I trust many of you have thawed out from the harsh winter by now and are planning your vacation retreats to Barbados. My advice: Take plenty of SPF 50 sun screen and every preseason college football magazine you can get your hands on.
We’re still dabbling in the college baseball season and awaiting the NBA and NHL Finals to end before the Fourth of July, but we all have one thing on our mind. No, besides the Kim and Kanye wedding. It’s college football, the reason we were put on this planet.
Yes, spring football is over, and the official countdown to the 2014 season, the historic first playoff and the Lane Kiffin soap opera in Alabama has begun. And I think we all admit the marriage of Kiffin and Nick Saban is even more intriguing than the latest Kardashian nuptials and would make for a much more riveting reality show.
As I write this, it’s less than 90 days until Abilene Christian travels to Georgia State to kick off the season on Aug. 27. Fourteen more games, headlined by Texas A&M at South Carolina in the debut game on the SEC Network, follow the next day.
Before you start overhauling your golf game, please make sure you get your Football Writers Association of America membership current and pay your FWAA dues. As president, I even remembered to pay mine before spring drills began. Our membership last season grew to a record 1,350 and we’d like to push that even further. Also don’t forget to mail in your entries for the annual FWAA Best Writing Contest. Dennis Dodd and Ivan Maisel can’t win all of them every year.
It has been an especially interesting winter and spring in Austin as we have grown accustomed to a new football coach, a new athletic director, the Twitter machine that is Mack Brown and the revelation that Saginaw Valley State and Marist all had stronger senior classes than the University of Texas, which failed to have a single player taken in the NFL Draft for the first time since 1937. I can assure you I didn’t cover that ’37 Draft and have only foggy recollections of the ’38 Draft at best.
Still, it’s shocking that players were drafted from Portland State, UMass, Illinois State, Maine, Coastal Carolina, Northwest Missouri State, Princeton and Montana, and none from Texas. Even some place called McGill in Canada had an offensive tackle taken by the Chiefs. Concordia — the one in Minnesota — had a defensive end picked in the sixth round, not the Concordia here in Austin as I first thought, raising my eyebrows since the Tornados here don’t field a football team.
The University of Texas does field one, but not a one of its players’ names were called among the 256 whose were. Not even defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, got picked. That was staggering news, but the kind of news that could help lower expectations in Charlie Strong’s first season, although he kind of went out of his way to do that himself when he told an audience in Fort Worth during his statewide bus tour that the Longhorns were not going to win the national championship in 2014. We kind of had an idea that might be the case because who knows who is going to take the snaps at quarterback, but it might make for a longer honeymoon if he reinforces that premise.
Here in Austin we’re getting to know Strong, although that can be difficult because very few media types in our town have had the opportunity to actually formally introduce themselves to the new Texas head coach, who seems to prefer it that way. Consequently, I can’t say we’ve gotten to know him well, but I can say he’s come off as very blunt, plain-spoken and totally candid. And he’s all football, something all of us can appreciate. So what if his press conferences are only a third as long as Mack Brown’s were.
The media is not a big priority of Strong’s, but that’s probably the same for nearly every head football coach of a big-time program in America. That’s simply the state of affairs in sports these days, which further creates the growing divide between the media and the people we cover. The glut of press and bloggers and fan websites has contributed to this alienation, and we may be all to blame.
To offset that growing pattern, we at the Football Writers Association of America have created media committees in every football conference, a task force of two or three writers who will attempt to communicate the requests and concerns of the press in each conference.
They have been assigned to reach out to the commissioners of each conference as well as the individual athletic directors, head football coaches and SIDs at summer media days and throughout the season to foster better avenues of communication and hopefully common ground. The complaints don’t have to go one way. Their problems are our problems, and it’d be nice to channel some of the frustrations of both sides into a commonality and hopefully some positive resolution. More dialogue can’t hurt.
This has occurred already in the off season with a Big Ten school that has a football press parking issue and a Mountain West Conference school that had an access issue involving a beat writer and a head coach.
We recently honored our Super 11, the most outstanding and cooperative sports information staffs in the nation, a practice we at the FWAA feel very strongly about. I’d personally like to extend that by recognizing a Second-Team 11 as well, and we’ll be discussing that.
If a coach is out of line in dealing with a reporter or a school fails to adhere to FWAA principles like safe and professional working environments and reasonable access to players and coaches, we want these committees to take on these issues and work for better conditions. Likewise, if an SID or a coach has a problem with reporters’ behavior, we’d welcome hearing those concerns as well. We’re here to reflect and cater to the massive interest in college football and do as good a job as we can of pushing that agenda forward. We sometimes need to remind these schools that the vast majority of the stories we do are positive ones. And we want those whom we cover to know that we do other things besides complain.
We are all in this together whether some of us like it or not, and it wouldn’t hurt to at least try a little bit harder to coexist. In the meantime, let the countdown continue. Just don’t forget the sun screen.