Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Just some tips for the SID - Part 1

From time to time, I have these topic ideas for this blog pop into my head. But on occasion, some of them just don't seem like they would develop into a good, full-blown posting. So, I'm going to take a few of them and put them into one blog post.

They're just some tips, ideas and thoughts that I feel every sports information director should know, but usually no one ever tells you.

So, here are the first batch of tips:

1. The clothes do make the man (or the woman).

Now, I'm no stylist or fashion expert. I am a married man, and my wife has taught me well. (Somewhere during our 12-plus years of marriage, I listened and things started to sink in.) That said, what you wear says a lot about you and how others perceive you.

Too many times - and I once fell into this boat, SIDs wear only a polo shirt and khakis. All the time. Even seen some in T-shirts and shorts.

Understand that some of the events SIDs cover dictate what you wear. I mean, you will not find me in a dress shirt and tie at a baseball game. Nor will you if I have to be on the field having to take photos. At football and/or basketball, yes, but not at baseball.

I have heard it said many times that people just don't take SIDs seriously or treat us professionally and/or with respect. My response, if you want to be treated as a professional, look like a professional.

How can anyone take you serious if you don't take yourself serious?

I realize SIDs are largely in the background and are not meant to be seen, but people do see us. What kind of image are we sending by how we dress? Remember, we represent the student-athletes, the coaching staff, the athletic programs and department and the institution we work for. What message are we sending out by are choice of clothes?

One of the mantras I like to adhere to is: Don't dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want. Some day, I would like to become an athletic director. (I think. The more I see it, the more I'm not so sure. LOL) So, if I want people to take me serious as a potential candidate for an athletic director position, I need to lay the groundwork now that I take my current job serious and that includes my appearance.

2. You're not competing. Fellow SIDs are your friends.

Yes, we work different schools and institutions. And yes, we all want 'our' teams to win. HOWEVER, we are not the ones competing.

We merely represent those who are doing battling on the playing field, and it's our job to report the action - good or bad. We are to be neutral, unbiased parties to the events.

So, when gearing up for an event, game or match, SIDs of the competing schools should help one another. We're all in this together, and our jobs and lives would be made much easier if we just help another out.

Lastly, please respond to requests in a timely manner. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to complete a project because you are waiting on info from someone else. If it is going to be a while before you can get the info to your fellow SID, please let them know.

A little common courtesy goes a long way.

3. Don't do your student-athletes a disservice. Fill out nomination forms out correctly.

As SIDs, we represent and promote our student-athletes. We should do everything we can possibly do to help our student-athletes receive all the recognition they deserve.

But it amazes me at how some of the simplest things are overlooked. For example, not filling out nomination forms out completely or correctly.

Having been in this business long enough, I've been 'fortunate' to be one a number of different committees. I am on CoSIDA's Academic All-America Committee, which seeks to honor the best and brightest on the field of play and in the classroom. I am also enjoy the duties of helping selection our conference and national players of the week. So, I see a lot of nomination forms. LOTS OF THEM.

And when I see one that isn't filled out correctly, it raises a lot of red flags and doubts. For example, how can a goalkeeper make eight saves when they face zero shots on goals? How is it possible for a volleyball player to record 15 kills on 13 total attacks? How can a goalkeeper face 10 shots on goal, make seven saves and record a shutout?

I am not doubting that the student-athlete had a great week on the field, but when the forms are not correct, how can I take them seriously? It raises a lot of doubt about the student-athlete's 'worthiness' of being up for the award, and it's not fair to them.

When we as SIDs do not fill out the forms completely and correctly, it does not harm them. It hurts the student-athlete. We should be doing all we can to help and promote them, not set them back.

................................................

Well, that's all I've got for now. I'll have some more tips, tricks and ideas to share later on.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Watching the slow death of an old friend

At one point or another, we've all been there. If we haven't yet, we will be someday. It's inevitable.

One day, we will have to sit idly by and watch the slow demise of an old friend.

It's never fun and it's very heart wrenching. You want to help, but there's nothing you can really do.

