President’s column: 2015 directory an invaluable resource

ffaw_redesignOMAHA  Members of the Football Writers Association of America are in the process of receiving a piece of pure gold.

That’s how strongly I feel about the value of our annual directory: 250 pages of precious information to help all of us work smarter and faster. This book will pay dividends on your membership fee over and over and over again.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

Don’t just toss this gem aside when it arrives. Place it in your workbag immediately. The contact information from fellow members is invaluable. The names, addresses and cell numbers of sports information directors are there in an easy-to-read-and-find format. Need to contact a beat writer or a play-by-play announcer for a bit of background? That’s there, too. Also, calendars detailing the dates of various games, awards and meetings are included. And it’s in this one spot. You don’t waste time sifting through multiple websites looking for what you need. Practice schedules, times and contact information for weekly teleconferences and lists of all-time award winners are all there, too. A special addition this year is our 75th Anniversary All-America Team.

As a member, you have online access to the guide, too.

If you get a chance, offer a big thank you to Executive Director Steve Richardson and Editor Ted Gangi and our friends at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic for their toil on this important project. One more thing: show the directory to someone who isn’t a member. Hopefully, he or she will see what they are missing and want to join.

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President’s column: Bowls agree to media operations standards

ffaw_redesignOMAHA — What better time than early July to start thinking about bowl games?

Among board members of the Football Writers Association of America, bowl-game operations are in mind year round. We strive to create and sustain access, improve logistics and bring some polish to what sometimes can be a rough-edged experience for our members.

In that spirit, the FWAA and the Football Bowl Association present what we hope is good news.

Last winter, our board — with USA Today’s George Schroeder as the lead blocker — asked FBA Executive Director Wright Waters to present his membership with a list of standardized media operations for bowl games.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

The good news is the 41 bowls said yes to our standards for operation without exception. We heartily thank Wright for his patience, cooperation and guidance in these matters — and George for his persistence and attention to detail.

This doesn’t mean our work is done.

The Football Bowl Association doesn’t have enforcement authority on these regulations. I repeat: It DOESN’T have enforcement authority. But as Wright told his members: “It has been made clear that this is a request coming from the media, and is an attempt to help the bowls generate more media attention.”

Yes, the College Football Playoff bowls have a good thing going with standardized methods of operations and penalties for violations. It’s a pleasure to cover bowls that offer agreed-upon access, top-flight press box services and handy transportation.

However, we all know that isn’t the standard everywhere.

I have covered 34 bowl games put on by 14 entities, from Honolulu to Miami.

Some bowls have the process nailed, working with their sponsors and the sports information directors of the participating schools to fulfill the basic needs of the media — and often beyond.

In other cases, covering a bowl is like working a high school game.

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President’s column: Vote for the FWAA 75th Anniversary All-America Team

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By Lee Barfknecht
FWAA President

OMAHA — “Happy Anniversary!’’

It’s time for all members of the Football Writers Association of America to celebrate because this year marks our 75th season of existence.

We are taking advantage of this special year to highlight our organization and the sport we follow with some newsworthy events.

The biggest?

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

All members will get to vote on a 75-year anniversary All-America team. With our organization’s start in 1944, this coincides with what is defined as “the modern era of college football,’’ which is from the latter stages of World War II to the present.

Three 25-man units will be chosen (first, second and third teams). To be eligible, honorees must have been a first-team FWAA All-American.

The all-time list — compiled by Ted Gangi and Josh Yonis, and with thanks to our nation’s sports information directors and the College Football Hall of Fame — is on our website in easy-to-read form and with strong detail.

Once the membership-vote deadline has been reached, a panel of past presidents, current board members and winners of our Bert McGrane Award will be asked to tabulate votes, review the results and arrange the teams.

This is going to be a sparkling argument-starter and conversation piece.

Writers and broadcasters can use it for multiple story ideas. Meanwhile, school, bowl and network TV folks can turn it into promotional pieces for their entities.

Those of us who love football and history are drooling over how this will turn out. Competition will ensue at the highest level.

Please keep an eye out for notice coming soon on when and how to vote. We hope to reveal the three teams in early summer — a great time for stories considering the year-round thirst in this country for football news.

In and around the announcement of those teams, we plan a series of stories on pillars of the FWAA — people who have had great impact on the sport in terms of how it was played, how it was coached, how it was covered and how it has been promoted.

Another way we will note our anniversary year is with a new logo.

