Basketball, You, and Peer Review

TONI L. SANDYS / THE WASHINGTON POST

We just finished up March and college basketball is no longer everywhere, all the time. However, for a non-insignificant portion of Americans, the work for March Madness was actually done at the end of February setting up brackets. Some people were influenced by their home states (Woo, Terps!) or their alma mater (Woo, IU!), but with 64 teams from all over the country, you had to have been watching an awful lot of basketball to create a bracket based solely on your own personal knowledge.

Enter the basketball analysts.  These are the folks who live and breathe the sport and are the absolute experts.  These are the people that break down the intricacies of each match up: the style each team plays, the probabilities of an upset or a blowout, the strengths and weaknesses of each individual player.  They are often wrong, but they are right significantly more often than someone who isn’t paid to think about these things every second of the day.

This is because they are experts in their field – they are authorities. But, if you are going to the game and want to know where in town to eat dinner or how to get from a hotel to the stadium they are not the people you ask. If you are writing a paper on March Madness marketing and why it works, they are also not the people you cite. For the former, you might ask a local, who is an expert on their town. For the latter, you would look for sports marketing authorities. As expert as they might be at understanding college basketball stats, there’s no guarantee that they have the knowledge to answer those questions.

This is a concept that I like to call “situational authority.” Simply put, the authorities on a given topic are going to vary depending on the topic. And the specific definition of what it means to be an authority will also vary by topic. But, then, how do you know who the authorities are? Regardless of the topic, a good authority will be able to:

  1. Back up their opinion with evidence
  2. Tell you where they got their information
  3. Have relevant credentials
  4. Have the respect and support of other authorities

Paying attention to situational authority is all about combining a healthy cynicism about when people call themselves authorities with an understanding of the work and background that makes an authority. It’s about being able to look at a situation and asking yourself whose opinion and work on this subject should be most trusted.

TV Commercial – AT&T March Madness Legends: “Bracket Curls”

TV Commercial – AT&T March Madness Legends: “Bracket Curls”

So, let’s take our basketball pundit working on ESPN and talking about the March Madness matchups. They will tell you how each team has performed in certain situations in the past (#1) and probably provide some footage or cite some statistics (#2). More often than not they are a former coach or player, but at the very least have a proven history of knowing basketball really well (#3). And ESPN is the respected outlet for sports news and has given this person the stamp of approval for them to be on their show (#4).

But if you change the focus to marketing, and understanding how to market basketball to viewers and non-viewers, you want someone who doesn’t just know basketball, but understands marketing too. The situation has changed, so our pundits are no longer experts. What you want here is a marketing professional or scholar.

When your professor says that they want you to use peer-reviewed journal articles, what they are really saying is that they want you to use sources your professor recognizes as authoritative in your scholarly situation. When scholars do work, they might consult non-scholars here and there, but the people that they consider the authorities are other scholars. The peer review process is meant to ensure that a scholar does appropriate research for their argument (#1), cites properly (#2), and has studied the topic properly (#3) before an article gets published in a respected peer-reviewed journal (#4). For more information on peer review check out a video on scholarly v. popular resources, peer review in 3 minutes, or this PDF guide on “What is Peer Review.”

To summarize: Uncle Joe might have lots of opinions about your March Madness bracket, but I’m going with ESPN. ESPN might have lots of opinions about what Uncle Joe wants to see, but Uncle Joe is the expert on Uncle Joe.   ESPN and Uncle Joe might both have lots of opinions about the psychology of March Madness viewers, but I’m going with a peer-reviewed psychology journal over them both.

Megan Browndorf
Research & Instruction Librarian
Cook Library

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