Now, fortunately, the friend I'm speaking of is not a person but rather an industry. Yet, this industry is a long-time friend, and it's slow progression into the nether world affects and has affected a lot of people including several good friends and acquaintances of mine.

The industry I am speaking of is the newspaper.

The newspaper holds a very near and dear place in my heart. It's where I cut my teeth in the business. I was fortunate enough work as a freelance sports reporter for a newspaper in east Tennessee during college and landed my first "real" job as a sports writer at the local daily paper near where I grew up.

I spent five years in the newspaper business before making the jump into the sports information world. By and large, there are a lot of things I don't miss about working at a newspaper, but I would not trade my time there for anything. I learned a lot during my time in the newspaper business, and much of it has helped me during my time as a sports information director. (The contacts I had collected during my time as a sports reporter/editor proved invaluable when I became a SID.)

Yet, over the past decade or so, the newspaper industry has been slowly dying. And it's no surprise what the biggest culprit is: the Internet.

I am a big fan of reading an actual newspaper. I really enjoy sipping a cup of coffee (well, I'll drink coffee anywhere, anytime) and read a newspaper. But let's face it, we live in a breaking news kind of world now. By the time you get the newspaper, everything in it is old and dated. Who cares it's only been a couple hours, lots has happened since then.

Most people now get their news from either television or the Internet. Myself, I get the bulk of my news from Twitter. I get updated headlines all the time there, and if there's something that intrigues, I click the link.

Consequently, newspapers are dying. Large market newspapers are making cuts and laying off employees left and right. Here in Kentucky, the Lexington Herald-Leader has made numerous cuts and layoffs. The Herald-Leader has laid off over 100 people in the last year or so with 12 layoffs just made last week.

Recently, it has been mentioned that U.S. Government might step in and "bail out" the newspaper industry. And as much as the business holds a special place in my heart, I echo the sentiments of Daniel Lyons at Newsweek and ask, "WHY?!?!?!" (Read Lyons' piece here.)

Other than the fact that people are losing jobs, I see no reason as to why to save the newspaper industry. It will be throwing money into the wind. It's a money pit.

I can understand the government bailouts of the banks and the auto industries. We need our financial institutions to be stable, and we need cars.

But do we really need newspapers?

I know that sounds harsh - and this is coming from a person who came from newspapers and relies on them to an extent for his current job, but with the Internet, newspapers are beginning to go the way of the dinosaur. (For what it's worth, I do not foresee the small-town newspapers dying out. I see them always being around. However, it is the large market daily newspapers that I see phasing out and experience major downsizing and restructuring.)

In order to survive, one must learn how to adapt and move on. Newspapers - and other news organizations for that matter, have yet to figure out how to make money by delivering news via the Internet.

Like I said, I love the newspaper. I cherish the written word. But I believe it's about time to let our old friend the newspaper to die. In the past three years, I have allowed subscriptions to three magazines to end. There are two reasons why I did this - 1. I never had the time to sit down and read them, and 2. the majority of what was in the magazines I had already read about on the Internet.

And the death of the newspaper does not mean the death of the press, the Fourth Estate. The media always be alive and kicking, but news will be delivered faster via television or the Internet.

So here's to you, my old friend the newspaper. I hate to see you go, but technology has passed you by.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hi, my name is Jay and I'm a tech geek

Of all the things that being a sports information director has given to me, it is the love of gadgets. Especially technological gadgets.

Now, granted, most boys grow up playing video games and that's just an easy transition over to the hi-tech toys of today. But in all honesty, I didn't care for or fall in love with all those wonderful gadgets we have nowadays until much later in my life. (Although, there are some things I avoid and will explain later as to why.)

In an effort for full disclosure, prior to becoming a SID, I didn't much like the Internet. Had very little use for it and didn't want to do anything with it. Of course, the fact that I worked at a newspaper and my superiors were wanting us to double our efforts by not only put together a newspaper but also post everything online as well could have had something to do with that.

