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Frequent updates a key for game sites

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 5, 2001


By the time Oklahoma clinched its 13-2 victory against Florida State in Wednesday's Orange Bowl, the carpet between my living room and den was wearing down.

Back and forth I went, from the television to my computer, trying to take in the game and keep up with how the major sports sites were handling their live coverage.

An event such as the Orange Bowl is an opportunity for a site to stand out from its competitors, and in this era of up-to-the-second news, he who hesitates until a game ends is lost.

Most sites went with a live front, updating their main pages as the game progressed. This can be difficult: In one play, a headline can be outdated and inaccurate.

CNNSI.com's halftime headline was "Zero tolerance," reflecting Oklahoma's shutout. Sportsline.com had a mundane "Slam Duncan," referring to Sooners kicker Tim Duncan, who had the game's only points. ESPN.com went with "Oklahoma clings to 6-0 lead."

The problem with scores in headlines is scores change faster than headlines can, and that was clear when Oklahoma scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter. ESPN still had the Sooners "clinging" to a six-point lead 20 minutes later, when Oklahoma got the ball back after an FSU possession. CNN/SI's "zero" headline lost its relevance when FSU scored on a late safety.

Late in the game, calling a winner can be tough. Sportsline took the first leap here, changing its headline to "OU, believe it" with four minutes remaining. The only change when the game ended was the addition of an obligatory exclamation point.

The sites deserve credit for quickly recognizing the outcome's effect on the national championship picture. "Undisputed!" proclaimed CNN/SI's post-game headline, and ESPN had "End of Argument." FoxSports.com upgraded from the weak "Oklahoma is OK" to a modestly better "Sooners Quiet the Storm."

Another crucial part of an enticing front is a strong image, and CNN/SI gets the nod for best turnaround. CNN/SI's weak point during the game was sticking with a photo of FSU's Chris Weinke when the story was clearly Oklahoma. When the game ended, that was replaced by a large photo of Sooners defensive back J.T. Thatcher, and by morning there was a sharp collage of Sooners images with "NO DOUBT," the "OU" standing out in distinct Sooners red.

Also worth a look is ABCsports.com's "Enhanced TV," which has instant play-by-play updates and a steady lineup of insightful polls. With nine minutes remaining and Oklahoma ahead 6-0, fans were asked if FSU could come back, and 63 percent said no. Later, a poll asked who fans would anoint as national champ if Oklahoma won, and the Sooners drew 85.7 percent.

The site, which reported 122,000 visitors for an average connection of 40 minutes, also has a feature that invites fans to predict which position will get the ball next -- quarterback, running back, wide receiver or tight end -- and awards points for correct answers. Visitors register for free prizes and are ranked based on scores. The rankings are kind, too, pointing out that one meager total was in the "top 59 percent" of players online.

The most disappointing effort came from yahoo.com, which has enough traffic to be ranked No. 1 among sports sites by Jupiter Media Metrix, an Internet tracking company. Yahoo never seems to take breaking news too seriously. Thirty minutes after the Sooners won, Yahoo's sports page still had its game preview up. Making matters worse, the main link went to a pregame prediction from The Sporting News, which couldn't have been more off the mark, forecasting a 37-30 FSU victory.

Sooner, in this case, is definitely better.

CHATWATCH: Stanford guard Ryan Mendez, who has hit 21 of 22 free throws this season for the undefeated and second-ranked Cardinal, chats at 6:15 tonight at ESPN.com. ... Olympic figure skater Scott Hamilton, touring professionally and in remission after a bout with testicular cancer in 1997, chats at 3 p.m. Monday at www.USATODAY.com.

TID-BYTES: We're a bit late, but there's an amusing spoof of the Star Wars: Episode I trailer called "Ram Wars" at redtidenews.com. All we'll say is "Martin Gramatica ... as Yoda." ... Thunderdawgs.com, the official site of Tampa Bay's ABA 2000team, has a poll asking which player will be the team's MVP. The poll has 145 votes, with 12 players getting votes. The leader is former Florida star Dametri Hill, who didn't play in three of the team's first four games. ... An ambitious seller from Texas has posted the 2000 Florida State football media guide for auction on eBay.com with a minimum bid of $250. Six have sold in the last month, none for more than $19.

- If you have a question or comment about the Internet or a site to suggest, send an e-mail to staff writer Greg Auman at aumanac1@aol.com.

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