A decade ago Royce Webb was a communications graduate student at Iowa who dreamed of publishing a spoils magazine but was daunted by the start-up costs. Then came the Internet: For the minimal price of desktop software, a server fee and a domain name, Webb, now 36, founded sportsjones.com. "It's the magazine I always wanted to read," he says.
Since its June 1998 launch, sportsjones has offered original, offbeat and thought-provoking sports coverage. For instance, the site's "March Madness Special" featured, among other stories, sportsjones managing editor Eric Neel's eyewitness account of Maryland All-America forward Len Bias's last game, in 1986, three months before Bias died of a cocaine overdose; an excerpt from the book Lady Hoopsters, Linda Ford's history of women's basketball; and a 60-year compendium of quotes from the NCAA tournament. Sportsjones also scores with its daily features. Web logs entitled Surf Jones and Surf Ms. Jones furnish concise takes on men's and women's athletics, respectively, plus links to related stories on other sites.
Operated by a full-time staff of Webb, Neel and executive editor Jeff Merron, sportsjones relies on a network of freelancers for most of its features. In 1999 one of the more prominent contributors, former NFL defensive end turned author Pat Toomay, reported for the site on the filming of Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday. Last year Toomay's story, entitled Clotheslined, became the first online article to appear in the Best American Sports Writing annual anthology. Webb knows that a more traditional news site might attract more page views, but he remains committed to his vision. Says Webb, "We started this because we actually had some ideas."