FWAA president calls on members to pitch our organization, benefits to non-member colleagues

By David Jones, 2017 FWAA President

I have met many FWAA members who’ve made great use of our organization. But maybe none struck me so much as a reporter I met last month while covering the Penn State spring scrimmage in State College.

David Jones, 2017 FWAA President

I would say it doesn’t take a nuclear engineer to figure out the benefits of FWAA membership. But then, such a guy would certainly be bright enough to recognize them, too.

I submit to you Blaise Collin, nuclear physicist by trade, college football reporter as a side gig, writing for the French-language football site Football Americain. He’s a proud member and his FWAA directory has served him well.

Collin was born and raised in the town of Nancy in east-central France near the German border. As a young boy, he was fascinated by video of American football. A couple of trips to his aunt’s home in Boston whetted his appetite. And after college, a year-long post-doctoral stint with the Penn State physics department in 2003 sent him over the top.

Collin was so taken by the sport that, even after returning to Paris to work, he took vacation time to make trips to the U.S. to see college games in Pac-12 country. And when he took a job in Idaho Falls, Idaho, as a research scientist with the Idaho National Laboratory in 2010, he began writing for FootballAmericain.com on the side. The site serves 20,000 fans of American football in France and French-speaking countries.

That’s when Collin discovered the FWAA. He joined in 2012. And he told me his directory has been indispensible in making contacts, finding sports info personnel to request credentials and feeding his bottomless thirst for college football knowledge:

“The booklet is really useful. It saves a lot of time. All the contacts are in one place.”

And that’s how he ended up in State College last month covering the Penn State “Blue-White” game as a credentialed reporter for FootballAmericain.com and revisiting his old stomping grounds.

I’ve used the directory my entire career since joining the FWAA in the 1990s, but for more than just calling SIDs. To me, tempering and honing what I think I know about a team or program or association with the clarity of someone who really knows it better than anyone — a veteran beat-writer or columnist from the school or an officer from the organization — is its most valuable resource. Cell phones and email addresses for just about everyone are in the directory.

And every time you consult the opinion or insight of such a person and use it, they remember you. There’s no better way to broaden your knowledge and build your contact list. Isn’t that really what reporting is all about?

That’s why I’m urging current members to reach out to those who either don’t know us or maybe have heard of us but aren’t members. Think of someone in your sphere, then look him or her up and see if they’re in the directory. If not, give them a pitch.

Becoming an FWAA member can’t help but be an asset — both to the new recruit and to you. Because we all know how great being in this association is.

Annual dues are $50. And for that, you get the directory — which is worth it by itself — but also more benefits than we’ve ever had. I’ll just touch on my favorite ones:

  • As “Hilton MVPs,” FWAA members get 20 percent off the best available rate at participating Hilton Worldwide properties around the country (includes Hilton, DoubleTree by Hilton, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Homewood Suites by Hilton, Home2, Hilton Grand Vacations, Conrad and Waldorf Astoria). Also, MVP members can earn Hilton HHonors® GOLD VIP status with as little as four stays or nine total nights in 90 days, four times faster than normal. I’ve been a Hilton Honors member for years because I love the chain. This makes the deal sweeter.
  • FWAA members have complimentary network-wide access to 247Sports.com. Considering 247’s growth recently, I think that asset goes without saying.
  • There is no single annual publication that covers college football more thoroughly than “the book the experts can’t do without,” the Phil Steele College Football Preview. I have every copy back to the first in 1995. FWAA members who enroll or re-up by June 12 receive a complimentary copy. Once the magazine goes to print, copies are automatically mailed to active members. That’s a $12.99 value alone.
  • New this year: Complimentary admission to College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta and a discounted rate for accompanying guests with your 2017-18 membership card. Plus, half–price membership to the National Football Foundation (which allows you to vote for the College Football Hall of Fame).
  • Also new this year: FWAA members will receive $10 off the annual subscription to ESPN.com’s Insider. ESPN.com does not offer any other discounts on this subscription.

Beyond all of these tangible benefits is the intangible one: The FWAA is a brother-and-sisterhood. I feel we are the most cohesive and impactful such association in any major sport. Our members are and have been giants in the profession. And, with all the youthful talent we now have in the organization, that trend will only continue.

Be a part of us and bring others along. I can tell you, the benefits last a career.

FWAA names ‘Super 11’ sports information departments of 2016 season

DALLAS — Five previous winners and six first-time winners comprise the Eighth Annual Super 11 Awards, which the FWAA gives out annually to the best performing sports information departments in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The awards announced this week are for the 2016 season.

USC claimed its seventh Super 11 award and third straight. Nebraska won for the fifth time overall and fourth time in five seasons. Clemson and Colorado each won for a fourth time. It was Clemson’s second straight award and Colorado’s third award in four seasons.

Navy was the other past winner, having claimed a spot back in 2010, the second year the Super 11 was named.

The first-time winners are Air Force, Arkansas State, Miami (Ohio), Oklahoma State, Tennessee and UTEP in the awards selection that dates back to the 2009 season.

“Our organization believes this award is one of the most important tasks that we do each year,” said Tim Griffin of Cox Communications, the FWAA’s 2010 president and the head of the Super 11 committee.

