President’s column: The vanishing depth chart

This is starting to get ridiculous.

2016 FWAA President Mark Anderson

2016 FWAA President Mark Anderson

It was one thing when Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t have a flip card with a Wolverine two-deep roster on it in the press box before the home opener against Hawaii.  Now, he’s making it a habit for every home game.

But this isn’t just about Harbaugh.

It’s about the danger of a trend taking place when other coaches begin to believe it’s a good idea to never release a depth chart. That’s why it’s important to stand up to what’s happening in Ann Arbor and make sure it doesn’t spread nationwide.

And coaches need to release accurate depth charts, unlike the one Kansas distributed for its opener against Rhode Island. Eight players started despite not being listed on the first team, according to a story in the Lawrence Journal-World.

One or two is understandable. Coaches make late changes all the time based on a variety of factors, including injuries and tweaks to the game plan.

Not eight.

If a coach doesn’t want to release a depth chart during the week (hello, Jim Mora), we in the media won’t be happy about it, but that can at least be explained away as not wanting to give information to the opponent. But no credible reason can be given to not have a depth chart available shortly before kickoff on a flip card when there is no competitive advantage to be gained. The players already know their roles for that day.

The potential lack of flip cards in the press box also should be a concern for professional scouts and video crews _ not to mention the media, including the broadcasters for radio and television networks which pay millions in rights fees.

So what can be done?

Harbaugh has so much power that no one on Michigan’s campus is going to force him to have one.

We need outside help to make sure not only depth charts are released before kickoff, but that the information is genuine.

So we need the Division I Football Oversight Committee to not only implement rules to provide such depth charts, but to put real teeth in those rules. And while committee members are at it, establish some rules against coaches changing players’ numbers on a weekly basis. Confusion can reign.

A third area of concern is enforcing a rule already in place about the contrast between numbers and the color backgrounds of uniforms. The numbers in some of these combinations are increasingly difficult to identify.

Colorado visits Michigan this weekend, and the Buffaloes released their own tongue-in-cheek two-deep of celebrities and fictional characters. I do wonder about the decision to go with Bernie Sanders over Vladimir Lenin at free safety.

But even though you have to give Colorado credit for making light of the situation, the Buffs won’t release a two-deep because Michigan won’t do it. It’s a perfectly reasonable stance for Colorado to take.

One, however, the Buffs shouldn’t be forced to take.

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President’s column: Membership directory is in the mail

2016 FWAA President Mark Anderson

2016 FWAA President Mark Anderson

Welcome to the beginning of the FWAA’s next 75 years.

We have a lot to live up to given all that’s happened during the organization’s first 75 years. That birthday we celebrated in 2015 is in our rear-view mirror. But with a membership that is strong and talented, there is little reason to think the future can’t be at least as bright.

The information-packed FWAA 2016-17 Membership Directory will be in your hands soon, if not already. Coming to a mailbox near you is one reason your membership is so valuable. You have access — cell numbers, emails and twitter handles — of contacts that your non-FWAA member friends don’t possess.

And that’s only part of what the guide offers: informative team pages on all FBS schools; bowl, award, conference and media contacts, as well as individual listings for FCS schools. I-30 East’s Ted Gangi, Executive Director Steve Richardson, the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic’s Charlie Fiss and staff deserve a big thank you for the work they put into the guide, which alone is worth the price of FWAA membership.

Between now and the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Jan. 9 in Tampa, we have a lot of ground to cover.

On Sept. 6 the first regular-season FWAA-National Football Foundation Super 16 Poll will be released. Please write about it and talk about it every week. The FWAA-NFF already has conducted a pre-season poll by its 40-plus member panel, composed of FWAA members and College Football Hall of Famers.

