President’s column: Recognizing the value of the press

By Matt Fortuna

Some coaches understand our jobs. Some don’t. But it’s always encouraging to see the two things that I saw on Saturday in Minneapolis.

2019 FWAA President Matt Fortuna

One of the youngest coaches in the country championed our cause, a rarity during this troubled era of public mistrust. And, as importantly, that coach used the biggest game day platform he has ever had to make his pro-media statement.

We bring you P.J. Fleck, whose unconventional methods have Minnesota at 9-0 for the first time in 115 years. This comes three years after he took Western Michigan to the Cotton Bowl.

The 38-year-old was wrapping up his postgame press conference after the Golden Gophers’ monumental win over Penn State when he took a minute to acknowledge the benefits of doing what he does in such a big market.

“Thank you all for being here, thanks for covering us,” Fleck said. “Thank you for all the things you put in the paper, whether it’s criticism or whether it’s positive. You have a job to do, and I respect that whole-heartedly. You’re teaching our young players about life — how to handle the adversity, how to handle the critics, how to handle the success. You’re doing your job at an elite level. You are. Because you’re shaping our young men of how to handle all that.

“Some people don’t get the training like you do here at the University of Minnesota. Some places protect people or they protect the team. You take it for exactly what it’s worth, and our players get to grow up in that. They get to see real world articles and real world opinions. That means a lot to me, so thank you so much for helping our team grow up.”

Kudos to Fleck for understanding how to promote his product, along with recognizing how many programs usually harm their players by not letting them face the music after a good or bad performance. Life is not always easy. College is not always easy, especially when carrying the pressure of trying to deliver for teammates, coaches and fans at a time in your life when you are maturing in front of a public audience.

Most of these guys have pro dreams, though, and they are not going to receive the kid-glove treatment once they make it there. Some of them won’t make it that far as football players, and that’s OK, too, because there are other ways to make positive impressions on prospective employers. (I know of two recently-graduated Notre Dame football players I have covered who are not in the NFL but earned attractive job opportunities as direct results of the way they handled themselves in public speaking settings.)

Fleck expanded on this philosophy a little bit more when I sat with him in his office afterward, saying: “I think we live in a very real media market, which I think is really healthy for our student-athletes, because they get they get pressure and expectations put on them like pro teams. And that’s only going to help them for the real world.”

How refreshing.

 

President’s column: Monitoring safety and access as the season begins

By Matt Fortuna

Greetings from game day, which in my case meant Death Valley for a primetime Thursday debut of the defending national champs, and in your case can mean anywhere from Minneapolis to College Station, with plenty of places in between.

2019 FWAA President Matt Fortuna

With talkin’ season over and the actual football season finally here, I wanted to check in with our membership and share some of the themes we have been gathering from across the country during both the media days circuit and the fall camp circuit.

We have heard plenty of good, such as the school that reached out to FWAA board member Nicole Auerbach to ask what the program could do to ensure the safety of women who cover night games there this season.

We have also heard some not so-good, such as the assistant coaches at one school who have reached out to multiple reporters on their beat to complain about protocols put in place by their media relations folks.

Conference media days are always tough events to measure when it comes to convenience, given the differing needs of so many different outlets in a short time span. I do want to single out the Pac-12’s operation, however, for running a first-class event. I went out to Los Angeles on behalf of the FWAA in July, and I have to say, whether your outlet was in print, on television or on radio, you were able to get every single thing you needed in a relaxed environment — all in a day’s span. Bravo.

Additionally, members of our access committee have kept their eyes and ears to the ground in reporting back to us about matters both good and bad that they have come across. It is important to remember that this is a two-way street between media and SIDs, and that we must be able to police ourselves if we see someone on one of our beats abusing the privileges that we receive as part of our jobs. As always, I am available for any questions or advice at mfortuna@theathletic.com.

With all of that being said, now the real fun (and pressure) begins. Games will be won and lost, which means that questions will become a little more specific, which in turn means that coaches and players will become a little more guarded in their answers. Let’s all remember how mutually beneficial all of our relationships can be. As ESPN’s CFB150 special, “Football Is Us,” reminded us last week, Knute Rockne — arguably the most famous coach of them all — was the absolute best when it came to PR.

I’d say that philosophy worked out pretty well for all parties he came across.

Happy football season, everyone! Look forward to hearing from you all.