“There are many outstanding SID staffs across the country. But these 11 departments we are honoring are consistently exemplary beyond expectations. We hope these awards help to showcase them.”

Criteria employed in determining the winners not only included how press boxes and media operations were operated, but also the quality and timeliness of information provided. Also judged was the amount of information presented and appropriately updated on websites, and personal responsiveness to media inquiries as well as the accessibility of a program’s players, coaches and assistant coaches. The ratings considered those departments that went the extra mile in servicing the media.

The Super 11 Committee received input from other FWAA members and others who covered college football during the 2016 season.

“The FWAA takes very serious the importance of good sports information departments and what they can mean to coverage of college Football,” said PA Media Group’s David Jones, 2017 FWAA President. “They can greatly aid in that coverage. And we want to salute those departments. Obviously, there are other top sports information departments. But these are ones the committee believed were in the top category during the 2016 season.”

In January 2009, the FWAA formed the first Super 11 Committee. The concept has been supported and endorsed by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA), many of whom are members of the FWAA.

The FWAA, a non-profit organization founded in 1941, consists of more than 1,300 men and women across North America who cover college football for a living. The membership includes journalists, broadcasters and publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that include game-day operations, major awards (Eddie Robinson, Outland and Nagurski), a national poll and its annual All-America teams that date to 1944.

For more information on the Super 11, contact committee chairman Tim Griffin (210-823-3666, timgriffin59@hotmail.com) or visit the association’s official website, footballwriters.com.

Football dreams come full circle for Armed Forces Merit Award winner

Steven Rhodes claimed the Armed Forces Merit Award in 2016. The FWAA helps name the winner of the Merit Award along with the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.

From Middle Tennessee Athletic Communications

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. Middle Tennessee defensive end Steven Rhodes’ incredible four-year journey will come full circle in the next week.

Armed Forces Merit Award winner Steven Rhodes, a former Marine and defensive end at Middle Tennessee State, is flanked by
Dr. Sidney A. McPhee, president of Middle Tennessee State (left) and Athletic Director Chris Massaro at the FWAA’s Awards Breakfast on Jan. 9, 2017, in Tampa.
Photo by Melissa Macatee.

The senior Marine veteran and Antioch, Tenn., native will accomplish what he calls “two of the biggest goals in my life” all in the span of eight days. He will graduate from college on Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication and then attend rookie minicamp with his hometown Tennessee Titans from May 12-14.

“Finally my dream is starting to take place,” Rhodes said. “It’s something not everyone can say they’ve done, to graduate college and get a chance in the NFL. Especially not having any student loans, that’s even better.

“There’s nothing like playing the sport you love and playing for your hometown. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I’m excited to be a Titan.”

It’s often said that students mold the person they will become during their four years at college, and especially during their freshman year. But, for Rhodes, that was a little different.
He wasn’t an 18-year-old kid moving away from home for the first time in his life when he stepped onto MT’s campus in 2013. He was a 25-year-old man who had spent the previous five years fighting for his country as a Marine.

“I think the biggest thing I learned [at college] was I can be pushed to new limits and pushed a lot further than I thought I could go,” Rhodes said. “It’s been a lot being a husband, a father, a full-time college student and a football player. It’s like having 10 jobs and it was very difficult, but it definitely helped mold me, and coming through those tough times made me a better man and a stronger man.”

Rhodes became a beloved member of the Murfreesboro community, being awarded the Daily News Journal Person of the Year award in 2013 during his freshman season for the Blue Raiders. He also became a consistent player on the field and got better each season.

He had never played defensive end before coming to MT, but improved with every game and every practice and capped his four years with a career season in 2016. He set personal highs in tackles (41), tackles for loss (8), quarterback hurries (7) and sacks (4.5), leading the team in the latter three statistics.
How Rhodes was able to focus on his craft as much as he was able to over his four years wasn’t just a credit to his own work ethic. It was a family affair.

He and his wife, Adrienne, have two children: Kameron, 5, and Devon, 4. It was their support and flexibility that helped their dad reach his ultimate dreams.

“My family is my support system, my backbone through all of this,” Rhodes said. “My wife was the one who encouraged me to keep going and never give up, and my two boys, my parents, my brother they all kept me going and kept me motivated and helped make this possible.”

As he prepares this week to showcase his talents in front of the Titans, Rhodes will take some time to reflect back on the special four years he’s had. But, sticking true to what he learned as a Marine, he knows there’s plenty of work to do in order to prove himself, and he’s too disciplined to take a break.

The Armed Forces Merit Award recipient also knows there are a lot of people from another family, his fellow veterans, who are inspired by his story, and he won’t let them down.

“It’s possible to achieve your dreams after active duty, and I’m glad I can show that,” Rhodes said. “It’s been an emotional rollercoaster … but everything worked out how it was supposed to.

“I’m just really excited and ready to get back to work and back to football.”


FWAA member catches the bug, but not the ball, at Penn State spring game

FWAA member Nate Bauer of Blue-White Illustrated participated in the punt-catch event at Penn State’s Blue-White Spring Game on April 22.  Penn State head football coach James Franklin offered media members an opportunity to participate.  Here is Bauer’s account of the experience.