We are already beginning to send out information for player nominations for the Armed Forces Merit Award, sponsored by the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth. We will have flyers at many of the early-season big games that explain the award. Those nominees should be sent to Tim Simmons at bfishinc@aol.com

In the next two weeks, we will have exciting news, officially announcing a sponsor for our FWAA Freshman All-America Team

Once we get into the season, we will announce a Team of the Week each Monday, our Bronko Nagurski Defensive Player of the Week on Tuesday and our FWAA/Orange Bowl Courage Award Nominee on Wednesdays, starting a little later than  the other two weekly awards.  Please send any nominees for the Courage Award to ESPN’s Matt Fortuna at matt.fortuna@gmail.com.

And later …

FWAA members will receive their offensive line and defensive All-America ballots on Nov. 7 and offensive skill and special team ballots a week later. During our All-America Team selection conference calls, we look carefully at how the membership votes.  The 26-man 2016 FWAA All-America team will be announced in mid-December.

We also will be busy with announcements of the Bronko Nagurski  (Best Defensive Player) and Outland Trophy (Best Interior Lineman) Award winners in early December. A highlight in early January will be the honoring of our 60th Annual Coach of the Year with the Eddie Robinson  bust presentation  on Jan. 7 in Tampa. The legendary Robinson has been the namesake of our award since 1997.

During the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 9 in Tampa, we will hand out, among other in-house awards, the “Steve Ellis Beat Writer of the Year Award.” His widow, Karen, will present it, a year after the FWAA Board decided to name the award after her late husband. Steve was a former colleague of mine at the Tallahassee Democrat and the best reporter I’ve ever been around. He once filed a story on his honeymoon. I don’t recommend that, by the way.

It’s sure to be a memorable year.

President’s column: Beat Writer award to be named for Steve Ellis 1

By Mark Anderson, FWAA President

A friend and I were traveling through the West with Steve Ellis back in the early 1990s. We all woke up in Provo, Utah, one morning ready to hit the road. But first we had to wait for Steve to file a Florida State football notebook.

In July. On his vacation.

2016 FWAA President Mark Anderson

2016 FWAA President Mark Anderson

That was Steve. From him, I learned the value of great reporting. No one could ever outwork Steve. The trips with Steve also gave me a love for this region of the country and an appreciation for the beauty of the West. I eventually made my way from the Tallahassee Democrat to the Reno Gazette-Journal and then to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Having worked with and having known Steve, I think it is truly appropriate that we name our FWAA Beat Writer of the Year Award after him. I have to credit FWAA Board Member Malcolm Moran, a long-time friend of Steve’s, with the idea. We both wish Steve could be here to enjoy the recognition.

Steve, sad to say, died on Nov. 19, 2009 after suffering a heart attack nine days earlier. His widow, Karen, will attend the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 9, 2017 in Tampa and present the award in his name.

Karen shared her thoughts with the FWAA:

When I found out the Football Writers Association of America planned to name its Beat Writer of the Year Award after Steve, I was completely overwhelmed with emotion. I know Steve was an outstanding writer and a special man, but to be recognized by his peers is just amazing. I watched Steve work 24/7 to make sure he didn’t miss a story and to ensure all the facts were correct. The other writers on the Florida State beat always said they had to work harder just to keep up with Steve. He truly loved what he did and knew at an early age he wanted to be a writer.

When we first started dating Steve was working on a story about a freshman football player and was worried about a quote he thought could give people the wrong impression about the young man. He called the player’s position coach and was up until 2 a.m. waiting for a quote from the coach that would help give credibility to the player with fans. More…

President’s column: Mark Anderson invites you to ‘Expand the Brand’

2016 FWAA President Mark Anderson

2016 FWAA President Mark Anderson

As the seemingly unending UNLV basketball coaching search draws to a close (the regents still have to vote on the deal), I can finally come out of my Las Vegas bunker and think about other things.

And, as the temperatures start approaching 90 degrees, thoughts naturally turn to college football.

And yours should, too. The FWAA has just begun our membership drive, and the slogan is “Expand the Brand,” meaning we want to go from about 1,300 members to 1,500.