President’s column: It’s the most wonderful time of the year

By Matt Fortuna

A funny thing happens every Fourth of July at my in-laws’ cookout. And no, I’m not talking about my cousin annually rigging the family cornhole tournament in his favor.

2019 FWAA President Matt Fortuna

Sure, it is the peak of summer; who doesn’t love food, family, fireworks and fun? But the conversations for me — and I’m sure for most of you — inevitably shift to college football season. It turns out that when a majority of your family has graduated from two of last year’s Playoff schools (but, alas, not the two finalists), it is never too early to start the hype machine, and the questions are aplenty.

For those of us in the FWAA, Independence Day is a reminder that our summers are darn near over, and that that is perfectly fine if you are fortunate enough to make a living writing about this great sport.

It may be hard to believe, but media days — our preseason — are upon us. Four of the five Power conferences will hold their annual kickoff events next week across the country, and the FWAA will be out and about at each of them — along with the Pac-12 the following week — looking to spread the word about our message.

We recently announced our new access/press relations committee, a collaborative effort between a talented and experienced group of writers and media relations pros who will help ensure a healthier dialogue between the media and the schools that they cover.

We will celebrate the 75th anniversary of our All-America Team this season, with a sponsor that will be announced Aug. 31 in conjunction with the Auburn-Oregon game in Arlington, Texas.

We will name our 63rd Coach of the Year, with Coach Eddie Robinson serving as the namesake of the award since the 1997 season. We will name our 74th Outland Trophy recipient, with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) serving as the presenting sponsor for a second straight year.

We will select the 27th FWAA Defensive Player of the Year (Bronko Nagurski Trophy) in 2019, with the presentation being hosted by the Charlotte Touchdown Club for a 25th straight year. And we will partner with Shaun Alexander for a second straight year to name a Freshman of the Year. We will announce an additional sponsor for that award and the 2019 FWAA Freshman All-America Team soon.

It is membership season — or #SZN, as the recruits of today would tweet — and we ask that you join or renew by July 12 to guarantee your inclusion in the 2019-20 FWAA print directory. It takes less than three minutes to join here, and your active membership will grant you access to everything on collegepressbox.com once the new and expanded site is unveiled this summer.

This really is the most wonderful time of the year — when us in the Midwest can enjoy our brief period of sunshine, when Notre Dame and Oklahoma fans can gather ‘round the grill and resist temptation to insult each other, and, most importantly, when all of us in the press can get back to doing what we love.

President’s column: It all starts from the bottom 1

By Matt Fortuna

A funny thing happened when I visited my alma mater last spring.

While back at Penn State for a reunion, I was among a few alums asked to spend time with students at our school newspaper, The Daily Collegian. When told via email that the staff needed a little bit of an infusion of passion, I rolled my eyes and began muttering to myself all of the typical stereotypes of today’s college kids. You all know how this goes, because no matter the generation — or the field of work — the playbook of complaints from the jaded remains the same: How lazy these kids are. … How easy they have it.How much better things were in my day.

2019 FWAA President Matt Fortuna

And then Matt Brown, Michael Weinreb, Jim Buzinski and I sat down with about a dozen aspiring sports writers and quickly received an education of our own. Sure, us alums were there to talk and act as resources for kids who were about to enter a crowded job market. But the tables quickly turned, with us asking more questions of them than they were of us.

When most of us were in school and were lucky enough to have professionals speak to us, the conversations were, in many ways, one-way streets. That’s not to suggest that our speakers weren’t accommodating or helpful, because they were. But there was a certain way to make it in this business back then, a by-the-book hierarchy of sorts that rookies had better adhere to. Or else.

As we have all seen in the past decade or so in this ever-changing media climate, there are now many more acceptable ways to skin a cat. And the studs we met with on the second floor of the James Building in April were the perfect embodiments of that philosophy.

They showed us the social media innovation that they have used to engage with the student body. They explained the expanding media ecosystem of what has always been a small-but-competitive market. Most importantly — and without overstepping — they engaged with Matt, Mike, Jim and I about what they like and dislike the most about what folks like ourselves are doing out there in the real world, giving us a clearer picture of how we can connect with our audiences in our day jobs.

This is journalism today. Hell, this is football today — all of us who have been writing about RPOs and spread offenses for the past decade have been on the student side of that conversation, laughing as the pros in the NFL finally begin to embrace such verbiage in their relatively unimaginative football lexicon.