It’s a simple and clean addition of a “75th Anniversary’’ banner to our current logo, in pigskin colors and no-nonsense lettering. It should appear on our website soon, and perhaps on some clothing.

Something else to keep watch for is a new member portal.

The FWAA and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association are partnering to create a one-stop payment site for both organizations that syncs up with the school year, plus some other features to make things more user-friendly.

Again, keep the 75th-anniversary All-America team voting in mind. It should be an energizing exercise to take part in.

President’s column: Introducing Lee Barfknecht

OMAHA —  Now  that college football’s minuscule catch-your-breath season is upon us —  the short break between national signing day and the start of spring practice —  it’s time to introduce myself as your new president of the Football Writers Association of America.

And I do mean “your’’ president because I view this as a service position.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

This sport we find so fascinating/maddening/energizing gets bigger and (mostly) better every year. Coming off the first College Football Playoff, attention and interest is as high as I can recall in my 35 years with this product.

(Don’t forget a hearty round of applause for Bill Hancock, Gine Lehe and all those from CFP who made “North Texas 2015” a rousing success.)

The FWAA, under the strong guidance of executive director Steve Richardson, is set up to honor those who deserve a pat on the back, talk discreetly to those we think could do things better and in general pay attention to this sport’s operations in a way to help all members do their best.

I’m a newspaper guy — who in the next two weeks has “continuing education’’ meetings on video streaming, Twitter and Internet radio —  but am well aware our membership includes all types of folks associated with college football.

We will look at issues that arise without fear or favor, but with respect.

The relationship between beat people and coaches is a two-way street. The relationship between news gatherers and athletic departments is a two-way street. Sometimes, swords are crossed. It’s the nature of the business. Our goal, though, is to find common-sense solutions for any problems that come up.

We need input from both sides of the fence, and accurate information on which to pursue any necessary conflict resolution. And don’t forget to include good news and “atta-boys,’’ too. The celebration of good work is something our business too often neglects.

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President’s column: Longtime Texas SID Bill Little to receive FWAA Lifetime Achievement Award

2014 FWAA President Kirk Bohls

2014 FWAA President Kirk Bohls

Bill Little always longed to come home.

Not to Winters, Texas, his dusty West Texas hometown south of Abilene, but back to Austin and his beloved alma mater.

And so during the end of a short stint as sports editor of the Associated Press Bureau in Oklahoma City, he figured he’d address that longing. He noticed an opening in public relations at the University of Texas and telephoned Darrell Royal and told the legendary head football coach he’d like to return.

Royal basically asked one question: How fast could he get to Austin?

Former Texas Sports Information Director Bill Little

Former Texas Sports Information Director Bill Little

So at age 26, Little packed his bags and returned to Austin where he had once worked for The Daily Texan school newspaper, volunteered at the sports information office as a student and then covered high school football for $50 a month at the Austin American-Statesman. The move allowed him to continue a life-long and unabated love affair.

In March of 1968, he became an understudy to the iconic Jones Ramsey in the sports information department and would work at a job he loved for 47 football seasons, serving five head football coaches, five head basketball coaches and two baseball coaches during that span. He has been inducted into the Longhorn Hall of Honor, the CoSIDA Hall of Fame and the Big Country Athletic Hall of Fame in Abilene and won numerous awards for his writing.

He broadcast more than 1,700 baseball games, took in 527 consecutive football games and didn’t miss one until this season’s football game against UCLA in the second week in September after he’d worked the season-opener as the public-address announcer. He officially retired at the end of August.

“My wife, Kim, and I sat down after DeLoss (Dodds) and Mack (Brown) left,” Little said, referring to the long-time, highly regarded Longhorn athletic director and head football coach. “I turned 72 in March, and it just seemed the right time with a new staff coming in. So I stepped away.”

For his highly regarded career and deep involvement in the lives of so many athletes, coaches, sportswriters and fans, Little touched a lot of lives and is being honored as the second winner of the FWAA’s Lifetime Achievement Award and will be celebrated at the annual FWAA Annual Awards Breakfast Jan. 13 at the media hotel in Dallas on the morning after the national championship game.

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President’s column: High school baseball star Randy White never expected to be a football ‘Legend’

2014 FWAA President Kirk Bohls

2014 FWAA President Kirk Bohls

(Note:  Randy White was honored at the same banquet where Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III was revealed as college football’s best defensive player as deemed by the Football Writers Association of America.)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Randy White never expected to be honored as a legend in college football.

Of course, the highly decorated defensive star for Maryland and then the Dallas Cowboys never really expected to even play college football in the first place.