By Nate Bauer

Blue-White Illustrated

The proposal was one not to be taken seriously.

Penn State’s James Franklin began his midweek, post-practice press conference by offering up an opportunity for the media. Any interested colleagues, he announced, could go down on the field, in front of the Blue-White Game crowd, and catch a punt.

With a tone that instantly elicited memories of grade school teachers fed up with students who’d talked too much during class, the invention was, in my mind at least, clearly born of spite. Go ahead, hot shot, you teach the class.

An avid practitioner of avoiding any and all forms of unnecessary embarrassment, this was an example-making moment from which I’d spent my entire life steering clear.

Fewer than 72 hours later, I’d let a booming, sidewinding punt glance through my fingertips and to the Beaver Stadium turf. And not a day has passed since in which I haven’t wished for another crack at it.

So what changed?

It started with Franklin himself shortly after his challenge had first been revealed. Lingering with a colleague on the other end of Penn State’s outdoor practice fields following the scrum, snapping a few pictures of players while chatting with team personnel, the head coach himself popped into the circle to say hello.

As we’d been warned, by Franklin’s own words and via other staff members, the challenge was not a joke. They’d already drawn up legal waivers to be signed by participants, and Franklin was adamant about bringing the idea to fruition.

“So are you going to do it?” he asked excitedly.

“Absolutely not,” I said.

And my colleague? The same.

“Come on! Are you kidding me? I had higher expectations for you guys. This is a real disappointment,” Franklin said. His up-to-no-good grin beaming for the duration of the conversation, the dismissal was a welcomed relief. Crisis averted.

The reality would quickly turn the next day as my phone buzzed with incoming texts and calls. In a group text with three of my closest friends, without having mentioned any of it, the challenges poured in.

“Are you suiting up for the Blue-White Game Nate?”

Acknowledging that I’d been lobbied by Franklin and other staffers to participate, my answer remained a solid no.

“Do it! Do it!” they persisted.

Then another, and another, and another; as each hour passed, friends and family urged my participation after they’d read the Tweets, Facebook or Instagram posts from Penn State football that had, to no surprise, gone viral.

The sway of bad advice from folks with no skin in the game began to work. I queried the team’s sports information director to find out what the response had been like from others. The response had been positive, I was told, and though I’d made no mention of wanting to participate, the question was apparently the equivalent of a verbal commitment.

“I’m signing you up,” the next message read. “You want to do it.”

Maybe she was right. Certainly, that I’d already Googled “how to catch a punt” betrayed any notion to the contrary. Predictably, the answers were mostly less than illuminating, but an entry from former New York Giants return man Phil McConkey did offer some insight. McConkey, paraphrasing legendary coach Bill Parcells, said catching punts could be boiled down to four golden rules.

“Sprint to the ball. Get set. Don’t drift. Catch it.”

Not unlike playing centerfield in a church softball game, the nuances of trajectory, wind and spin would need to wait for another day. Instead, understanding the basic principles would have to suffice as preparation.

Still reluctant about my decision as I stepped onto the field alongside 15 other brave souls at halftime, I made one last-ditch effort to glean some pre-punt knowledge to increase my chances of success. With Franklin making the rounds to offer his thanks for being good sports, I asked for at least a few tips in return.

Turning back, his emphasis was even more straightforward than McConkey’s. Whatever you do, he said, show no hesitation. Make the decision on where the ball will land, run to the spot and go after it, as he continued, because “you’re either going to look ridiculous, or you’re going to catch it, but you don’t want anything in between.”

And with that, the steady air assault began.

The punts booming in rapid succession off the feet of starter Blake Gillikin and backup Dan Pasquariello, two lines of media members filtered through. At my place deep in the second line, maybe 12th overall, the on-field experience of watching punt after punt sail through the air proved beneficial, though. The distances weren’t wildly different from punt to punt, but the locations sideline to sideline often were.

Finally at the front of the line, my name announced over the Beaver Stadium loudspeakers, Pasquariello’s punt leapt from his foot to my right, at least the 40 feet separating my hash from the one opposite my line.

Immediately, the golden rules would come into play. Though I’d been able to track the direction of the punt well, the downfall of my career in any and all varieties of youth athletics manifest itself completely.

In my short and stocky case, “Sprint to the ball!” likely appeared as a beleaguered rumble, leaving the ball to slip through my outstretched fingers.

Though two or three colleagues ahead of me were able to actually secure the punts, I would not join them. Instead, the consolation of Penn State men’s hoops head coach Pat Chambers awaited me in the back of the end zone — him being nearly in tears laughing at my near-miss.

Still, what I’d suspected was confirmed by him and others.

I almost had it! A better kick and I would have been on to the second round! That wasn’t so difficult!

Reflecting on the initial challenge, having avoided abject embarrassment while still taking in a unique experience, it was a decision I’m glad to have made.

“We thought that would be fun,” said Franklin. “And just so you know, I’m dead serious.”

It was fun. And though I’d resolutely objected to the idea from the start, I’m now determined to get another shot at next year.

And just so you know, I’m dead serious.