See, back in the day - you know like 10-12 years ago, posting stuff on the web was a huge chore. It took hours to do things that now take minutes. (By the way, 10-12 years in technology terms is like 100 years in normal terms.)

I didn't really get into the whole Internet thing until I got here at Union College since it's part of my job description to maintain and manage the athletic website. At first, it was a pain. The program I had to use was called Webber and I had to do everything in HTML code. For some tech whizzes, that's no big deal. But as a SID when time is of the essence, this was not very SID friendly.

You leave out or forget to put a comma or parentheses or period or quotation mark, or you put them in the wrong spot, everything is messed up. And then trying to find the mistake is a huge chore.

But after a year or two of Webber, I got an upgrade to MicroSoft FrontPage. Life was much better in that I could just lay things out like I do in putting together a media guide. Yet, there was still some time-consuming factors with FrontPage. For example, when I posted a news story, I had to change/edit about five or six different pages just for that one story.

But for the past two-plus years, we've been with SIDHelp and life has been grand. I can't tell you how much better life has been. Using the same example of posting a story, I can post a story and in a couple clicks, the story is posted and linked in all the appropriate categories/sections in a matter of mere seconds. Major updates and overhauls now take hours, maybe a day instead of days and sometimes weeks.

To be honest, posting a story on SIDHelp is really no different than posting this blog.

But that's not all.

I have fallen in love with Facebook and Twitter. Oh how I love those two sites. Love keeping up with friends and family as well as spread the word about Union athletics on Facebook. As for Twitter, it's been great for me to connect with media members and network with other SIDs. I get just about all my news - general as well as sports - via Twitter now.

And now I've found a new 'toy' - TweetDeck. OH MY GOODNESS!!! Do I ever love TweetDeck.

All TweetDeck does is allow me to keep up with both of my Twitter accounts and my Facebook account in ONE SPOT. And it alerts me every time there's an update with any one of them. Plus, I can update from TweetDeck in any one of the accounts and whatnot. (FYI, if I ever get diagnosed for A.D.D., this will be why. And I'll need more than a 12-step program to stop using this thing. LOL)

The cell phone is also my friend. My wife, at times, thinks I love it more than her, but the cell phone has become the office phone for the SID. (For those who didn't see my tweets last week, I cried when I couldn't move my contacts over to my new phone. Twas a very sad day. One that I'm still tore up about. LOL)

Along with the cell phone, I also have a Bluetooth earpiece. Got it primary for when I yack on the phone in the car, but I have found it very useful to wear when during games. No need to tie up the hands any more than you have to, right?

One thing I don't like about cell phones is texting. I HATE TEXTING, so much so I have it blocked on my phone so don't try texting me because I won't get it. This is my opinion, but I feel if you've got time to text me, you've got time to call me and tell me what you want to say.

I do like the idea of having the Internet and email on a cell phone, but I don't want it. Like I mentioned before, I'm on the phone enough as it is. Plus, I spend hours upon hours each day on my laptop. I don't want to be any more tied down to the Internet than I already am.

(If I do ever get the Internet on my phone, I WILL BE that dad on the Verizon commercial who tweets "I'm sitting on the patio".)

One "knock" about SIDs is how we generally resist change. But let's be honest, who doesn't resist change in one form or fashion? We're comfortable, we've a routine down, why do we have to mix it up?

Change is good.

Now, I'm not talking about changing things just to change it up. But real change is good. When you can improve things, why wouldn't you want to do it?

I'm in my 11th year of being a SID, and there is no way I want to go back to how I had to do things when I first started. For example, I used to have to fax everything. Box scores, press releases, EVERYTHING!!! And it would take over an hour sometimes. And I hated having to come into the office wait on a box score to be faxed.

Nowadays, it's all email for me. I can't tell you the last time I faxed something. And for those places that still insist on faxing me, I have a fax number that when called will send me the info in a PDF document to my email.

As a SID, I try to embrace change, not fight. (Well, I do now. I'll admit that I used to fight it.) The technological changes we've experienced over the last couple of decades have made life better for the most part for the SID. That sad, it has added a lot of pressure and demands on us. For example, with the Internet, if a result or story is not up within minutes following the completion of a game, people wonder what's going on.

