Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Q&A with a UTSA Blogger

As Old Dominion approaches its final season as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, we're trying to get familiar with their future Conference USA opponents.  Recently we shared a Q&A with a Charlotte blogger, which you can read by clicking this link.

While most Monarch fans are more familiar with a school in a neighboring state, they may know less about some of the more-distant schools.  In limited time I've reached out to a couple bloggers of those schools.  The gentlemen at Coker Chronicles were kind enough to respond with some background on the University of Texas - San Antonio, which we're sharing here.  (If you question how "Coker Chronicles" is an appropriate for a blog centered on the Roadrunners, read below for the discussion of their head coach.)

The Roadrunners' inaugural football season was 2011.  (Photo source: UTSA.edu)

The content that Adam and Jared provide at their website is impressive and worth visiting regularly.  You can also follow Coker Chronicles on Twitter

(Unrelated to UTSA: it's taken me some time but I think I've got my angle to express my thoughts on Old Dominion's change in conferences.  I hope to have that blog post available by the end of the week.  It's not easy to articulate two decades of association with the Association.)

Without further ado, here's a Q&A with Adam of Coker Chronicles!

1. What is your association with UTSA?

Adam: I am a San Antonian. I lived in the city until I left for Denton, TX and the U of North Texas. My support of the program was largely born out of my love of my hometown. I do plan on attending graduate school come fall, so I will have a more solid connection, soon.

Former Towson, CAA great Gary Neal is a key part to the San Antonio Spurs' current NBA title run.  (Photo source: CNNSI.COM)

2. What are some Road Runner athletics accomplishments outside football?

Adam: Basketball, as under-appreciated as it is, has brought the most fame (and relatively decent fortune) for the program. The program has three trips to the NCAA tournament to it's name and a win to boot. Devin Brown, the former NBA and current D-League player, is probably the most accomplished of the program's alumni.

Also of note? The track and field team won the Southland Outdoor and Indoor championships this year also.
Devin Brown in action for the Hornets.  (Photo source: NBA.com)

3. Talk a little about how football started - has there always been a clamoring for D1 football? Did a couple large donors come through with big checks or was there a groundswell of support? How important was it getting Larry Coker as the first coach?

Adam: There has always been a low rumble of support for football in the city. (http://www.cokerchronicles.com/2012/03/wayback-machine-1971-article-on.html) I think the recent wave of support that culminated in the reality was due to a collision of factors: 1) An Athletic Director (Lynn Hickey) with the talent and ability (and connections) to make it happen, B) A sense of possibility from the city leaders. The Alamodome is 20 years old and everyone realizes now that an NFL team won't be using it as a home stadium without major renovations -- but it is perfect for a college football team. The university, lacking major funds to build a stadium and the necessary facilities only needed to solicit donors to fund the latter. With the Alamodome a viable option (and a resounding success as a home venue in hindsight) it suddenly was much easier to convince those donors to write checks. After all, it is much easier to write a check for a coach than it is to get a stadium built.

Larry Coker was a genius hire. Although largely seen as a failure after his time in Miami, he is exactly the kind of coach the fledgling program needed. He isn't likely to be hired away, has the cache of a championship-winning coach, has tons of experience at various programs, and also has a desire to prove himself.
(VBR Productions note: Coach Coker visited Bobby Wilder during 2010 to get a look inside ODU's own start-up program.  You can read Rich Radford's article on the encounter by clicking here.) 
4. What were some highlights of the first season? What did the administration do right to get an average attendance of 35K in its first season?
More than 56K attended UTSA's first game 9/3/2011. (Photo source: MySanAntonio.com)

Adam: I think the obvious highlight was Eric Soza's scamper for the first ever touchdown in the program's history. The entire opening quarter was perfect (in which they scored on the first 3 possessions); video can be found at the following two links: http://www.goutsa.com/mediaPortal/player.dbml?id=797188&db_oem_id=13100 and http://www.flickr.com/photos/66994849@N03/6131957120/in/pool-1796644@N22/. Personally, I feel that spurred some of the subsequent attendance numbers.

Though I credit most of the attendance figures to the fans, the administration did well to not hinder the enthusiasm. They did a marketing blitz and made it easy for the average fan to know about the games, and get tickets. Similarly, they made sure they students could get to the games and back to campus without having to figure out their own transportation.

5. What is the evolution of UTSA joining Conference USA? How do you and other fans feel about Old Dominion joining the conference?

Adam: The evolution of UTSA's bid to the conference is a long one involving back-stabbing and board room meetings at much higher levels. UTSA is definitely a beneficiary of the major BCS shakeups we've seen the last few years ( and really going back to the 60s). With CUSA and MWC looking to strengthen their position in light of so much conference realignment, they looked to form an Alliance (and still do). With the sudden need for teams --and TV markets -- the addition of UTSA didn't seem so ridiculous. Whereas some CUSA presidents dismissed the program as too new for membership now, it seems CUSA is looking to the future with the addition, basically stealing UTSA away from the Sun Belt to everyone's delight (witness TxStates' anger at having to be associated with that conference.)

