No Cheering in the Press Box

It goes without saying that most sports fans envy sportswriters.

It appears to be a cushy job. You sit in the press box, watch the game, type up a story, and go home.

You travel to interesting locales and iconic stadiums. You get to know famous athletes and coaches. You watch practices. You go into locker rooms. You cover big-time events like the Super Bowl. Hell, they even feed you during the game.

About the only bummer is that you can’t cheer in the press box.

If all this sounds too good to be true, it is. Sportswriting, particularly for the beat writer, has become a 24/7 job. A real grind.

In the old days, writers would file a story, which would appear in the paper the next day, and that was it.

Now, with the internet and social media, it’s non-stop. Writers file one story when the game ends and another for the online edition. They tweet highlights and breaking news...before the game, during the game, and every day throughout the season. They blog. They have to hustle all the time.

Beat writers used to compete with the guy from the other newspaper. Now they have to compete with the player’s twitter account. And they can be scooped at any time by tweets from the player’s family, friends or high school coach.

Along with social media, beat writers (especially in football) also have had to overcome ever-increasing limitations on information and access to practices, players and coaches.

Basically, paranoia has set in. Football coaches all want an “edge.” They don’t want opposing coaches to know whether injured players will suit up. They don’t want reporters revealing game plans or players spilling information through the media.

As a result, detailed injury reports have become almost non-existent in college football. The media used to get specifics about ankle sprains, hip pointers, contusions, concussions and knee injuries. Now, injuries are “undisclosed” or given vague descriptions, like “lower body.” Whatever that means.

With sports betting now legalized, it will be interesting to see whether the NCAA or conferences will require colleges to release regular injury reports, like the NFL, which must specify the injury and designate a player as “probable,” “questionable” or “out” of the upcoming game.

After all, the gamblers have to know.

As for access, back when I was sports information director at Stanford, coaches were available to the media after every practice and player interviews could be scheduled with our office almost any day of the week.

That was a long time ago. In fact, those were the days when reporters filed their stories on portable fax machines.

Now, access is much more limited. Practices are often closed, or they’re open to the media for only the first 20 minutes. Player and coach interviews must be scheduled well in advance, and only on specific days. As a result, it’s much more difficult for writers to develop relationships with the people they are covering.

The reason I bring all this up is that, with the college football season only a month and a half away, it’s time for “Media Days.”

All 10 conferences now host Media Days, which offer writers, broadcasters, bloggers and tweeters access to head coaches and star players from their member schools.

It’s become quite the production. The SEC’s Media Days, now in progress in Atlanta, run four days and attract over 1,000 members of the Fourth Estate.

The Helsinki Summit had nothing on the SEC.

The ACC, Big 12, and Big Ten all hold two-day events. Surprisingly, all Group of Five Conferences—Mountain West, American Athletic, Sun Belt, MAC and Conference USA—also host two day affairs.

The Pac-12 is the only conference that holds a “Media Day.” As in one day. This year’s event is scheduled on July 25.

Believe me, it’s quite a challenge to run 12 head coaches and two star players from each school through the media gauntlet in one day. But the writers will all show up, because it’s one of the few opportunities they have to get access.

Ironically, the Pac-12 used to have the best pre-season media event. This was back when the league was known as the Pac-8 (and later, the Pac-10). In those days, the conference’s “Skywriters Tour” was the envy of the rest of the country.

The Skywriters included beat writers, columnists, radio broadcasters, and sports directors from all the newspapers, radio stations and televisions stations in the local markets of the conference’s teams.

The Skywriters would fly as a group to Los Angeles (USC and UCLA), the Bay Area (Stanford and Cal), Portland (Oregon and Oregon State), and Seattle (Washington and Washington State) for a series of interviews with the coaches and players at each conference school. Later, when the league became the Pac-10, a stop was added for Arizona and Arizona State.

The Skywriters tour would last about 10 days, allowing time for the host sports information directors to schedule golf outings and dinners. Head coaches and athletic officials from the local schools would participate, and adult beverages were consumed in large quantities.

The end result was not only some great coverage for the conference but, more importantly, a lot of camaraderie and relationship-building.

We need more of that.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com

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