I was fortunate enough to get to spend a weekend with Bud Ford, the head SID at University of Tennessee, during the 2006 football season. I wanted to see what life was like at the NCAA Division I level on a football weekend. To be honest, it's not much different that what I go through here in the NAIA. The only difference is that at Tennessee - and other NCAA Division I schools, it's on a much, much bigger scale. (For example, I might use one ream of paper during a football game where as Tennessee will go through two or three cases of paper.)

In spending time with Mr. Ford, he shared with me a lot about the profession and how it's changed during his time. He has been in the business over 40 years, and back then, they had to type everything and then dictate stories to newspapers over the phone. This was before the fax machine and forget about email.

I'll be honest, I'm not sure I would be a SID if I grew up back then. I need my gadgets.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Being a SID brings balance, perspective, appreciation

There's an interesting twist to being a sports information director, and it's one that some struggle with while others never get a grasp of it. Yet, it is a key component that separates the bad from the decent, the decent from the good and the good from the great.

A good SID must be able to separate him and/or herself from the game. Plain and simple.

While you work at and for a school, when it's game time, it's imperative that a SID be unbiased. The SID is not part of the action.

This is not an easy thing to do, believe me. And the longer you are at an institution, it can get even tougher.

Let me completely honest right here and now. I want Union College to win every single game, event, contest, race, match it participates in. PERIOD. Sure, I get my paycheck from Union, but I'm beginning my 11th year here and this is home to me. And who doesn't want their hometown team to win, right?

But as a SID, when the teams take the field and you your seat in the press box, you are to be impartial spectator and record the events as they truly happen, and not through the eyes of some biased party.

Can't tell you how much it burns me up when I get a story from a school and they blame the officials for a loss. Or how the host school will write this long release, but yet not mention anything about your student-athletes' performances. ("What? Was my team not there? Do you just compete against yourself?")

The role of the SID is to record the game as it happens - whether by keeping stats and/or writing the release, without injecting your personal opinion. Just stick to the facts, and in stats, be fair and consistent for both teams. For example, what's an assist for your team in basketball should be the same as an assist for the opponent.

I must give my wife Genople a lot of credit for helping find this balance. You see, while I am a Grade-A, certifiable sports nut/geek, she is not. Not in the least. Honestly, if by some horrific set of tragic events were to wipe out all sports from the universe, she would be fine with that.

From time to time, I would come home and complain at how none of the breaks went Union's way and how they should've and could've won the game.

My wife's response: "That's OK. It's only a game."

And I've come home ecstatic at how awesome Union played, how this was THE greatest game EVER and blah, blah, blah.

My wife's response: "That's nice. Glad to hear they did well."

That's nice?!?! It's ONLY a game?!?! That's blasphemy to the sports fan.

But that's the thing. As a SID, I can't be a fan. I am to check my fan hood at the press box door. (And truthfully, it is only a game. It's not a life or death situation.)

As much as I don't like to admit, my wife is right. It is only a game. And this perspective has opened up a new appreciation for sports and has enhanced my sports viewing pressure. (Which is something my wife probably didn't anticipate or intend.)

I can now watch a game between virtually any two teams and enjoy it - even between teams that prior to me spending so many years as a SID would've cared less about. I love sports and I appreciate a good game.

Yes, I do generally pull for a team when watching a game. That's just part of it and makes the game more enjoyable. But do I get distraught or upset if the team I'm pulling for loses. No. There's no sense it. It's not life and death stuff. It's just a game.

When I watch a game - that I'm not working, I try to appreciate and find greatest in the action. I look for good, solid effort, and I appreciate greatness when I see.

For example, I am a long-time Cubs fan. Been waiting for the Cubbies to return to the World Series for as long as I can remember. Yet, one of the players I will tune in and watch nearly every time his team is playing is Albert Pujols of the Cardinals - the Cubs' biggest rival. Pujols is just an amazing hitter and great first baseman. (And I'd trade the Cubbies' lone two World Series titles for Pujols.)