Gratuitous picture of Old Dominion football.
ODU's addition has been drowned out by the euphoria surrounding the move. I do know that the admin looked to ODU as something like a how-to-build-a-program. Going forward the two schools are likely to be in different divisions, so I doubt there will be as much sports hate between the schools as there will be for inter-division and in-state rivals.

6. What is your outlook for the 2012 season under Coach Coker?
Adam: If anyone wasn't exactly thrilled with the rapid pace of movement to FBS status, it was Larry Coker. He has to do the grunt work of finding and molding a rag-tag squad of cast-offs and first timers into a competitive team. Most programs have something like a 10-year learning curve to ramp up with. Coker has had only one class come in post-inaguaral season. It is with that knowledge that I am withholding judgement. I fully expect to see some terrible games in which the Roadrunners are dismantled and outclassed. However, this team/program has consistently exceeded expectations so I reserve the right to be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Q&A with Charlotte Blogger

So...Old Dominion University announced it was leaving the Colonial Athletic Association for Conference USA on May 17, 2012.  You can read my take on the fooball aspect of it by reading my story for SaturdayBlitz.com

(I am putting together a comprehensive blog post about the move.  Surprisingly it's not all puppies and rainbows for this blogger.  I think it was the correct decision for the long term, but there are concerns.  I hope to bore you with an introspective story posted by the end of the holiday weekend.)

Old Dominion to Conference USA.  It's happening.

Less than a week before ODU's announcement, I was asked to provide some background on ODU's football program by a fan of the Charlotte 49ers.  The blogger wanted some insight into what Old Dominion did correctly to have finished its first three seasons with records of 9-2, 8-3 and 10-3.  I was more than happy to oblige, because I'm just a swell guy.  

The success of the Football Monarchs was relevant to Sydney and his blog because UNC Charlotte (or "Charlotte", or whatever the correct moniker is - I'm not intentionally trying to be offensive but I think that "UNC-C" is not acceptable by their fans) announced it would field an intercollegiate football team in 2013. 

The short version is that when this decision was announced a few years ago, their administration expected to compete as an FCS independent team but recently got an invitation to join Conference USA.  Accpeting this invitation meant that the 49ers would play FBS football in 2015 after two years as an FCS independent.  It had previously belonged to C-USA but switched to the Atlantic 10 Conference, essentially because it didn't field an intercollegiate football team. 

At this point, I'm done trying to make sense of conference changes.  This is not meant to say that any change is a mistake; there are simply too many changes to make appropriate assessments right now.  Just know that (for now) Charlotte and Old Dominion will join C-USA as football programs in 2015. 

I asked Sydney if he'd answer some questions about Charlotte for my own blog.  The 49ers aren't as unknown to Monarch fans as UT - San Antonio might be, but it's not as familiar as George Mason, either.  I've reached out to a couple other bloggers of Conference USA schools and hope to get their Q&A's posted over the next couple weeks.

So with that background, I provide you a Q&A with Sydney of 49ergreen.com.  In addition to reading the blog, you can follow Sydney on Twitter at @49erGreenBlog.  Enjoy!

1. Please provide the reader some background about yourself: are you a graduate of Charlotte, when did you start following, etc.?

I am actually not a graduate of Charlotte; I went to a smaller private college up north and graduated in 2007 with a bachelor's in digital media arts. I moved to Charlotte in 2009 and started following 49er sports shortly after. In addition to having family work for the school I am also involved as a volunteer staff member with a couple of religious organizations on campus so I am there quite frequently. The main sports I attend are soccer, basketball and baseball (and definitely football in 2013).

2. What are some of your favorite memories of 49er athletics?

I would have to say my favorite memory of 49er athletics has to be the men's soccer team and their College Cup run of 2011. Although I am not a student or alum just seeing the fans get behind the team was unbelievable. I watched the national championship game with others on campus (which Charlotte lost to UNC, 1-0) and it was just great to see that much support for the team (I know soccer gets a rap for not being a popular sport, but the national attention the school got continues to this day).

Charlotte fell to UNC in the NCAA men's soccer national championship (photo courtesy Charlotte49ers.com)

3. Describe from a fan's perspective what it is like to switch from Conference USA to the Atlantic 10, then back to C-USA. How would you describe the 49ers' performance in the A-10?

Over the past couple of years, the 49ers have done fairly well in the A-10 as a whole. I already mentioned men's soccer, but baseball has been one of the top teams in the country over the past several years (despite an off year in 2012) and have always competed near the top of the league --even winning a couple conference titles. Track and field, golf and cross country have won multiple conference championships, and even softball has done reasonably well. 

