INDIANAPOLIS — It’s the dawning of a new day for college football. I hope I don’t oversleep.
I wouldn’t want to miss it. By this time next year when we’ve celebrated our first champion from a real, live playoff culminating in Arlington, Texas, we might not even recognize the game. Change is coming, and, yes, it will be dramatic.
We enter 2014 with an appreciation for the rich past of this wonderful game we follow and an eye toward a future filled with equal parts anticipation of a historic season with the first College Football Playoff after the 2014 regular season. We also have a healthy concern for the direction of the sport. After all, the game is in a state of flux. Who knows when the Southeastern Conference will end its long drought and ever win another championship?
First, it’s a privilege to be your 2014 FWAA President. And I’d like to especially salute our 2013 President, Chris Dufresne, for his terrific service. I’d like to thank him for the great California weather for the final BCS game and the fact the game did not go into overtime
These are tumultuous times as college football wrestles with overwhelming issues: potential federation within the NCAA that could lead to a separate division and more distance between the haves and have-somes; Football Bowl Subdivision anxiety over uneven enforcement of penalties; players’ long-term health and safety; subsidies for players for the full cost of a scholarship; a tangled, complicated rulebook; and the controversial Ed O’Bannon lawsuit over payment for use of players’ likenesses for video games. And that doesn’t even count Lane Kiffin’s fascinating future, especially the week of the Alabama-Tennessee game.
College football’s plate is full, meaning our plate in trying to chronicle all these changes is full as well. Fortunately, realignment hit the pause button, at least for a moment. Right, Mr. Delany, sir? We tackle these thorny topics head-on and with not a blind eye. We must be ever-vigilant in trying to help protect this game and keep those who run it accountable. That said, we should do all we can to trumpet the successes and the great human-interest stories that are abundantly out there, assuming we can gain access to them, at the same time.
It’s with that in mind that we need to sharpen our focus in the coming year. I humbly welcome the challenge of leading our terrific and ever-growing membership of 1,300-plus in the FWAA. I say growing. Consider that a challenge to all of you. If each one of you coerced — no, too harsh — convinced one colleague to join, we would double our membership to (carry the one …) more than 2,600 if my math is right. That is a powerful way to increase our voice.
I began my presidential term in mid January by attending the American Football Coaches Convention in snowy Indianapolis with more than 5,700 college and high school football coaches. No, not all of them were GAs even though it seemed like it at times. I’d like to thank the AFCA’s Vince Thompson and his hospitable staff for making my visit a memorable one.
I attended the luncheon where more than 80 coaches accepted trophies and recognition for winning their respective conferences at all levels of the sport and was recognized by our good friend Mack Brown. Fortunately, Mack didn’t skewer me when he had the chance as the outgoing president of the AFCA. Mack, I owe you.
I had a nice chat with Dan Keats, who administers the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team that included 22 players who went above and beyond in the area of community service. Keats told me they received a record 150 nominees and is shooting for 175 this year to honor these players who do everything from helping with a bone marrow registry, working with at-risk youth, building houses in Nicaragua and digging water wells in Ethiopia. We don’t do enough to honor these individuals and need to do more. I ask that every member do one story apiece on these athletes who understand what it means to give something back.
I enjoyed visiting with long-time friend, R.C. Slocum, who was deservingly awarded the Amos Alonzo Stagg award for all of the former Texas A&M coach’s contributions to the game. He’s come a long way from Orange, Texas, where he became the first member of his family to graduate from college.
I had a great chat with Dal Shealy, who told me he coached for 53 seasons all over this country. He reminisced about starting the real WEB at the University of Richmond in the ’80s. Take that, Al Gore. He and his staff played on the team nickname and worked up WEBelieve, a message his Spiders very much took to heart.
I was riveted by Nick Saban’s mesmerizing, 50-minute speech to an auditorium packed with more than 3,000 coaches who hung on his every word. So did I. Little wonder his Alabama players have achieved all they have with the coach’s message of finding your vision, following a process and practicing personal discipline. I’d never known before that he called his own plays as a 15-year-old sophomore quarterback for Monongah High in the coal-mining West Virginia town or how much of a boxing fan that Saban was. This was a mellow, funny, totally at ease Nick Saban. Of course, the fact I was among only a half-dozen media members in attendance might have had something to do with his letting down his guard.
Baylor’s Art Briles spoke of how to resurrect a dormant program, and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio talked of keeping his players fresh mentally and physically. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Baylor assistant Brian Norwood and others addressed the impact of coaches’ jobs on their families and ways to shield them from the stress. More than 120 coaches spoke at the convention although I must confess I did not hear every one of them.
As for the coming year, I would like to do all I can to help our membership tackle some of the problems we face, whether it’s poor working conditions at some bowl games and the ongoing issue of access to players and assistant coaches. We have to do a better job of pushing forward and trying to develop greater trust from the coaches. I know. Pigs may fly sooner, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Toward that end, we decided at our annual board of directors meeting in Newport Beach to form separate committees of two to three FWAA members within each of the five major conferences and charge them with working directly with their leagues’ head coaches and conference commissioners and staff to better facilitate our ability to do our jobs. Hopefully, these committees could meet with the commissioners, their staffs and coaches at the spring meetings.
Communication is paramount, and rather than griping and complaining, let’s see if we can take a more hands-on approach and reach out to the coaches and conference offices. What do we have to lose? If you are interested in serving on one of these committees, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Steve Richardson at email@example.com.
One positive step would be greater access to teams’ practices, better conditions for player interviews and more availability for assistants and players. It was mentioned at our board meeting that sports information staffs could credential reporters for practice access in the same manner as games, and those media members could gain or lose their standing by their conduct. We need to convince coaches this is in their best interest as well. The more often we are invited to do stories the schools would like to see, the less we writers have to come up with our own stories. It could be a win-win. OK, we’ll take a win-tie.
I welcome any and all input from our membership, and I encourage you to be proactive in finding solutions for our problems, offering ways to find a middle ground with the coaches we cover and looking for more ways to publicize the sport even if it means shining lights on its excesses. Arlington, here we come. In the meantime, let’s roll up our sleeves.