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

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!”

 

President’s column: Be proud, audacious and answer to our better spirits 1

By Dave Jones
2017 FWAA President

Journalists are cynical. I’m not certain whether it’s more because we are skeptical folks at heart and intrinsically need to see proof or because we see so much duplicity and deviousness in detail.

Or maybe it’s just because we are prone to see the effects of the world, including our actions or mistakes, on our subjects, up close.

Dave Jones

Dave Jones

I’ll always remember the scene in a favorite old movie called Absence of Malice where a young reporter played by Sally Field is so reckless in attempting to nail a story that it leads to a woman, a principal in the story, taking her own life. An editor mentor tries to console the crushed Fields by offering her a desk position at the paper, suggesting maybe it’s time to come in from the daily storm:

Too many people out there. A lot of news is bad news for somebody. You stay out there too long, the somebodies start adding up.”

Well, I never wanted to be an editor. I always wanted to be on the street, in the arena, seeing in person events as they happened. That involvement can come with a cost.

When I was 30, about the age of the young reporter in Absence of Malice, I was told by my editor to go cover a story about a college student who had been too terrified to admit to her parents that she had become pregnant. She wore blousy clothes, tried not to eat too much and desperately hid her secret from everyone. Finally, she gave birth by herself in a dormitory bathroom and then left the baby in a dumpster to die.

It was a gruesome story that I told in as much detail as I could muster, relating police documents, collecting anecdotes about the young woman’s background, talking to friends, other students, even quoting a Bible-thumping preacher yelling to passersby on the quad: “Are you the murderess? Are you? You’re all responsible!”

My editors were very pleased with the story when I finished it that evening. It got play on A1. I did not feel especially proud, only that I’d done my job.

A few months later, we ran another small wire story on that young woman, tucked in the back of the state news section. It said she had taken her own life.

That’s been nearly three decades ago. It still pops into my head now and then. Not because I made any mistakes with the facts in that story: I didn’t. Not because I knew for sure that it had any effect at all on the young woman; I never knew.

Only because it suggested to me that what we do can have an effect on our subjects maybe more than we realize. It gave me my first lesson in empathy, one I’ve learned and re-learned throughout a 36-year career.

I’d like to think we can make a difference in a positive way. I love this business because of that. I love the people in it. And I see the great work they do. Many times they are journalists from small outlets that might be judged inconsequential. But their stories are anything but.

I cite, for example, The Daily Collegian of Penn State’s exposé of a pair of women’s gymnastics coaches of whom athletes alleged emotional abuse; and the nmfishbowl.com blog that exposed unflattering exit interviews with departing athletes who repeatedly alleged they were not allowed to take the classes they wanted to obtain a meaningful degree.

This is the type of work that FWAA writers have done, can do and, I’m confident, will. I’m inspired by them and believe we can help college football players protect themselves from administrators who do not always have their best interests in mind when presented with the overriding factors of profit.

Whether it is pressure to perform when not physically able, abusive coaches, encouragement to enroll in tailored curriculum not worthy of a genuine degree, improper concussion protocol, the over-issuance of addictive opioid pain medications or any other action that imperils or creates a disadvantage to the athlete, that’s where we should be —reporting, uncovering, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.

As the 74th president of the FWAA, walking in the large footprints of predecessors such as Paul Zimmerman, Blackie Sherrod, Jack Murphy, Ivan Maisel, Tony Barnhart and Dick Weiss, that is my goal: Be cynical and skeptical in a productive way. Let’s get out on the fields — and into the back hallways and public records — and make a difference.

A few reminders and notes:

  • I’d like to remind everyone that we’ll soon be taking entries for the FWAA Best Writing Contest. And if you have any ideas for our Beat Writer of the Year award, please email them to Malcolm Moran (malcolmmoran1@gmail.com).
  • If you want to serve on FWAA committees, we welcome you. Contact me (djones8681@verizon.net) or executive director Steve Richardson (tiger@fwaa.com) to be installed on the All-American, Bert McGrane Award, Volney Meece Scholarship, Merit Award or other committees.
  • We have some ongoing issues we’ll be addressing. First vice president Stefanie Loh of The Seattle Times will be heading up an effort to make shorter and safer the journeys to and from stadiums from media lots, especially at night and for those alone. Second vice president Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com has a particular interest in athletic departments who issue gag orders to the family members of players. These are worthy goals and I welcome your ideas on how to best handle them.
  • Tim Griffin is chair of our Super 11 awards for the top sports information directors in nation, the good guys and gals who understand helping us to do our jobs helps the athletes.

Finally, I’d like to express how much I enjoyed your reception in Tampa and assure you that I will dedicate this year to do my best in encouraging diligence, fairness and empathy. Be proud of what we do. And let’s resolve to be audacious and to answer to our better spirits in all our endeavors of 2017.