However, the clear headline sport is basketball, and over the past few years, it hasn't been good. The Niners missed the conference tournament in 2010-11 before making it as the 12th seed (out of 12) this year; however, they were one and done. They've been slipping over the past three or four seasons or so, and part of that is the fact that the A-10 tends to be such a top-heavy conference. Outside of Xavier and Temple, and maybe Dayton, Richmond, Saint Louis and St. Joe's (when those four are doing well), there's not really any teams that consistently challenge for the top spot (outside of St. Bonaventure). You can make a case for clubs like George Washington (who had a couple of phenomenal seasons a few years back), UMass, Rhode Island and Duquesne, but they've been middle of the pack teams at best of late. While the case is made that the new C-USA will be much weaker basketball-wise, it ushers in a little more parity among the teams involved.

4. What are your thoughts on Old Dominion athletics in general, and football in particular? What does it mean for Charlotte to be in the same conference as ODU as well as East Carolina?

Gratuitous picture of Old Dominion football.

I honestly haven't followed ODU athletics too closely, so I can't really get in to that much detail. I do know that the football team has done an amazing job in such a short time, and it remains to be seen if that success can be replicated at the next level. If so, the face of the conference (and college football as a whole) will definitely change -- but of course, that's a big if, and there are no guarantees. I do think that ODU and Charlotte will be able to really feed off each other if one or both are successful. With that said, it's great to be in the same conference as ECU -- it's an automatic, natural geographic. The drive between Charlotte and Greenville is very doable (although I have yet to make the trip myself), there are many ECU fans and alumni in Charlotte, and I hope that both schools will develop this rivalry to the fullest extent.

5. ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL??? (And more specifically, what will a football program do for Charlotte as a university?)

Football will put Charlotte on a whole new level, not only from a financial standpoint but also an enrollment standpoint as well. Interest in the school has increased since the football program was first announced, and will stand to grow if the team is successful. Local football players now have another option to turn to if they want to continue to play in college; they now have the choice to maybe get more playing time here than they would at a bigger college. Financially, the college stands to benefit from merchandise, ticket sales and seat licenses, and the more successful the team is, the more money comes in. It is truly a great time for all Charlotte sports fans, and it only stands to get better down the road.

Charlotte 49er Football.  It's happening.  (Photo courtesy Charlotte49ers.com)

VBR Productions humbly thanks Sydney for his input on the 49ers in this blog.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Hole Hearted: No Ordinary Love Song

(Author’s note: Posts like this one are the reason I gave my blog the title “VBR Productions.”  It allows me to write about more than just sports.  Had I called it something more specific like "A Sports Fan’s Blog,” I wouldn’t be able to share the below thoughts.)

Everyone has a favorite band and/or song.  Over time, and as with all things, these bands and songs may change as people’s tastes change.  There may be better bands and songs that come along, while individuals go through different phases in life.  I went through a jazz phase where I only wanted to hear Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Count Basie.  It’s a natural progression.

This blogger’s favorite band has always been Extreme.  In a future post I’ll go into the how’s and the why’s; for now the reader need only know that they’ve been my favorite band forever, no matter the point in time.

In 1990 the band released “Extreme II: Pornograffitti,” a rock album that reached double platinum status and peaked at #10 on the Billboard 200 chart.  Although the majority of the album centers on Nuno Bettencourt’s other-worldly guitar playing, the band became known for “More Than Words.”  The slow ballad was unique at the time, as it incorporated only two vocalists and an acoustic guitar. 

But “More Than Words” is not the lone acoustic-only track on “Porno.”  While “MTW” gained the band fame and fortune, it was “Hole Hearted” that proved to be the superior song.  In fact it remains my favorite song more than two decades later.

The purpose of this blog post is to break down reasons “Hole Hearted” is among the greatest love song of modern rock and roll.  First, give the original studio version a listen before continue reading.  No analysis would be worthwhile if the song isn’t fresh in your mind, and if the song just doesn’t get you to tap your feet, then me writing about it isn’t going to change that.  (I'll also provide other versions of the song throughout the post, if for no other reason than to break up the prose.)

So where do we begin deciphering the consolidation of awesomeness that we just experienced?  Let’s start with the dynamics of the lyrics and music, and then examine a few subtle aspects of the song.

Lyrics and Music
(Preface - I grew up playing the guitar and this song is the reason I kept playing when I was about to give it up.  The below discussion incorporates chord progressions and notes, but hopefully you can still get through it if you can't read music.)

The song opens with roughly 30 seconds of instrumentals that build the foundation of the entire song.  Nuno begins with a series of “D,” “E” and “F” chords that lead into a sequence of him strumming single-and-dual notes centered on the “A” and “D” chords.  The first words sung are not awe-inspiring: Gary supplies variations of “ooh, yeah,” “woo!” and more “yeah’s” as the music commences. 

The first chorus sets the scene from the first-person perspective: there’s something missing in his life.

"Life’s ambition: occupy my time //
Priorities confuse the mind //
Happiness: one step behind //
This inner peace I’ve yet to find"

The words themselves are melancholy but are set to a positive-sounding musical riff.  This dichotomy establishes a sense of longing coupled with hope.  Specifically, the last word of the verse (“find”) is sung to the strike of the “D” chord, which is an upbeat progression from the “A” chord dominating most of the verse.  The word “find” itself carries the connotation of potential discovery, which is an exhilarating event.

