August must be the second cruelest month at post offices in cities with major universities
December is surely the worst month with countless Christmas cards and packages streaming in and out of postal facilities, but August is brutal, too, with universities mailing their football media guides.
It's not the quantity. It's the bulk. Football media guides produced by universities in major conferences Â like the Big 12 Â aren't as huge as the phone book in a major city, but that's not to say they won't be some day.
Texas, for example, has churned out a 576-page football media guide. How big is that? Well, Nebraska's is the second-largest at 448 pages. Not that we wouldn't expect Texas to be No. 1. UT has more students than any other college in the country. The Longhorns may be in the Big 12, but when it comes to spending money they're more like a Federal Reserve Bank.
"I can't imagine how much money they spent on that book," said Doug Vance, a KU associate athletic director with three decades of experience in media relations.
Media guides are prepared by department staffers, often with help from design firms, then printed and mailed. KU ordered 7,500 guides this year at a cost of $38,500. Nearly half will go to Williams Fund members. Another batch will go to the football office to send to prospects.
While known as media guides, they are also recruiting tools with a large section devoted to information about how wonderful the school is and how wondrous its athletic facilities are.
"It's actually two or three publications in one," Vance said. "It used to be so small a media member could stick one in his back pocket, but now they're aimed at recruits and alumni as well as media."
I doubt if most coaches are naive enough to think a potential recruit reads every media guide he receives, but coaches obviously believe a prospect will be impressed by the guide's girth.
To provide girth means, in some cases, grasping at whatever is available. At Texas A&M, in an apparent attempt to add pages to its football media guide, a portion of a sometimes irreverent Aggie publication called "The 12th Man" was included.
Unfortunately, no one in the A&M media relations office read the copy closely so this year's guide contains some hilarious but insensitive references to Texas Tech. Students at the school were called "classless clowns" and Lubbock was referred to as "the barren stretch of dirt some West Texans call a city."
Finally, "No school in America better deserves Bobby Knight than Texas Tech."
Soon after the early copies of the media guide appeared, Texas A&M's president issued a letter of apology. Meanwhile, copies of the guide that haven't been distributed will have a sticker covering the offending section. Also, some media guides will be reprinted. Cost: An estimated $50,000. That's a lot of Aggie War Hymnals.
Already some schools have taken one-upmanship in the production of media guides to a new level. Instead of the standard letter-size (8 1/2-by-11) book, four Big 12 schools have expanded to a 9-by-12 format. In other words, those guides may not have more pages, but the larger size still makes an impact.
The four schools with the 9-by-12 format are Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Texas Tech. In a business Â and college football is a big, big business Â in which imitation is the sincerest form of paranoia, change to the larger format is inevitable.
Unless the NCAA steps in and mandates page and format limits, that is.
"It's madness," Vance said. "It's out of control. Everybody tries to out-do the other guy. I wouldn't be surprised if there is some legislation."
In the Big 12, the football guides range from the 576 pages in the Texas behemoth to 260 pages in Texas Tech's. Compare those numbers to the three nonconference NCAA Div. I-A schools on the Jayhawks' schedule. Nevada-Las Vegas turned out a 220-page guide, Tulsa a 210-pager and Bowling Green a mere 156 pages.
At a time when universities are forced to cut sports to make ends meet, what kind of sense do these ostentatious football media guides make?