Also, I've never been much of a Yankees fan. But Derek Jeter is one of my favorite players. He just plays the right way, full effort all the time no matter what. I still love that play he made against Boston in 2004 when he went diving head first into the stands for a foul ball. That's a ballplayer, and that's what I want to watch on the field regardless of what uniforms the teams are wearing.

A game is to be enjoyed. So ... enjoy it. Enjoy the play on the field, the experience in the stands, the company you're with.

After all, it's only a game.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

There's nothing like a day in the press box

If you saw me and/or could sense and feel the emotions pulsating through me right at the moment, then you might think that I would be one of the thousands of young man who will be strapping on the pads and getting ready to bang helmets for a couple of hours this afternoon.

I love college football.

I love football gameday.

I am so geeked up at the moment that I can't contain myself. And the funny thing is, I'll have to keep my emotions in check during the day, especially during the game. (See, like there's no crying in baseball, there's no CHEERING in the press box. More on that later.)

To give you a better idea of how pumped I am right at the moment, let me tell you that I was up just before 6 a.m. on a Saturday so I could make sure I have everything in place and ready to go for the game today. Oh, the game doesn't kickoff until 1:30 p.m.

It's SEVEN hours away, and I'm all a go for some pigskin.

For disclosure time, I am first and foremost a baseball fan. I love spending my days and nights at the diamond either as a fan or as a SID working the game. But despite how much I love baseball, there is nothing like working a football game.

I love the week of hype that just builds and builds and builds with each passing hour leading up to kickoff. The glorious thing about football over baseball is that each game, each week is like a season until itself. It's doesn't matter what the records are for the team's competing on any given Saturday. In college football, every game is like the Super Bowl. If you win you're game that day, you ARE No. 1. Well, at least for that week.

But for that week following a win, you are the best. Period. Who cares who else won that week or who might have a better record. You won your last game, and that's all that matters.

Here's a classic example of what I mean. Overall, the 2005 season was nothing spectacular for the Union College Bulldogs. The team finished the year 4-6 overall and was 1-6 at one point. Yet, in the minds of a lot of Bulldog fans (this one included), that was an awesome season because Union beat University of the Cumberlands (Ky.) in the next to last game of the season 35-34 and essentially squashed the Patriots hopes of making the playoffs. Entering the contest, Union was 2-6 overall and 1-2 in conference play and Cumberlands was something like 8-1 or 8-0, 3-0 in conference play and ranked No. 5 in the nation. But Union not only won the Battle of the Brass Lantern (the traveling trophy for the Union-Cumberlands series), but the Bulldogs crushed Cumberlands playoff hopes.

Another example of this came in the final game of the 2007 campaign. Union was 3-7 taking on No. 17 Georgetown (Ky.) College, which came into the game 6-3 overall, 3-1 in conference play and on the bubble of being in or out of the playoffs. A win and the Tigers are in. Now, I do you know where this story is going - the Bulldogs win. But what you might not know is how big of a deal this win was. See, Georgetown owned Union in football. I bet when the Tigers saw Union on the schedule, they automatically crossed it off as a win. The Bulldogs had not defeated Georgetown since 1938, losing 23 consecutive games to the Tigers. (From 1942-83, Union didn't sponsor football.)

Yet, on that glorious day, Union was the best team. And the Bulldogs rode off into the sunset, feeling like that won it all.

That's the beauty of college football.