As the 76th president of the FWAA, it is my duty to keep pushing us into the future, adapting to the new-school ways of the business and spreading our mission to the journalists of tomorrow while honoring our storied past. I am here as a resource and, most of all, I am here to learn.

No one knows the ins and outs of our great sport better than you folks who are out there on campuses across America every day, and it is this collection of talent, experience and cooperation that makes the FWAA what it is. See a development out there that warrants recognition? Sense a better way for us to make a difference, be it with student-athlete exposure or our own working environments? Drop me a note at mfortuna@theathletic.com. I am lucky to enough to already call so many of you friends, and I am looking forward to developing more relationships throughout our membership body and hearing everyone’s perspective.

You see, that infusion of passion that I was told those students needed? It had nothing to do with their attitudes, as I had wrongly assumed. It turned out that they had just been chopped from a daily print operation to a twice-a-week print operation, while also being informed that Penn State was planning to demolish the paper’s headquarters of 30 years. I hadn’t heard about either development because no one there had bothered to complain about it. Instead, these kids took a harsh real-life industry lesson and viewed it as liberation from the constraints of the previous 130 years of the way things had been done.

Their dreams were, and are, greater than their memories. As this business continues to throw us curveballs, we could all serve to remember that life lesson.

President’s column: Welcome to the West, and a week of FWAA activities, awards

By Stefanie Loh/2018 FWAA President

SAN JOSE — Welcome to the West Coast, everyone.

2018 FWAA President Stefanie Loh of the Seattle Times

I’m excited to welcome you all to sunny San Jose for our FWAA meetings and to nearby Santa Clara to witness the first College Football Playoff national championship game that will be played in the Pacific time zone.

Thank you all for coming West, to the land both touched and built by the spirit of manifest destiny.

That indomitable pioneering spirit is embodied by Bill Clark, the latest winner of the FWAA/Allstate Sugar Bowl Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, whom we will honor on Saturday, Jan. 5 at a reception at the San Jose Marriott.

What Clark has accomplished this season at the University of Alabama-Birmingham makes him one of the greatest stories in college football. The Blazers’ remarkable story has unfolded like a Hollywood movie, one I’d love to see on the big screen someday.

Clark was less than a year into his tenure as head football coach at UAB in 2014 when the program was disbanded due to a lack of funding. That decision was reversed six months later, and Clark was signed to a new contract. His challenge? Build an FBS football program from scratch and get the Blazers ready to compete with a regular schedule beginning in the fall 2017.

This fall, in the second season competing after the Blazers reinstated football, Clark led UAB to its first C-USA championship, its first bowl victory in school history – a 37-13 victory over Northern Illinois at the Boca Raton Bowl — and its first 11-victory season. You can’t script this stuff.

So please, give UAB head coach Bill Clark a standing ovation when he’s presented with his well-deserved award.

Following the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Reception, the FWAA Board Meeting with take place on Jan. 6, and we’ll kick off the FWAA Awards Breakfast sponsored by ESPN, on Monday, Jan. 7, before the national championship game. In addition, FWAA Past Presidents will be honored by the National Football Foundation at a private dinner presented by diDNA on Friday night.

At the awards breakfast, we’ll honor the FWAA/Armed Forces Merit Award Recipient, Dr. Chris Howard, the president of Robert Morris University and the first Campbell Award recipient. The Volney Meece Scholarship winner, Mallory Rosetta of Lubbock, Texas, will be honored as well. We’ll also acknowledge the accomplishments of a couple of illustrious members as 2018 FWAA Co-Beat Writers of the Year: FWAA Past President Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com, and Chris Vannini of The Athletic. And our prestigious Bert McGrane Award (FWAA Hall of Fame) will be presented to FWAA Past President Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star. Another longtime tradition, Mike Griffith will announce the FWAA Freshman All-America Team.

In keeping with the West Coast theme, the great Dave Plati, Colorado’s longtime SID, will be honored as our Lifetime Achievement Award winner.

It’s been quite an eventful year for our organization. We made a concerted effort to step up our social media efforts, partnered with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) to present the Outland Trophy to Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, and conceived the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award – we’ll announce the inaugural winner at the FWAA Awards Breakfast.

So enjoy your trip to the Best Coast, and let’s raise a toast to the completion of another successful, thoroughly entertaining college football season!

President’s column: FWAA pushing into the digital age

By Stefanie Loh/2018 FWAA President

Happy spring, everyone.

