By Daniel Libit
(This story was originally published in Newsletter of Intent)
As a new college sports publication, we’re always interested in learning the ropes from those in the know. How do you build an audience? How do you make yourself relevant? How do you develop key sources? We have some intuitions, but we’re always game to pick up new tactics from the true masters of the beat.
Like Jon Rothstein, CBS Sports’s “College Basketball Insider”, who has marked off an indelible niche through sheer — how should we put this? — indefatigability. For one thing, there doesn’t seem to be a nugget of college basketball news too trivial, from a team too forgettable, which Rothstein won’t glowingly hype on Twitter. His singular brand of — what might we call it? — reporting has won him some 190,000 Twitter followers, a regular New York Times (!!!) column, and the bemused attention of his media brethren.
As part of all this, Rothstein has also become, as successful people often are, the subject of some rather scurrilous rumors and innuendo: e.g., that he might not be sentient. So, we were a more than a little skeptical when we heard, some time back, that Rothstein, throughout the college basketball season, sends a “good luck” text message to every Division I coach before each game. Stadium’s “Basketball Insider” Jeff Goodman has also, in recent years, tweeted several snarky references to his competitor’s alleged texting regimen.
But come on: who would have the time to text every coach before every game? And even if this project could somehow be sufficiently streamlined — mass-texting, SMS bots, Keebler elves — who would be that obsequious?
Anyway, last week, we started making some public records requests of some Division I schools, seeking text message communications between Rothstein and their basketball coaches over the last few weeks. You know, just to put this to rest.
Well, we can already now confirm that Jon Rothstein does not send “good luck” text messages to every DI college basketball coach, before each game. For example, he appears not to have given his blessing to the Idaho Vandals coaches, who surely could’ve used it. Ditto for the coaches at Eastern Washington, who, according to the school’s public records custodian, “do not know who Mr. Rothstein is.” But these might be the outliers, because, according to our records requests…
Rothstein did send multiple “good luck” texts to Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber:
And Florida Gulf Coast’s Michael Fly:
And Nebraska’s Fred Hoiberg, who never replied:
And Colorado head coach Tad Boyle, who never replied:
And Colorado assistant Bill Grier, who never replied:
And Colorado’s other assistant, Anthony Coleman, who apparently handles the Rothstein duties for the Buffs:
And Stony Brook associate head coach Bryan Weber:
And the New Jersey Institute of Technology head coach Jeff Rafferty, who needs to charge his phone:
And…OK! Stop! Uncle! This is getting way too weird. For one thing, we rarely get public records requests returned within a few weeks, let alone a few days. (It’s nice to see college athletic departments can really hop to it when they want to.) Secondly — and seriously — what kind of journalist does this?
And yes, Rothstein does publicly self-identify as a journalist. (And yes, we reiterate, he is a New York Times contributor.)
Rothstein did not respond to an email seeking comment about his “good luck” text messages, which, regrettably, we continue to receive in droves.
But here’s some declarative wisdom that likely won’t materialize into one of his daily aphorism tweets: Real journalists FOIA, not fawn.
Now, that’s a t-shirt we’d wear.
UPDATE (1/29/20): The New York Times has ended its weekly college basketball column with CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein, The Intercollegiate has learned, following our revelations last month of his hyper-friendly texting regimen with college basketball coaches.
On Dec. 17, we published screen grabs from a month’s worth of text messages between Rothstein and a randomly chosen sampling of eight D-I coaches, in which Rothstein wished them “good luck” before each of their games. The texts were obtained through FOIA requests we made to a couple dozen public universities.
“We experimented with a weekly report on college basketball but it did not find much of an audience and we discontinued it,” says Randal Archibold, the Times sports editor. Archibold says that the paper’s arrangement with Rothstein was always “informal” and that he was never placed under contract.
Rothstein began writing a weekly column for the Times on Nov. 8, but his byline hadn’t appeared in the newspaper (or on NYTimes.com) since his Dec. 16 piece, “College Basketball Is Wide Open, And Could Stay That Way,” which ran the day before The Intercollegiate unveiled his SMS missives.
Although this curious journalism marriage has been annulled, Rothstein’s Twitter bio still anoints him as: “Contributor: NY Times.”