Following this establishment of hope, a bridge follows to connect the verse to the chorus.  The up-and-down flow of the music matches the mood of the words:

"Rivers flow into the sea //
Yet even the sea is not so full of me //
If I’m not blind, why can’t I see //
That a circle can’t fit in where a square should be?"

The first line is played on the upswing – “Rivers” is sung to the “D” chord, while a higher-octave “G” is struck with the next word (“flow”).  Following a lower-octave “G” and “A” chords, the second line follows a sequence of “A7” to “D7” to “C7” back down to “A7.”  It’s no accident that this less-upbeat sequence of chords matches lyrics emphasizing the singer’s recognition of emptiness (“the sea is not so full of me”). 

The third line again starts on a good note (“D” chord) followed by a “G” of a higher octave.  However, even this higher-octave chord is a “G7” rather than the full “G.”  This lack of a full “G” is consistent with the tone of the lyrics, which simulate of a lack of comprehension of his loneliness. 

Just as the third line is musically similar but not an exact replica of the first, the fourth line imperfectly mirrors the second.  The lyrics match the sadness of the second line but the chords form a more melancholy-filled “C7” – “A7” – “D” – “A7” sequence.  This chord progression allows the bridge to end with sadness both lyrically (things can’t fit where they don’t belong) and musically (chord progressions inspiring sadness).

So the first verse ends with hope, while the bridge ends on more of a downer note.  The lyrics are ambiguous enough for the audience to apply them to any situation (not necessarily love). Meanwhile the nature of the music (fast-paced acoustic guitar, accompanying bass guitar, and a single drum beat) is simply a fun, toe-tapping ditty.  Nothing about the first 74 seconds of the song points specifically to a love song.

And then, BOOM!  Well, it’s more of a subdued “boom” that occurs; there are a couple louder “booms” that occur later.  The “A7” that concludes the bridge gives way to a simple “G” chord followed by a quick “A” – “B” – “C” chord progression.  These chords match the following lyrics:

“There’s a hole in my heart that can only be filled by you.”

That Cherone sings the first ten words of the chorus by himself is consistent with the sad tone of the end of the bridge.  Nuno jumping in to sing with him on the two words “by you” represents the first indication that this is a love song.  These words are followed by the “D” – to – “E” chord progression that opened the song, but are decidedly more active than the ambiguity of the intro.

In a less-subdued manner, the rest of the band joins Gary and Nuno in singing the second (of two) lines of the chorus:

“And this hole my heart can’t be filled with the things I do…” 

What an explosion of vocal ability!  Each band member hits his note perfectly.  This is the part of the song where if you aren’t hitched yet, the rest of the song probably won’t do it for you.

And yet the chorus is not yet complete.  Following this positive convergence of guitars and vocals, Gary is left alone (emphasizing first-person loneliness) to sing the two words, “hole hearted.”  The guy has a hole in his heart for a woman, acknowledges the situation, but also knows he can’t do anything about it without her help.

Before moving to the interlude/guitar solo, it is time to mention the play on words of “hole hearted.”  To state the obvious, it’s a play on the words “whole-hearted,” which describes someone’s inclination to give an undertaking everything he’s got.  Conversely, the singer is operating “hole-hearted,” whereby a lack of something prevents him from being whole.

If that’s not a clever turn of a phrase, I don’t know what is.

After Gary repeats “hole hearted” a second time, the song leads to Nuno’s guitar solo.  With the main guitar riff from the first verse in the background, Nuno introduces a “slide” tool into the song.  This provides a smoother “twang” sound to guitar strings than does the pressure of human fingers.  There’s no need for deep analysis of this – it’s an upbeat, fun addition to the song.  The live version below makes excessive use of a slide guitar...and it still works.

With the slide guitar continuing into the second verse to complement the lyrics, the song gets back to being as fun as it was at the start of the bridge.  Let’s shift the focus back to the lyrics of the second verse:

“This heart of stone is where I hide //
These feet of clay kept warm inside //
Day by day, less satisfied //
Not fade away before I die"

In contrast to the first verse, in which the musical tone matched the lyrical tone, the use of the slide in the second verse presents the opposite tone of the lyrics.  The harsh words (including “heart of stone,” “less satisfied” and “die”) are surprisingly offset by the “zip” of the slide guitar.  Gary practically crying the words of the third line, to the tone of an imploringly-high note, is even negated by the immediate response of Nuno’s guitar. 

On the whole, musically and vocally, this song has established a fun, upbeat momentum to this point.  There’s been impassioned singing, glorious harmonization of vocals, both simple chords and complicated guitar riffs, and the use of a guitar slide.  All this leads back to the bridge, which lyrically is exactly the same but musically incorporates the aforementioned momentum.

The first line is sung similarly to the first bridge, but Nuno sings the second line with notably more fervor than the first time.  He even completes the line by ending the final word (“me”) by singing a couple notes up the scale.  We’re building to something here!

