those uniforms worn by a team that is on probation. As the company told Prisbell and Yanda in the story; they discuss compliance with Maryland officials frequently. The relationship is VERY important to both sides; and each side works on a daily basis to make sure that the relationship does not cross the threshold of impropriety.
It is with no offense to the Post, Prisbell, or Yanda that I call this morning’s story nothing more than “blown smoke.” Really well-written, really well-researched blown smoke. There COULD have been a story; but there just wasn’t. If there IS something more to the story…..I hope the Post finds it. But given the importance of the relationship between Maryland and Under Armour; I doubt there will be.
But I AM glad that there is a newspaper that will still allow their writers to take the time to write a story; whether the story is really there or not.