Seth Davis Q&A: Sports Illustrated Writer Talks Media and College BBall

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IJanuary 20, 2010

Coke Zero is running a new promotion throughout this season called Coke Zero's Department of Fannovation. To learn more about the promotion, you can go to their Web site, where you can enter to win $10,000 and a trip to the 2011 Final Four.

Through this promotion, Seth Davis, who is a spokesperson for Coke Zero, was available to chat about anything and everything college hoops-related.

Seth Davis is one of the leading college hoops analysts in the country, as his writing appears in Sports Illustrated and on Seth is also an analyst for CBS Sports and hosts his own show on the CBS College Sports Network.

Most importantly, before delving into the interview, Seth finished the chat by talking about how Coke Zero is helping Haiti.

Seth: On Friday, you can join Coke in helping out Haiti. If you go to, you can donate points which Coke matches and donates to the Red Cross, in addition to the money Coke has already donated to the cause.


Q: With the advent of the Internet, college hoops blogs have taken off, but don't really challenge the mainstream sites yet. How can blogs like Rush the Court,   College Hoops Journal, Ballin' is a Habit, and my site [Bleacher Report] gain more recognition among the national audience?

Seth: We all use the blogs for different things. For me, they help me keep on top of things. You mention "Ballin' is a Habit" because he has great links every morning. I'm going to see a lot of newspaper stories, Internet columns, or Web videos or YouTube links that I would have otherwise not seen.

The other thing is what I would say to anybody in journalism. It's true for what I do. The value of your writing is only as good as what you report. So I'm not that interested in reading what someone thinks about a game that they have watched.

But if that person has actually done some reporting and talked to someone and has some quotes or some information that they've dug up, then to me that's going to stand out. That's true if you work for a newspaper or Sports Illustrated or CBS or even a blog, but I think too many blogs fall back on "Hey, look how smart and clever I am" and to me that's not the best way to go.


Q: A lot of those aforementioned sites are written by guys in school or just out of school. What is your advice for those writers on how we should go about moving up the ranks in this tough job market?

Seth: Be good reporters. Again, I think too many professional mainstream people are like this: They try to show off how good of a writer they are and show off how clever you are. I think we need more substance in the world of journalism.

The more you can challenge yourself and do enterprise reporting and report on developing trends or controversial issues or the important issues of the day. You will distinguish yourself that way whether you work for a newspaper or a blog.


Q: When you were at Duke, you wrote for the newspaper and hosted a television show. How important is it to diversify yourself today?

Seth: It definitely helps. I'm not going to lie to you, it's a challenging time in the industry. I can't say for sure if I was coming out of college I would still get into this business with the way it's transforming.

When I came out of college way back in 1992, you were probably still in diapers at that point, it would be very hard for someone to convince me not to do something I wanted to do.

There was a recession back in 1992, and it was definitely a very difficult environment. There were a lot of people telling me I wasn't going to find work or get a job, so I had to tune out that noise. I would never want to dissuade someone from chasing their dream.

In terms of diversifying, if you can do television and write, that would obviously increase your chances of finding work because not only is it a challenging economic environment because we are coming out of a recession, but the industry is also transforming.

That is something I did not face in 1992, and if I was facing it now, I don't know if I was facing it now if it would convince me to try something else. I think you have to keep your wits about you and try to stay one step ahead of the posse.


Q: How is important is it to find a niche within the industry and have something that you are specialized in and something you are known for?

Seth: That's a great question. On one level, it is important to "niche-ify" if I may invent a word. That is the way things seem to be going. It's obviously worked out very well for, much more than I can ever dream.

At the same token, you can get pigeoned hole, and that's something I face when I want to break out and try something new. People say you are the college basketball guy. Well to me, I've written about almost every sport in my career and some non-sports things as well.

If you are a good reporter and you are a good writer, you should be able to write and report about anything. Not enough people who hire and assign have that mentality, but that doesn't mean the person being hired and assigned shouldn't have that mentality.

What I'm saying, Jameson, is you have to chase opportunity. I became the college basketball expert because mainly I was trying to work my way up at Sports Illustrated , and they didn't have someone doing that.

If they had a Peter King on college basketball or Tom Verducci for college basketball, a real solid on the beat guy, I probably would have gone in a different direction. I think you build up your fundamentals and you work as hard as you can, but you follow opportunity and hope that leads you somewhere good.


Q: There are blogs out there that are critical of you because you don't have playing experience and don't think you should be an "expert." How do you address those criticisms?