Nuno then joins Gary on the third line by singing a harmonizing descant (more momentum!).  The fourth line is again sung by Nuno with drastically more fervor than he sang it in the first bridge.  Gary even joins him to end the line with a spirited “should be!”  All during this bridge, the slide guitar abounds and dances about, matching and offsetting the lyrics throughout.  Such things cannot be appropriately articulated – the combination of vocals and slide guitar simply creates amazing music.

The song begins its final movements when Gary sings, “there’s a…” and is majestically joined by the others with “hole in my heart that can only be filled by you!”  Pat shows off his vocal prowess by singing the high “A,” “B” and “C” notes to match “that can on-,” then maintains the high “C” at “-ly be filled.”  This is followed by another vocal burst of “and this hole in my heart can’t be filled with the things I do.”

Rather than finish the line with “hole hearted,” the first line of the chorus repeats itself.  The final line becomes “I should have known from the start I’d fall short with the things I do hole hearted.”  Gary and Nuno alternate singing the words “hole hearted” a couple times before Gary begins the final sequence.  The band ends the song on an upbeat “D” chord with more harmonizing of the word “hearted.”  A few seconds later Gary concludes with a mild, almost inaudible, “yee-haw” that accentuates the musical explosion that just ended.

So what did we all just witness?  The song repeats a set of four specific movements: instrumental foundation, verse, bridge, and chorus.  Within the first and second sequences, the song establishes an understated tone of loss coupled with the chance of hope.  The third sequence uses upbeat music to compensate for the down mood of the vocals.

The song culminates in a chorus where the tone of the music has shifted somewhat melancholy lyrics into a celebration.  The singer needs the object of his affection, and we’re made to feel how amazing that person is through the synchronization of music and vocals.

Subtle Measures

Three other aspects that are less pronounced require discussion: lack of electronic instruments, the song’s drum beat and the song’s role in “Pornograffitti.”

Acoustic-Only Instruments
Musicians can neutralize deficiencies in talent through the use of electric guitars, synthesizers, and other electronic measures.  Just throw enough distortion into your amplifier and you can make garbage sound a little less like garbage. 

What continues to strike me about “Hole Hearted” is that there are no electronics involved.  There is a full sound to the song, and it’s almost jarring to think that it is comprised of bare-bones acoustic guitars, two drums (see below) and vocals.  There is no lack of sound whatsoever to this song.  To get that rich of a song musically without the aid of electrical instruments underscores the talent of the band.

Below is an early-90's version of the song using electric guitars...and a four-piece horn section!  (The first two minutes are are a slow interlude, but the payoff is worth it.)

Drum Beat
One musical element subliminally enhances the “love song” aspect of “Hole Hearted.”  After Nuno strums his guitar the first couple seconds of the song, we are introduced to the beat of the bass drum.  This beat occurs at a rate of almost two beats per second and continues until the last note of the song.  There’s a cymbal Paul uses throughout the song as well, but it used sparingly.

The key to this drum beat is that it is continuous throughout the song, no matter the movement.  The musical interludes, verses, bridges and choruses all maintain the same, unending beat.

You know what else is associated with a regular beat?  You got it – a heart!  While heart rates can fluctuate (due to exercise, or even the from the flutter of love), generally they beat at a constant rate.  (In fact, you don’t want your physician to classify your heart beat as “irregular.”  It’s considered bad in the medical community.)  A song (about a hole in one’s heart) itself has a beat that does not deviate from its course throughout the song.

It’s rather poetic…kind of like a love poem.  The next live version by Gary's side project, Hurtsmile, emphasizes a stronger demonstration of percussives.

A Funked Up Fairy Tale…

Two decades ago, bands put significantly more emphasis on completing entire albums of quality songs.  Nowadays it seems like bands and artists focus on getting one hit single out to the market and cash in on their popularity.  (That’s not an indictment of today’s music, just an observation.)

“Hole Hearted” is the 13th and final song on their second album, “Pornograffitti.”  It was a fairly ambitious funk-based rock album that explored the objectification of people for sex (a song called “Pornograffitti”), greed (“Money [In God We Trust]”), and chauvinism (“He-Man Woman Hater”).  “Hole Hearted” is not the only love song, as “Porno” also includes “When I First Kissed You” and “Song for Love.”  However, even the album’s most popular love song (“More Than Words”) can be broken down by saying, “if you truly loved me then you’d sleep with me.” 

The vast array of music meanders on the topics of sex, exploitation, etc., throughout the album.  There’s not a linear progression of topics – they just meld together in no particular order.  So concluding this album on such a powerful, clever love song allows the listener to question what he/she just heard.  Cognitive dissonance sets in – the entire album was all over the map about sexuality, and yet it ends on a note of such genuine affection?

By listening to the song as a single, the listener can get everything out of “Hole Hearted” as was discussed above…except for the jarring effect of how it concludes “Porno.”  But listening to the album from cover to cover generates that much more depth and meaning for the listener.

Here's a sample of "Porno's" essence.

