Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of Local Tech Wire and business editor of

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Just in time for the annual launch of the road to “March Madness,” StatSheet is rolling out a new web network promising coverage of all 345 NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams.

The Durham-based startup will rely on an automatic publishing system to produce daily coverage.

In other words, stories will be written without human intervention. Robots will do the deed. TechCrunch calls the copy producers “robo journalists.” Every word and sentence will be based on statistics compiled by and algorithms written by StatSheet.

“It’s not exactly riveting sports journalism, but if all you want are the facts, it does the job,” TechCrunch reported in its analysis of what it called a “remarkable network” on Friday.

Here’s a sample the StatSheet robotic system produced for StatSheet’s Duke “Blue Devil Daily:”

“The 2010-2011 season gets started for Duke basketball on November 14 in Durham against Princeton. Expectations are high for the Blue Devils to best last season’s stellar performance. They bring back players who contributed 57% of their total minutes last season and add the contributions of 2 Top 100 recruits, including #2 Kyrie Irving, and one other incoming freshman.”

The announcement came on the same day StatSheet received extensive coverage in the Wall Street Journal. Using StatSheet’s “Season Preview Indicator,” the Journal forecast the entire field for next spring’s tournament best known now as March Madness.

“So with the help of, a North Carolina media company that generates game reports about Division I teams, The Wall Street Journal has rendered the entire upcoming season virtually irrelevant by projecting next year’s 68-team NCAA tournament field,” the Journal’s Darren Everson wrote.

StatSheet is quite up front in touting the basketball network as the first “driven entirely by high quality automated content.” Opinions are left elsewhere.

College basketball – straight, baby

Would Dick Vitale ever say “Just the facts, baby!”? Is sports on the web ready for no Dick “Dickie V” shouting from analyst row, no Billy Packer shouting a game is over – before halftime?

Will just the facts be fun, a draw and therefore a money maker? StatSheet will soon find out.

Statistics, stories, photos and video are promised for each site with statistics available in real time.

“Today marks a sea change in the way sports analysis and insight is provided to fans,” said StatSheet founder and Chief Executive Officer Robbie Allen, a former engineer at Cisco. “Our technology platform generates content automatically in real-time – the result is a game changing alternative to the current model of sports reporting which is expensive, inefficient and, in many ways, exclusive in that only top teams receive quality coverage.”

StatSheet, which recently raised $1.3 million in venture funding, promises to provide “a level of in-depth analysis and insight on every team, every player, every coach and every game unmatched by any large media website.”

Capitalizing on social media technology, the team sites also will include a Twitter feed and a Facebook fan page. Mobile applications also are available.

Rules for robot journalists?

But what will all the sites tweet about? Just the facts, it appears, with analysis limited to projections based on hard statistics. Now that’s real data mining – just like SAS being able to help clients predict what a shopper will buy on the next trip to the mall.

One has to wonder how Isaac Asimov would have written the code for StatSheet’s “reporters?”

Will the StatSheet robots have written into their algorithms no criticism of Coach K or Roy Williams or Sidney Lowe?

The coaches would like that. Will the fans?

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