With the change in seasons comes the annual barrage of spring football games all across the country.

2018 FWAA President Stefanie Loh of the Seattle Times

As teams get ready to play in scrimmages that might (or might not?) give coaches some indication of how they’ll replenish their depleted depth charts this fall, the FWAA is also gearing up on a couple of new initiatives.

For one, this spring marks our push into the digital age.

You might have noticed that our official social media accounts have been more active of late, and that many off you have been invited to join our members-only Facebook Group. Still looking for more to join the group. Check your email box for the invitation or email me at sloh@seattletimes.com  or Steve Richardson at tigerfwaa@gmail.com and we will include you in the group.

In the coming months, we’re hoping to turn this group into an online gathering space for FWAA members and give everyone a forum to talk to each other, reconnect with old colleagues, and be the nosy journalists that we are and discuss the comings and goings of both our peers and the coaches we cover all across the country.

Looking for a new job? Need to connect with another beat writer to do a Q&A on a team the program you cover will face in the fall? Want to get someone’s take on a new assistant coach who’s been hired by the head coach you cover? Throw out a question in the Facebook Group.

We’d like for the members-only Facebook Group to serve as a resource where our writers can go to meet other members, ask questions of beat writers who cover other teams, and strike up conversations among ourselves about the ins and outs of the college football world.

But we have other irons in the fire as well.

As we redesign the website and ramp up our social media efforts, we’re looking for volunteers who might be willing to help man our social media channels for small chunks of time during the various FBS football media days that will occur over the summer. Have a couple of hours to spare and want to help tweet some color or throw up some short video from media day? We’d love to have you.

We’re also making a push into Reddit and would like to expand our presence with a weekly Q&A segment between beat writers and fans. If you’re willing to help with this, do let us know.

Otherwise, enjoy spring football, and squeeze in some well-deserved vacation time this summer. Fall camp will be here before you know it!

President’s column: As media industry changes, let us know how the FWAA can help 1

2018 FWAA President Stefanie Loh of the Seattle Times

I’m incredibly honored to be called upon to lead the FWAA into its 77th year.

I fell in love with the game of football while watching the NFL on television half a world away. But it wasn’t till I started college at the University of Oregon that I acquired an appreciation for the college version of the sport.

For a native Singaporean who grew up in a country where “football” means soccer, and virtually no one I knew understood the rules of American football, I never imagined that this sport would become such a big part of my life.

As an industry, college football is perhaps the most unique spectator sport of its kind. The gladiatorial nature of the game, combined with the creativity you see at the college level, with its variety of offenses and defenses, and the built-in dramatic quality that comes from the way the season is structured – every game counts – captivates the country like nothing else.

In my career, I’ve covered college football on both coasts, reporting on schools in several different conferences and at newspapers of varying sizes. I believe that background gives me a solid base from which to understand the trials and challenges that covering this sport poses to media members at organizations of different sizes. And I hope you will all use us as a resource to help you do your jobs.

Next year, I’m excited that college football will take its biggest game – the national championship, out to the coast I’ve come to call home – Levi’s Stadium in the Bay Area. The FWAA hopes to capitalize on that to make a push out west and garner more members and exposure on that side of the country. We also hope to diversify the membership, improve our website, and make a stronger push on social media. I look forward to helping to lead that charge.

This organization has been an invaluable part of the college football media landscape for decades, and it has a proud history.

But as we know, the media industry has changed drastically over the last 15 years or so. As we continue to navigate our place in the digital age I would also like to hear from you – the membership – on how we, the FWAA board, can better serve your needs.

So please, feel free to reach out to me directly (email: sloh@seattletimes.com). I hope to hear from many of you. Enjoy the offseason (we all know that doesn’t really exist anymore).

 

President’s column: Enjoy the parties in Atlanta, but don’t miss the FWAA Awards Breakfast on Monday

By David Jones

What’s ever bad about a long weekend? But, of all the Friday-Monday spans of the calendar, this is right up there with my favorite, because I get to see so many familiar and friendly faces.

David Jones, 2017 FWAA President

The final weekend of the college football season extends through all the usual events. And this year, they happen in what’s certain to be a blitzo-crazy Atlanta, what with two SEC teams and the local favorites playing for the College Football Playoff championship trophy. Take cover, Yankees.

We’ll have the usual fun with the Past Presidents Dinner on Friday night, then handing out the Eddie Robinson Award (to former Central Florida and now Nebraska coach Scott Frost) on Saturday evening.

