Remember when Napster first came out and it was awesome? You could get Limp Bizkit’s entire “Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water” album or the latest Sugar Ray hit in one quick download. You stopped having to take your mom to the music store to sign off on that Parental Advisory Eminem CD, and you could use your extra money on more important things.

Then, after a while, Napster started to suck. That DMX song you thought you were downloading never worked and your computer froze every time you hit the tab key. Then, you heard that your cousin’s best friend got sued by Sony, and all the members of Metallica hate you. All of a sudden, you wished you’d never had Napster in the first place, and you tried to quit the dangerous habit of musical piracy.

I recently went through those dark days of 2001 all over again with the discovery of online sports message boards. After two years of frequent posting and constant checking, I have finally come to the conclusion that these online sports boards are a total waste of time, cluttered with posts of uninformative garbage that make the few, thoughtful posts impossible to find.

And just as with Napster, the problem with these message boards is that they have gotten too big. When only a few dedicated fans are members of a site, they can exchange information and insights that are worth reading, but when the entire fan base joins, you get more viruses than full songs and sorting through 15 page threads becomes totally fruitless.

y message board of choice, www.clutchfans.com, a fan page for my hometown Houston Rockets, gets thousands of views and hundreds of posts a day. With all of those posters, the well-thought-out analysis of some is drowned out by the idiocy of many.

A top thread on Monday, titled “The Rockets Sitting in 5th Place” leads off with: “Curious if anyone realizes that we are in 5th place in western conference.” The fact that a team’s conference standing should be news to anyone who follows the team is odd enough, but the fact that this keen observation spawned a thread with over 4,000 views and 80 replies is just absurd.

ost message boards’ threads consist of a lot of repetition and back and forths, with almost zero new information, statistics or analysis. Debates often become more about making fun of the person who disagrees with you than actually debating an issue. On Georgetown’s own message board, HoyaTalk, the first thread I clicked on was titled, “NCAA 2008 Final Four Discussion,” but the front page featured 5 smiley faces, a joke about only caring about hockey followed by six replies, and just three out of 10 posts relating to the topic at hand. While I’m sure it was entertaining for the people posting, anyone reading that thread hoping for an actual discussion on the Final Four would have left empty-handed.

Of course, the next HoyaTalk thread, titled “Recruit & Scholarship Tables,” was a very useful, well-organized front page on the potential future Hoyas, broken down by position. A dedicated Georgetown hoops fan could find such a synthesis of information almost nowhere else without paying for it and would be truly grateful for such thorough research. The problem is that that thread is heavily monitored by site moderators who post new information when it becomes available, keeping the average HoyaTalker out of the discussion. If HoyaTalk could have more threads like that one, I’d make it my homepage, but when the masses of posters enter the equation, the discussion is diluted with useless posts and back and forth squabbles.

For the most part, HoyaTalk has much more interesting threads and useful information than larger, pro team message boards, but this dramatic difference between what was likely one of the least relevant HoyaTalk threads and one of it’s most streamlined only highlights the effects of mass contribution to these boards.

It seems that the only way to save message boards is to restrict membership to only those few who can demonstrate a willingness to actually put time, thought and analysis into their postings. As much as I hate giving “Red Sox Nation” any more media attention, the Red Sox’s fan message board www.sonsofsamhorn.net, requires would-be posters to demonstrate such qualities to current members before being allowed to add their thoughts to the page. A quick look at the site provided me with homemade statistical charts, minor league prospect updates and rational, well-put arguments about Red Sox lineup issues. Plus there weren’t any of those ridiculous smiley faces.

If this restricted posting rights policy was adopted by Clutchfans, the dedicated fan who posts daily practice pictures from the Rockets facility and translates Yao Ming interviews from Chinese would still have a voice, and the 20-page discussions on Tracy McGrady being “soft” every time he gets hurt, or what a ridiculous blow-up the team trade should be considered after every loss, would finally be a thing of the past.

If boards adopted the Sons of Sam Horn policy for at least a section of their site, no “true fan” would be excluded from discussion. Casual fans seeking information on their team could still read what would be a more organized and efficient site, and anyone hoping to one day add to the discussion would have no problem rising in the ranks if he or she really wanted to put the time in. There could even still be a section of every site where anyone and everyone could post, so that those who still enjoy a nice five-page internet battle can have their fun. Unlike Napster, the good idea that was sports message boards could make a successful resurgence. They just need to be a little more elitist.

Jamie Leader is a junior in the College. He can be reached at leaderthehoya.com. FOLLOW THE LEADER appears every other Friday in HOYA SPORTS.

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