In conclusion, “Hole Hearted” is about as unique a love song as you’ll hear.  On the surface, it’s just a good song sung by a talented band of musicians.  Under the surface, its complicated lyrical and musical ebbs and flows add depth to the actual words and chords.  As part of the overall picture, it rather dramatically concludes an album that emphasizes sexual exploitation.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go listen to the song a few thousand more times.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Best Part-Time Job Ever

(Author's note #1 - This blog post's alternative title is "Thank You."  I also apologize for the font - Blogger likes to mess with my mind.)

(Author's note #2- I needed separation from the end of CAA basketball's regular season to objectively collect and articulate the thoughts you're about to read. I'm being 100% honest, possibly to my own detriment. But it's all in fun. Many thanks to everyone with whom I interacted since September 2011, no matter how briefly. You all made the experiences below as important as they are. /end sappiness)
If you’re one of the ten people who’ve read this blog regularly, you know that I’ve had many opportunities to cover and write about CAA athletic events for CAAZone.com. The end of the basketball season meant the end of the athletic events I could cover. Sure, I could cover baseball, softball or lacrosse, but I’m not familiar enough with the conference to write intelligently about the teams.
Some might argue that I can’t write intelligently about the teams in the two sports I DID cover, but that’s beside the point.
For someone whose original and ongoing profession is not covering and writing about sporting events, the months of September 2011 through March 2012 were an eye-opening experience. I learned many things, all of which are positive, and I want to write about them in this post. I thought it would be a fun way to memorialize the sequence of events, not to mention thank those that helped me along the way.
The most important lesson I learned is that I don’t think I could make this a permanent job, if for no other reason than the traveling. Let’s take an inventory. Since September, I’ve made the following trips to/from home in Baltimore to cover sports:

· Nine trips to Norfolk (Old Dominion University football and basketball)
· Four trips to Philadelphia (two for Drexel basketball, two for Villanova football)
· One trip to Newark (University of Delaware football)
· One trip to Hempstead (Hofstra University basketball)
· One trip to Richmond (CAA basketball tournament)
Throw in three Towson football games and basketball games apiece, and that’s a bit of traveling for a part-time writer. I needed the last seven/eight weeks to get away from it all and think back on the important events with a fresh mind.
I share my itinerary not to gain any sort of sympathy – who wouldn’t WANT to cover all these games? – but to give the reader the sense of variety I was afforded. And what did those experiences cover?
Ronnie Cameron, CAA Defensive Player of the Year, signed with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted rookie free agent.
I’ll go over events game-by-game but I want to acknowledge four people first. None of this would have happened without the opportunity given me by Chris Metsala, who owns and runs CAAZone.com. It was through writing for his site that I was granted media access. Having joined his site’s message boards in 2006/2007 as an anonymous poster, it was an honor to contribute and give back.
Next up is Ed Sheahin, my editor during the football season. He was frank with feedback on my writing, and both he and I saw improvement over time. And while he’s a great writer/editor, he’s an even better photographer.
And who could forget Kyle Kensing of SaturdayBlitz.com? He set me up with access to contribute to his site just before football started in September. Early during the season I previewed CAA football every week but it evolved into analyzing FCS playoff chances towards the end of the season. Writing for his site allowed me to find my voice outside of CAA football.
Lastly I thank Jerry Beach, whom I contacted for advice on covering sports as a media member. I printed out his helpful email and read it over and over the day of the game, hoping I would at least not screw anything up. It’s not easy being naturally-introverted like myself and doing something outside your comfort zone the first time!
None of what is shared below is incriminating in any way. There were minimal “non-positive” experiences I encountered, and even from those I learned something. Some quick thoughts in general before we get into items from specific games:
· Every SID and all personnel on their staffs with whom I corresponded were fantastic. The Colonial Athletic Association should be proud to know that multiple athletic departments have fantastic people running things.

· Some media members who are genuinely funny in print are not nearly as funny as they think they are in person. (I point this out as someone who’s funny in neither print NOR in person.)

· Some media members are more humble and approachable than others. They are there to do a job, rather than to be social with each other, but in all walks of life, courtesy goes a long ways. (Thank you, Captain Obvious!)

· One big help to saving time is to write an introduction to a game before the event even occurs. You know: set the scene, give records/streaks of each team prior to the game, etc. However, as I found out on two separate occasions, sometimes you have to scrap those intros because of what actually happens during the game.

· Wearing a button-down shirt and tie is preferable to wearing jeans and a golf shirt. You get taken more seriously.
There are other people that I didn't meet in person but with whom I interracted via email throughout the season. They include Ben of PantherTalk.com; Rob of JMUSportsBlog.com; Matthew of SCACCHoops; and Mat of VCURamNation.com. I am a better writer for having read all your work and getting to talk with you the last several months.
Not to mention, I got to interview someone who played in the first basketball game between James Madison and Old Dominion. How awesome is that???
Now, game-by-game, let's take a look at what I learned and acknowledge good people I met along the way. There were a few events I attended where nothing particular stands out, but by and large I learned something new every game.
It started with a football game...