Now back to the sports information side of things. Here's a rundown of my typical gameday for a home contest:

  • Up by 7 or 8 am to hope on the laptop to double, triple, quadruple check to make sure everything is in place.
  • Exercise briefly, then fix family breakfast. (Love fixing pancakes on the weekend. I view as my family tradition. It's the one thing I can cook and not screw up. LOL)
  • After cleaning up, it's out of the door by 10:30 and to the office at 11 am.
  • Load up all our gear for the press box. Between my assistant (Gene Renfro) and I, we have two big loads of stuff to take. My car is loaded down, so much I have barely room for my son who insists on coming LOL. My assistant loads up a John Deere Gator. And this doesn't include all the food (Subway - got to eat fresh) another wonderful helper (Heather Cole) picks up for us.
  • In the press box by 11:30 am.
  • Get everything unpacked, loaded and booted up. Sometimes this is simple and easy, and other times technology loves to be cranky.
  • Then by 12 pm, all is in place and it's just time to make sure ONE FINAL TIME that all I's are dotted and all T's are crossed.
  • 1:30 pm - KICKOFF!!! For the next three and a half hours, I'm in stats HEAVEN!!! I am sure you realize there are lots of stats to keep up with in football. But you'd probably be amazed, possibly shocked that how it all gets gathered and all the info I need to know to input. For example, on a simple run play, this is what I hear and then input using the appriorate code, "Run 26, Tackle 55 and 32 at the Union 29." That seems easy, but wait until there's a fumble or an interception or even a blocked kick.
  • Some time between 4-4:30 pm, when the game's over, it's time to print off the stat packets. Since we're on the small scale side of things, we do about 12 packets which go to the coaches, radio crews and media at the game and myself (so I can write the release). I got to see how the 'big boys' handle gameday at the University of Tennessee once, and the reams of paper they go through for one game would last me 4-5 football seasons. NO LIE!!! Of course, NCAA Division I schools have HORDES of media to cater to. The NAIA, not so much - but that doesn't mean the games are any less exciting, believe me.
  • While the stats are printing, I begin writing the release. I write a short blurb and post it on the web so fans can see the result and get a little glimpse of what happened. The full release is usually done by 5:30 pm so that I can make sure the TV stations can have ALL THE INFO before the 6 pm and 11 pm newscasts.
  • Then, it's time to update the record book and stats on the website. Always found it best to do it right after the game because with all that goes on during a normal week, I will forget about it.
  • Around 7 pm, I'm all packed up and heading out of the press box. I take the bulk of the stuff back to the office, and then I head home.
  • Get home about 7:30-8 pm, and then I try to veg and wind down from the day's events. I don't do any more work, but of course, my mind is racing and I'm still keyed up from everything. It generally takes me a few hours decompress.

And the football week begins again on Sunday as I begin working on the game notes for the next game. (Yes, it is a vicious cycle, but it's my vicious cycle. LOL)

During the game, there is no cheering in the press box. Why you might ask? Because we are working. Imagine if you will, you are at your job trying to concentrate at the task at hand either at a desk, on a forklift, in front of a classroom of students or wherever your occupation takes you and right as you try to filter and disseminate all the info flowing your way, someone lets out a big ol' "YES!!! That's what I'm talking about!!! Way to go team!!! Did you see that?!?! Did you see that?!?! That was THE play of the year!!! BAR NONE!!!" You'd get flustered and agitated at the 'offender', therefore, there is no cheering the press box.

(As a side note, due to having worked in the sports media field for now 15-plus years, it's sometimes hard for me to go to a game as a fan and cheer. No lie. I enjoy and appreciate a great play like the next fan, but it's just not in my nature any more to whoop and holler about it. One of the small curses of the profession. LOL)

By and large, I love football gameday not because of the wins and losses (though I do love it when Union wins, makes my job much more enjoyable and easier), but it's the overall experience. It is a blast! And very few people know and/or understand what I (and other SIDs) do at a game. You'd be amazed at all the things we do to help put on a game.

But for me, the ultimate compliment is when I tell someone all that I do at a game and their response is, "I had no idea all that has to happen at a game" or "I never thought about everything that goes on behind the scenes." That's what I want to hear. I want people to enjoy the game and enjoy what's on the field. When I hear comments like that, then that means I've done my job.

Well, as you can tell, I'm excited about gameday. Probably gave you more information than you ever could want, but no one ever accused me of being a man of few words.

So, there's a peak into my world. Hope I didn't bore you. Hope you were able to make it to the end. But most of all, hope you enjoy you some college football.