Oh, Those Gaudy College Athletics Websites

Ball State website

When I want baseball news, I'll go to MLB.com. 'Tis well built. Same for NFL.com, and so on. For college sports ... it's a little different. The official athletics websites have all the source information, and that's great, but holy hellbuckets can they be difficult to navigate.

Apart from being sometimes an eyesore.

I screengrabbed Ball State's only as a random example. All 13 websites are pretty much the same. Bursts of color, lots of animation, marquees, auto-playing videos, SUDDEN OVERLAID AD OUT OF NOWHERE, and just a bunch of neat, promising widgets.

From what I can tell, these websites aren't all made by the same software, although what I do know about content management systems, they can offer a bunch of bells, whistles, and doohickeys that animate and use up computer memory. When I worked at the newspaper, a design consultant once told of my design, "don't wear all your jewelry to the ball." Which was weird, because I was only wearing my ankle bracelet and some sterling silver hoop earrings.

But I knew what she meant. The layout software had all sorts of curvy lines and the computer had a ton of fonts. But you want to keep it consistent. And not only that, but it's important to find out what parts of their websites are accessed the most, and feature that stuff. XKCD drew it brilliantly when it came to collegiate websites. They're trying to promote their own goodness ... while everybody else is trying to weed through all the promotional stuff and find the neat items, like the stats and schedule and roster information.

Simplifying is one idea, but usability is key. Smartphones and HDTVs became insanely popular once people were able to figure out how to use them, and this burdenous obstacle was overcome by the developers, not the consumers. It can involve social networking. It can involve adding blogs. It can be video. But don't try to video-blog-network all at once, and if you do ... at least learn to use the technology in front of you to make it easier for everybody — fans, students, media — to traverse.

For larger programs, like Ohio State, there are usually better go-to sites like Bucknuts. Maybe it's because they're independent sources and aren't trying to be all fluffy and promotional. But for MAC schools, it's either the college athletics website, or any coverage by the local news website, and perhaps a couple random ESPN/Yahoo articles when they play large schools. That's it. All the cool information is difficult to consolidate. (And, of course, this is where Hustle Belt comes in and tries to accomplish a small part of that ... but hell, hopefully most o' you know this isn't my full time endeavor.)

On the whole, all of these schools are doing some things right, but I spy with my critical eye a whole bunch of room for improvement. If nothing else, colored backrounds went out in the 2000s with beepers and the tag.

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