· The athletic staff was just as helpful and courteous to me as they were to the local beat writers. I didn’t expect them to shun me in any way, but they treated me as an equal to people whose work I’ve read for years.

· Although rooting for a particular team is not allowed (which I knew well before Jerry told me!), some journalists are more vocal than others. On a related note, it’s really hard being an Old Dominion graduate and just sitting there objectively during a thrilling game. I let out an audible grunt when the Monarchs blocked a fourth-quarter punt that was converted into the go-ahead touchdown.

· Full-time writers get down to serious business when a game goes more than 30 minutes longer than usual without a change to deadlines.
· You never know when you’re going to witness a record-setting performance at an event.

· Despite said record-setting performance, Aaron Corp took it extraordinarily hard that the Spiders lost in the postgame press conference.

· You never know who’s sitting on either side of you. Mike DeGeorge, who at the time worked in the Richmond athletics department, was someone that I “met” on Twitter previously. We are both fans of the Buffalo Bills and followed each other because of that and because of our association with CAA football. Long story short, it turns out that Towson had placed us right beside each other. How random is that? Mike’s a hard worker who eventually made his way to Georgia Tech, and my connection with him played an important role a few weeks later.

· Towson’s head coach Rob Ambrose would have a great career in public speaking/motivational coaching if he wasn’t such a good football coach.
· I wrote my article on ODU’s win from Villanova’s perspective. Specifically I listed three keys to VU’s success in my game preview. Suffice it to say, ODU won handily and I exposed how through those three keys. It was good enough that someone posted my story on the CAA message boards. I learned my objectivity shown through when the poster said that I had “a great future in fiction writing” because I wasn’t severe enough in how ODU dominated the game. He finished with “here’s a quarter, Joe, buy yourself a clue.”

· Andy Talley is as articulate a football coach as you’d want coaching your son.

· It was a pleasure meeting Brian Ewart of VUHoops.com! So many good journalists, so few CAA events to cover.
· With my new contact (DeGeorge) at Richmond, I requested an opportunity to interview Aaron Corp for a story on his collegiate career. I didn’t hear from him right away but I got an email on a Wednesday morning from him, asking if I’d be available around noon to interview him. This left me with about four hours to come up with questions, but the basic concept of asking open-ended questions goes a long ways. Mr. Corp was articulate and thoughtful in his answers, and you can tell he’ll be great in whatever profession he pursues.  (Fan note: how sweet it is that he ended up signing with the Buffalo Bills?)

Aaron Corp and the Spiders lost to ODU, but they're still pretty bad ass for bringing their own American flag.
· I got to meet Sean Shapiro, who at the time was a contributing author for The Sports Network. Several weeks prior he had written a great article about ODU’s first CAA win over UMass. He’s a good guy who knows his FCS football.

· Terrence West is GOOD.
Delaware at Villanova (11/19/2011)

Villanova players were warming up pre-game before the first-ever (American) football game at PPL Park.
· This was the first “American football” game at PPL Park (it is the home to the Philadelphia Union “futbol” team). It’s a great venue for football, and would be a fine facility for a Big East team if the capacity could be expanded a bit. The parking/tailgating situation would also need to be improved, but it’s a great stadium.

· I was seated next to a nice gentleman on press row who seemed to be there more to simply watch the game rather than taking notes to write about the game later. I chatted with him sporadically during the first half, and at halftime I introduced myself. He turned out to be Chuck Boone, a former standout athlete/eventual athletic director in Virginia. Lesson – you never know when you’re talking to greatness, so treat everyone equally!

· I am glad I got to see Villanova at three landmark times in the season (early at Towson, midseason vs. ODU and the finale vs. Delaware). It gave me a chance to see incremental changes. To be frank the team regressed from their loss at Towson to their home loss to Old Dominion, but they clearly got better by season’s end. Had they not turned over the ball in the red zone against the Blue Hens, they would’ve been in position to win the game in the fourth quarter.
· While I have watched basketball for decades, it’s an entirely different process to track the flow of a game in order to write a story about a game. It was wise that I had practiced at home watching games on TV prior to doing so for my first time live on press row.

· I was talking with a reporter for someone other than TowsonTigers.com. (This writer is NOT identified in this blog post, so if I name you then it's not you.) He didn’t know about Towson’s losing streak until I mentioned it. On the one hand, telling him this isn’t exactly the same as disclosing where Jimmy Hoffa was buried, but did I give someone a competitive advantage? Why wouldn’t I want more people to read my work than his? Conversely, is this even a competition? Shouldn’t we want to help each other along press row? I don’t have answers to these questions, but it made me wonder whether full-time writers think about these issues.

Kids played against Baltimore mascots during halftime of a Towson game. Unrelated: Towson will be much improved in the 2012/2013 basketball season.
· I left Baltimore more than two hours before tipoff. Suffice it to say that between never having been to Drexel, coupled with difficult (wet/slushy) driving conditions, I didn’t get to the DAC until roughly ten minutes before the game started. Thankfully I got situated with minutes to spare, but I learned that I should leave 30 minutes earlier than I actually give think I need. Going forward, this resulted in me getting to other events literally two hours before tip.