He’d been a star pitcher and first baseman for his high school team in Wilmington, Delaware, and had been told at one time that the Philadelphia Phillies wanted to draft him and sign him for a $30,000 bonus.

“I thought, ‘I’m rich,’” White recalled Monday before the Charlotte Touchdown Club Banquet where he was recognized as a Bronko Nagurski Legend from the FWAA’s 1974 All-America Team. “But my dad told the scout no. He said I was going to Maryland and play college football.”

Father knew best.

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President’s column: Look for your FWAA All-America ballot on Monday

2014 FWAA President Kirk Bohls

2014 FWAA President Kirk Bohls

Some think last Tuesday was national Election Day, and it was.

But the ballot box has reopened.

So here’s your chance to vote for players you think are deserving as the best and the finest college football players in the land, the most worthy of them all.

Here’s your chance to vote for the 2014 Football Writers Association of America 26-man All-America Team. Don’t forget your duty and help us decide the best of the best.

Ballots to nominate deserving defensive (11) and offensive line (5) candidates will be sent to FWAA members on Monday Nov. 10. On Monday Nov. 17, another set of ballots go out and we want you to help determine the best offensive skill personnel (6) and specialists (4).

The 12-member FWAA All-America Selection Committee will take those candidates, discuss them, debate them in two separate Sunday sessions, and make the final choices for the All-America team for the 71st straight year as well as determine the winner of  the Outland Trophy (best interior lineman) and Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player). Our official All-America team will be announced on Dec. 17.

The FWAA has named an All-America team every year since 1944, when the Army sophomore running back tandem of Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis both were selected along with Georgia Tech back Frank Broyles and seven other players who would ultimately be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Until 1950, the FWAA selected a first, second and most years a third All-America team. After that, and until last year, only one consensus first team was chosen each year.

I’m proud to have been a part of the membership that felt compelled to shout out to yesteryear and reinstitute a second team All-America group because of how meaningful the recognition is to so many. So I’m glad to announce we will continue with that tradition and pick a second team for a second straight year.

So pull back the curtain, do your civic duty, and vote again.

President’s column: Season of changes is upon us

2014 FWAA President Kirk Bohls

2014 FWAA President Kirk Bohls

Let’s kick this thing off.

Actually Sam Houston State and Eastern Washington did the honors Saturday on an all-red field with a no-huddle offensive fury — my eyes are just now adjusting back to normal — but the college football season starts in earnest this Thursday.

If the real season is anywhere near as eventful as the off-season was, this promises to be one of the most exciting, electric years ever.

To recap, we’ve witnessed an all-out assault on the NCAA and the status quo with a move toward greater autonomy for the Power Five conferences, the likelihood of cost of attendance benefits for athletes and the player-friendly outcome of the landscape-altering Ed O’Bannon lawsuit.

We’ve seen football strongholds embrace diversity as Charlie Strong and James Franklin become the first African-American head coaches at tradition-clinging Texas and Penn State. We’ve also seen Chris Petersen leave his comfort zone at Boise State to test the big-school waters at Washington. And we’ll see coaches on the hot seat like Will Muschamp, Dana Holgorsen and Charlie Weis try to stave off the wolves on their doorsteps.

We’ve grimaced when we see stars like Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and Oregon offensive tackle Tyler Johnstone go down with injuries that ended their seasons before the first kickoff.

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President’s column: SEC madness kicks off 2014 season

2014 FWAA President Kirk Bohls

2014 FWAA President Kirk Bohls

It’s begun.

And it began in SEC Country naturally.

Anytime you see a 47-year-old wedding photographer from Australia spend $8,000 to fly himself and his Alabama graduate wife to the States and salivating over getting a glimpse and maybe an autograph from the Crimson Tide royal family, you know SEC fans are rabid. And maybe something else, too.

Antony Hands was among hundreds who crowded into the hotel lobby getting autographs or just a momentary peek at their favorite Alabama players.

He did get signatures from Landon Collins, Amari Cooper and Christion Jones. And has Hands met Nick Saban yet?

“Oh, God no,” he said, practically swooning.

He carried a colorful, handmade sign he made with seven bucks from Wal-Mart that read: “I Flew All the Way from Australia to Meet Nick Saban.”

I just flew from Austin, but was feeling no less passionate about the experience.

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President’s column: FWAA committees formed in every conference to head off problems

2014 FWAA President Kirk Bohls

2014 FWAA President Kirk Bohls

Greetings, colleagues.

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.

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