President’s column: Championship week includes several FWAA events in Arizona

ffaw_redesignBy Lee Barfknecht

OMAHA — Don’t close the door on college football’s 2015 season just yet. Multiple events during the College Football Playoff’s championship week in Arizona will involve the Football Writers Association of America.

On Jan. 8, a dinner to salute past presidents of the FWAA is set at Paradise Valley Country Club. Last year, 11 former chiefs attended and we look for strong attendance and story-telling again this year.

On Jan. 9, a reception is set to honor Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz as the 59th winner of the FWAA/Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award presented by the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The event will be at the media hotel, the JW Marriott Camelback in Scottsdale.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

Ferentz’s Hawkeyes, who were 7-6 in 2014, were picked fourth in the Big Ten West Division in a preseason media poll. Iowa instead rolled to the division title, going 12-0 in the regular season.

Ferentz was a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award in 2002 and 2004. He is the first Big Ten coach to win it since Ohio State’s Jim Tressel in 2002. The FWAA has honored a coach of the year since 1957. The first winner was Ohio State’s Woody Hayes. The Eddie Robinson name began to grace the award in 1997.

On Jan. 10, the FWAA’s board of directors will gather for its annual meeting. Among the ongoing topics our organization has high interest in and will discuss are access for news media, bowl game operations, our player and team of the week awards and the growth of the FWAA.

On Jan. 11, the morning of the championship game, the annual FWAA awards breakfast is set. Among those to be saluted:

Irv Moss of the Denver Post will be honored with the FWAA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Moss, at 81, is still covering the college football beat.

Chris Dufresne, the FWAA beat writer of the year. The 2013 FWAA President recently took a buyout after 40 years at The Los Angeles Times.

Bret Robertson, U.S. Army veteran and a junior strong safety at Westminster (Mo.) College, as the Armed Services Merit Award winner presented by the FWAA and coordinated by the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. Robertson earned a Purple Heart (he was wounded in Iraq) and the Army Commendation Medal.

The winners of the Bert McGrane Award (FWAA Hall of Fame) and Volney Meece Award (academic scholarship for a son or daughter of an FWAA member) will be announced in the coming days.

President’s column: Look for your AutoNation FWAA All-America ballot on Nov. 9

ffaw_redesignOMAHA — It’s hard to think of three more beautiful words than “November college football.’’ As the old saying goes, the games we remember are played in November.

So when you write about, broadcast or administer these games, keep your eyes on those making the biggest plays because our process to pick the 2015 AutoNation Football Writers Association All-America team starts this week. Confidential teleconferences are set for Nov. 15 (defense, offensive linemen) and Nov. 22 (all others). First and second teams will be chosen.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

Ballots from the FWAA membership (which are scheduled to be sent out on Nov. 9) will be used as a framework to build our teams. Please feel free to contact your regional representative from our All-America Committee with nominations, pertinent statistics and other intelligence to help us do the very best job possible.

Also, we need Outland Trophy nominees (centers, guards, offensive and defensive tackles but no ends).

The selection committee:

Lee Barfknecht, Omaha World-Herald (National)

Zach Barnett, Football Scoop (Conference USA)

Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman (National)

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President’s column: One month in, college football is a world turned upside down

ffaw_redesignOMAHA — My god, isn’t this fun?

It’s difficult to recall a college football season in which we seem to have more questions than answers after the first month than we did before the darn thing started.

Ohio State quarterbacks? Oregon down, Utah up? Defensive coordinator mental-health warnings in the Big 12? Alabama, Auburn and Arkansas a combined 0-4 to start SEC play? Clemson rolling and Louisville falling in the ACC?

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

FWAA 2015 President Lee Barfknecht.

Good luck to the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. Looks like you’ll need it. As for those of us chronicling the action, the stories get more interesting by the week.

Something worth following this season is the amped-up work on recognizing our national players of the week (offense and defense) and national team of the week.

The Football Writers Association of America has partnered with a new valued sponsor, AutoNation, to honor deserving players and teams as selected by the FWAA All-America Committee. AutoNation generously donates $1,000 for each team of the week and each player of the week (offense and defense) toward the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. AutoNation also is presenting sponsor of our All-American team and the 75th Anniversary All-America squads.

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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

ffaw_redesign

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.