If you’re reading this column, chances are you already have a good idea of why the $50 ($25 for students and 2016 graduates) is money well spent on a membership. It is even better spent if your company picks it up. But if not, you can write it off on your taxes because of the FWAA’s non-profit status.

Find those who aren’t members, be it reporters or SIDs, and let them know the benefits. The more members, the louder our collective voices, and there are plenty of reasons to scream about becoming a member.

The directory, which is available in print form and online, is alone worth the cash. Hear about a player transferring from Illinois but you live in the Pacific Northwest? Look up cell numbers to beat writers in the directory and start calling (begin with those in bold because they are members and should be rewarded with information sharing). More…

Mark Anderson is FWAA’s 2016 president

(Ed. Note: Mark Anderson of the Las Vegas Review-Journal became the FWAA’s 2016 President in early January in Scottsdale, Ariz. Below is speech that he gave accepting the position during the FWAA Awards Breakfast at the media hotel. Mark, who covered UNLV football for a number of years, has moved to the basketball beat but will still report football periodically during the fall while serving as the FWAA President.)

2016 FWAA President Mark Anderson

2016 FWAA President Mark Anderson

 “Thank you all for this incredible honor. I am humbled to be so warmly welcomed by you not only the past few days, but the past two years after Tiger put me on the board. I remember how surprised I was at his invitation to eventually rise to president. Not only did I cover a team that wasn’t from a power conference, but I covered arguably the worst program in that league. Kirk Bohls (2014 FWAA President) later enlightened me on the importance of having diverse representation. Little did Tiger know, however, that I’m an SEC grad (from the University of Florida).

“This is a big day in many ways. It’s also my 17th anniversary at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and this has been a time for milestones. My wife and I each turned 50 in the fall, and our son — I mean, our straight-A student son — entered middle school. My paper was sold — twice. You might have heard about the second purchase. My 15th wedding anniversary is later this year.

“One of my colleagues, Ed Graney, takes over as President next year of the United States Basketball Writers Association. Another co-worker, Steve Carp, is a former USBWA President. To say I am proud of where I work would be an understatement.

“I’m honored to become the second Tallahassean to become President of the FWAA. The other one, Bill McGrotha (1990 FWAA President), was the long-time columnist of the Tallahassee Democrat, and I not only worked with Bill, I was his driver for Florida State football games. You knew you were walking with a celebrity when going through the Doak Campbell Stadium parking lot with Bill. He was almost as popular as Bobby Bowden.

“We all are a reflection of our upbringing, and I want to take a moment to talk about two great influences on my life and career.

“My dad is 96, and the past few months have been difficult with him going in and out of hospitals. But he’s the same fighter who survived pneumonia at the age of 12 or 13 after a doctor said he wouldn’t make it through the night. My dad also watched his parents lose all their savings in the Depression, and he never was able to get a college degree he so badly wanted. But my dad went on to become one of the world’s top civil engineers, overseeing the construction of dams all over the globe and giving my family the opportunity to experience so many cultures that most Americans miss out on.

“But the main influence on my career was my mom. She and I had season tickets for years to Florida State games before I later came to my senses and went to Florida. If the Seminoles happened to pull off a big victory, my mom would go downtown and buy the state papers. If she liked a particular passage — Hubert Mizell of the St. Petersburg Times was a particular favorite — she would read it aloud. I sometimes hear her voice when I write.

“We all know how important it is to have an understanding family with our crazy deadlines and constant travel, and I certainly have a wife and son who love and support me. Without them, it would be much more difficult to live out this crazy dream of writing about sports for a living.

“Thank you again for this privilege. I am excited about the challenges over the next year and about the opportunity to represent this great organization. You will get nothing but my best.”

Photo gallery: FWAA Awards Breakfast

These photos were taken at the FWAA’s annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 11 in Scottsdale, Ariz.  Winners of the 2015 Best Writing Contest as well as the Bert McGrane Award winner were honored, among others.