But, to paraphrase Austin Powers, I want everyone to behave themselves as much as possible at the media party on Sunday night. That way, you’ll be fresh as an April azalea for our Football Writers Association of America awards breakfast on Monday morning. I have selfish interest involved here because some of my favorite people in the business are going to be both honored and handing out the hardware.

Actually, I don’t know the first honoree, only her dad, former FWAA president George Schroeder. But if his daughter Elizabeth can write anything like the old man at whichever university she picks (I’m told Oklahoma and Arkansas are in the running), she’ll honor the name of Okie legend Volney Meece, whose scholarship she’s won.

Then, Malcolm Moran, who’s only been everywhere and covered every event with his distinctive prose, will present the Best Writing Contest awards. I don’t wanna overemphasize any over others, but two of the biggest winners are two of my oldest friends in this biz, Glenn Guilbeau and Dennis Dodd.

Same goes for a very deserving winner of the Steve Ellis Beat Writer of the Year winner. Mike Griffith has been a giant on his beat everywhere he’s gone, now in an extremely newsy venue covering the Tennessee Volunteers. Tough beat, tough competitor. No surprise Mike won.

Ivan Maisel will then hand Steve Wieberg the Bert McGrane Award, our version of the FWAA ring of honor. Steve is more knowledgeable than any of us about exactly how the College Football Playoff works, for good reason. He’s the only one of us who’s ever served on the CFP selection committee.

And finally, it will be my distinct pleasure to introduce your new 2018 FWAA president, Stefanie Loh of The Seattle Times. You probably know Stef from her shining work on the Washington State and San Diego State beats (at the San Diego Union-Tribune). I’ve known her since she was a wonderful feature writer for us at PennLive. I’ll tell you about one story she wrote that blew me away.

But I’m saving that for the breakfast. I’m looking forward to all of you joining us in Atlanta.

President’s column: Coming to grips with award season

I suppose we’re susceptible to award fatigue this time of year. All of the shows and the speech-making and tux-wearing and glad-handing and back-slapping can get a little much, especially when bowl season is already upon us.

David Jones, 2017 FWAA President

It can almost make you turn into one of those cynical iconoclasts, the type who refuse to attend such functions for all their self-congratulation. I have been close to so afflicted at times.

But, then… nahhh. See, I’m a sucker for a gratuitous grip-n-grin shot. I even do them with friends. Which made my duties the past couple of weeks a pleasure.

I have to say, the six young men the FWAA honored earlier this month at the Bronko Nagurski Trophy gala in Charlotte both surprised me and altered my thinking about awards shows. They all not only seemed to enjoy their honor with a sense of humility, but they also appeared to genuinely enjoy the experience.

And I feel like I made some new friends. At one time or another, I was able to have a conversation with all of the Nagurski finalists as well as Virginia Military’s Greg Sanders (the Defender of the Nation Award recipient) during the two days of various functions in Charlotte.

Though it was the end of a long and grueling regular season, I think Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick, Georgia’s Roquan Smith, Houston’s Ed Oliver, Iowa’s Josey Jewell and the Nagurski winner, North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb, all got a real kick out of both meeting new people and each other. They even managed to make the best of spending a disproportionate amount of time in formal attire.

When you meet those who have the stuff to excel in any walk of life, it’s always fun to see what makes them tick. That’s how a simple question to Jewell about his major at Iowa resulted in a comprehensive explanation of a business plan he has in the works for a new way to graze cattle. It periodically moves them onto fresh ground with the use of global positioning satellite tracking. You’ll just have to trust me on this, it was actually fascinating.

A couple of nights later, I represented the FWAA at the National Football Foundation dinner in New York and found myself at one point standing in a line between Jerry Jones and Steve Spurrier as dozens of us waited to be introduced to the assembled multitudes at the Midtown Hilton ballroom. Talk about, “Which of these is not like the others?”

Ready or not, the postseason honors are coming fast and furious now. Houston’s Oliver, a mere sophomore, did find himself the winner of the Outland Trophy, which we helped announce last week at the Home Depot College Awards on ESPN. He’ll be formally honored on Jan. 10 in Omaha at the presentation banquet.

Outgoing Central Florida head coach Scott Frost, who’s headed to Nebraska, his alma mater, after the Knights’ Peach Bowl match against Auburn, was just announced as our FWAA Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year. I’ll have the pleasure of presenting him with that trophy in Atlanta on Jan. 6.

