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Inquiring Minds: Straight From the Sports Section

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Sam Farber. Courtesy of ESPN.
Sam Farber. Courtesy of ESPN.

The collections of the Library of Congress serve scholars and researchers in countless ways. Manuscripts, photographs and other ephemera documenting American culture and heritage have been inspiration for a variety of scholarship, books, programming and other projects. So, it’s always interesting to learn about those using the institution’s resources in intriguing manners. One doesn’t necessarily equate sports statistics with the Library, but a researcher has found opportunity to do just that.

Sam Farber, senior researcher at ESPN, has been using the Library’s historical newspaper collection to gather information for his work in the Stats & Information group primarily on SportsCenter and College Basketball GameDay. Thanks to a point in the right direction by a family friend who also works at the Library, Farber was introduced to the many possibilities the Library offers.

“Most of what I needed was dates on which old basketball games were played,” he explained. “That sounds pretty boring, but with those we were able to create a database of every game involving an AP-ranked team in Division I history (nearly 40,000 games dating to the first poll release in 1949).”

That wealth of information has allowed ESPN to lend perspective to contemporary sports stories, like West Virginia’s chance to beat No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Oklahoma in consecutive games earlier this season. His research allows him to compile a variety of story angles that are pitched to ESPN’s various platforms and appear on both game broadcast and multiple studio shows.

“These archives allowed us to create a one-of-a-kind resource that’s really unrivaled in the industry,” said Farber. “We’ve gotten massive return on the database so far as its information has littered our college basketball coverage all season long.”

Another recent example involves ESPN’s coverage of the Baylor vs. Kansas game last month. According to Farber, Baylor claimed to be 0-15 all-time against the No. 1 and No. 2 teams when ESPN had it as 0-14 in such games.

Newspaper from Jan. 18, 1949, indicating the first AP Poll. Library of Congress.
Newspaper from Jan. 18, 1949, indicating the first AP Poll. Library of Congress.

“After going through the school’s media guide and identifying the relevant games, we cross-referenced that list with our resource and found the discrepancy,” he explained. “Baylor claimed that it played No. 2 Oklahoma A&M on December 29, 1948. Using the newspaper archives, I was able to prove that the AP Poll didn’t even exist for another 2-3 weeks.”

Farber admits to being fascinated with the “snapshot of history” the newspapers have provided. From the style of writing to the older photographs to the general newspaper construction, he’s really immersed himself into how reporters and fans viewed and wrote about sports during an earlier era.

“The window into the past that the Library affords is a unique resource that must be preserved,” he concluded. “The written word is our most direct connection to past generations and provides invaluable information that would otherwise pass as those who experienced it do.

“The Library is a fantastic resource that will hopefully grow and flourish so that others can discover the treasures that it holds.”

Comments (2)

  1. I found this ironic. I subscribe to this blog and I never saw a post dealing with sports. Its ironic as I have recently began to research ESPN for its history of bringing sports related stories (with a human twist) via its broadcasts and ESPN films. While this piece congratulates the library of Congress, I think I may end up congratulating ESPN.

  2. This is wonderful–and a terrific example of the relevance that the LOC continues to hold. This article highlights the use of a primary source by a young researcher in a field that is not typically thought of as an end user of the LOCs tremendous resources. Refreshing to see this!

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