Seth: I guess I really can't. I would respond by is there much of a difference between what I do and Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter do on the NFL? Those guys didn't play. Peter Gammons on baseball didn't play, but people like to ask for his prediction on the World Series.

I'm not going to break down X's and O's like a coach would, but by the same token I try to use that to my advantage in the sense that people understand that I don't have an agenda, other than my duty to report to the viewer the truth.

So you don't have to worry about me protecting a coach or protect someone I know or someone that I worked with. I'm going to report straight as I can to the viewer. I try to bring my reporting skills to the job.

A coach or a player is going to analyze based on what they are seeing. I'm going to do the same, but I'm going to be like, "Hey, I talked to this coach, and this is what's happening" and bring that kind of depth. I try to use my strengths to my advantage and hide my weaknesses wherever they may be."


Q: In baseball, sabermetrics have begun to take over. In college basketball, tempo-free statistics have become popular. How much do you value those statistics and where you do see them going in the future?

Seth: I pay attention to them; frankly I'm not smart enough to understand all of them. I think you can get lost in numbers, and I try not to get lost in numbers. People are a little too eager to get overly fancy over that stuff.

I just had an exchange with John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus. He just decided that rebounding margin is an irrelevant statistic. I totally disagree with that.

Whenever you go to a press conference, when the coach is handed that stat-sheet one of the first things he looks at is rebounding margin. I think that college basketball in general is not a natural fit for that kind of analysis, but baseball is. By its nature it is more numbers-orientated. Basketball is more subtle than that.

I think numbers are important, the efficiency, the tempo stats tell you something, but they don't tell you everything. I don't think we should undervalue them, but we shouldnn't overvalue them as well.


Q: I've followed that discussion on Twitter, but to me, the rebounding percentages hold more value. If an SID hands the coach a generic stat-sheet with percentages on it instead of totals, do you think the coach would value those numbers even more?

Seth: You aren't playing in an abstract. You are playing an opponent. The rebounding percentages are significant, but the idea of getting a rebound is to keep another team from getting a rebound. You can get lost in the numbers, but the bottom line is, "Who won the battle of boards?"

When I look at rebounds and I see a team out-rebounded somebody by 11 or 12 boards, no one can tell me that's a unicorn stat, although I love the phrase unicorn stat.

Q: On a lighter note now, you dabbled in stand-up comedy when you were younger. Do you still have a go-to joke or one-liner you like to tell when you are out with the Jeff Goodmans and Gary Parrishs of the world?

Seth: Well those guys have no sense of humor whatsoever! Anything I tell them goes over their heads because they are too busy doing their jobs. I wouldn't say I have a go-to joke.

The best way to describe it is it was an itch I wanted to scratch when I was living in New York City. A friend of mine was taking a class at the New School, and my initial reaction was I can never do that, but he showed me a tape of him and his classmates going up on stage.

Of course as beginners, they were terrible so I saw that and said, "Well, I could suck," and I'm thinking if I can get over that, then you start telling jokes and if one bombs, you tell another. If that bombs, you tell another. No blood, no foul.

I had fun with it for a year. I actually did it when I just started doing more television and going on stage at bad comedy clubs was great training for television.


Q: I asked my fellow columnists on Bleacher Report if they had any college basketball questions for you. The first comes from Northwestern Featured Columnist Aaron Morse. He asks, "Seth, you included Northwestern in your top 25 this week...was that more a sentimental choice or do you really believe NU is one of the top 25 teams in the country?"

Seth: I definitely thought they were one of the top 25 teams in the country.  I don't know if their loss to Ohio State changes that. I was late to the party because I thought people were getting ahead of themselves. Then they beat Purdue and I was like, "Hey, I'm in."

Having said that, I felt real good about that. As far as I'm concerned as I said on Twitter, we should all be Northwestern fans. It's an incredible story especially since they lost their best player before the season started.

I'll tell you this: If Northwestern makes the tournament, when their name comes up on Selection Sunday, and I've never done this, I'll applaud. I will shed any semblance of impartiality if this happens.


Q: Indiana Featured Columnist Dan Karell asked, "What's your favorite college basketball moment?"

Seth: Let's set aside all my experiences as a Duke student, because there's some obvious ones with the UNLV game that I was at. There was the Kentucky game that I watched from my best friend's dorm room.

I would say George Mason making the Final Four. That was a historic moment knocking off Connecticut in dramatic fashion in overtime. Little George Mason was a controversial inclusion to the field, and they beat Michigan State and North Carolina on the way to the Final Four.

For more updates on college basketball, follow @JamesonFleming on Twitter. Seth Davis is also on twitter as @SethDavisHoops.