You may already have perused the FWAA 2017 All-America Team, released on Monday. And this year’s Orange Bowl Courage Award winner will be announced late this year, on Dec. 29.

Of course, we’re all looking forward to the FWAA Awards Breakfast on Jan. 8 in Atlanta when I’ll help hand out the Bert McGrane Award, the Steve Ellis Beat Writer of the Year Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Volney Meece Scholarship.

And I’m personally very much anticipating the introduction then of your new FWAA president for 2018, Stef Loh from The Seattle Times. She’s not just one of my favorite people in this business, she’s a terrific writer and reporter who’ll represent this office with honor.

More about all that in my final missive in a few weeks. Until then, let’s go bowling! And if I come up to you somewhere these next few weeks and arbitrarily demand a grip-n-grin shot, look, just humor me.

President’s column: Twitter storm at Texas resolved; let us know if 20-hour rule causes media access problems

By Dave Jones

I don’t know about where you live. But in the woods of Pennsylvania, it’s always the cicadas and crickets that let you know.

David Jones, 2017 FWAA President

I still can’t smell that certain scent of sweet freshly mown grass in August without thinking of the end of practice. Of taking off my helmet in the dewy dusk after being drill-sergeanted by coaches for two hours in 90 degrees.

The sensual connect is the same: You know it won’t be long now until the first kick.

When I was a kid this time of year, I couldn’t wait for the Street & Smith’s Official College Football Yearbook. I’m not suggesting you feel exactly the same about the 2017-18 FWAA Directory, but I can assure you it’s at the printers and headed for your mailbox within days. As always, thanks to Ted Gangi, it’s the most useful little book you will carry with you all season.

We’ve had some news on the access front that I feel compelled to address. In particular, we’ve had some good vibes lately at Texas — the positive resolution of a two-day dust-up at UT revolving around something that looked like a mandate about when reporters could tweet.

New coach Tom Herman, just arrived from Houston, caused something of a mini-furor when he requested that anyone covering the 30 to 45 minutes of practice and subsequent interviews not tweet until after those interviews had been completed. The purpose ostensibly was to allow everyone to digest and accurately relate info. Beat reporters understandably felt it was micromanagement and complained in print and to longtime sports information director John Bianco.

Well, they got the rule or guideline or whatever it was rolled back. It’s a good example of a coach who wants to have a good relationship with media deciding when and where to pick his battles after getting some push-back. Herman ended up saying his idea was only a preference, not a dictum.

A more global issue has been the new NCAA rule that media obligations count as part of the players’ 20-hour max. I want to know how your program is treating this, if they attempt to reduce access by using this as a lever and especially if you encounter unworkable constraints. For instance, if Monday becomes a blanket off-day but player interviews are not offered until Tuesday evening, does this become a burdensome jam against print deadline, if you have one, or push your post into an online readership dead zone beyond 8 or 9 p.m.? If it is, let me know and we’ll see if we can help finesse a solution.

I think we’ve turned the FWAA-NFF Super 16 Poll into the best in the business and a particularly interesting one to fill in the two months before the CFP committee’s first rankings.

This will be our fourth go-round with it. After the first two polls (announced on Tuesdays), the results of the 48 pollsters are released at 11:30 every Sunday morning, allowing a quick post for you by noon before the NFL games crank up. Please continue to stress the transparency of the poll to your readers and link the individual ballots. It’s a hook that often sets ours apart from other polls and sets up weekly debate the others don’t have.

I also want to make special mention of Gina Lehe being honored by SportsBusiness Journal on Monday. Good reporters don’t depend on media relations folks, but we sure as hell appreciate the ones who know their jobs. And Gina is one. Not only is she the consummate pro, she hires people who do great work, as anyone who’s been to one of the bowls she’s managed can attest.

Now, as communications director and brand manager for the College Football Playoff, she’s been named as one of SBJ’s “Game Changers: Women in Sports Business.”

I can personally attest that if any sports info staffer ever acted with something bordering on heroism, Gina did at the post-2008 Rose Bowl. She was one of roughly half of those in the press box that day — media members and publicity staffers alike — who’d been stricken with a withering food poisoning plague the night before. A lot of people “played hurt” that day but none more so than Gina.

So, on that note, the season is upon us. In the words of one of my old coaches: “Are you ready?! I can’t have you people coming out flat!”