· The DAC is a great place for college basketball, even if self-entitlted fans of other CAA schools think it’s not “modern” enough.

                                                                 The DAC is VBR Productions-approved.

Vermont at Towson (12/23/2011)
· So to this point of the season I had been to my share of press conferences. As Jerry insisted, I was new to the scene and was there to be seen rather than heard. I let the beat reporters and others who regularly covered the teams ask the questions, while I sat in the back and took audio and video for later. However, I was one of only two people on press row for this particular game. The other gentleman, Mat of TowsonTigers.com, even said heading to the press room, “I’m glad you’re here; usually I’d be the only one to ask questions.”

· Let me re-emphasize the fact that I’m naturally-introverted and that this is not my primary job. This isn’t exactly my wheelhouse when it comes to personal strengths. But it was something I needed to do to push myself outside my comfort zone. So after Mat asked a few questions, he turned to face me and indicated that I could ask a question. What I asked isn’t important; the fact that my hand was shaking a bit when I was writing key words was actually funny, even as I was trying to write. Looking back, I’m not sure why I was nervous, other than because it was something I had never done previously.
· Always look your best! Covering football games, I simply wore jeans and a golf shirt. For basketball I knew I would be more visible to people, so I started wearing button-down shirts with a tie. I may have been a bit over-dressed compared to others but it paid off when I saw myself in the background of a picture on ODU’s website. (Look for the bald guy taking prodigious notes in the background to the left – there’s sort of a bald, fuzzy-green blob behind a seated cheerleader.)

· This is the first of three Hofstra losses I covered in person. Head Coach Mo Cassara took all three regular season losses as if his dog died. I loved that passion.  Related - my Hofstra friends have banned me from attending future games involving Hofstra.
Less than an hour before Towson secured its lone win of the 2011/2012 basketball season.

· In a span of four days, Towson hosted the Rams and the Seahawks. My plan was to write a story focused on the visiting teams, as I wouldn’t have another chance to cover them this year. Before the Tigers’ win over UNCW, I had already written half my total story, which was centered on the Rams. All that was needed was a story on how the visitors from Wilmington would defeat Towson. Doh! Following what would wind up being the Tigers’ only win this season, I had to re-write my VCU story to focus on how Towson fought and clawed against them and other recent opponents, and how that work ethic paid off against UNCW.

· I was looking forward to meetin Brian Mull, the fantastic journalist who covers UNCW athletics for StarNewsOnline.com. I had briefly introduced myself to a couple other writers previously in the season, but Mr. Mull was to-date the one whose work I most admired. After watching the game from an end of the court separate from Brian, I looked forward to meeting him in the press conference afterwards. But after the game he arrived to the presser just in time for quotes and followed UNCW’s coach immediately out the door after he addressed the media. I could've been selfish and introduced myself but refrained so he could do his job. The lesson learned – leave others alone so they can do their jobs! These guys work hard and shouldn’t be distracted. I’m not sure that this is anything more than common sense, but this game underscored that.

· It was fascinating watching the Tigers running off the court and being greeted by fans high-fiving them. I’m not sure if it was more relief than joy the players exhibited, but Pat Skerry’s kids gave 100% every time I saw them play this year. They didn’t deserve to go winless this season.

· For those keeping track at home, I saw a record-breaking performance by Richmond QB Aaron Corp at Towson, and then witnessed the end of an NCAA-record-long losing streak. Who would’ve expected that?
· The drive to Long Island didn’t seem to be nearly as long this year as it was last year.

· It was the first time in more than a year I got to see Jerry and Gary Moore of The College Hardwood! Good people, good times.

· Georgia State’s team was as athletic as any team in the conference. They didn’t have the depth needed to get past the quarterfinal round of the tournament in March, but their starting five rivaled Old Dominion’s in pure athleticism.

· I was seated towards the end of press row for the game, right next to a radio man from Atlanta. It was distracting taking my own notes of action while having to listen to him. He was doing his job and there’s no reason to begrudge him. It just stands out as the only time I was distracted by anyone on press row all season. Lesson - tune out everyone around you!

· Only Hofstra’s head coach and players arrived for press row. Considering the surprisingly successful season Georgia State was having, I was hoping to ask Coach Ron Hunter a couple questions. When he didn’t show up, I was informed that Georgia State’s team and coaches were already on the bus. Lesson – ask in advance if anyone from the visiting team will be available for the postgame press conference!

                                                     Some of the best Hofstra/CAA fans you will ever encounter.
· During pregame warm-ups I had the pleasure of meeting Josh Verlin, a contributing writer for PhilaHoops.com. He was very knowledgeable of the entire college basketball scene in Philadelphia, and it was great to bounce some ideas off him.

· Having attended months of press conferences at this point, I felt a little more comfortable asking questions after games than I had at the season’s start. After Coach Bruiser Flint fielded questions from the local reporters, I asked him whether this was his most-complete team he’s had at Drexel. (Contrast this against the time I asked my first press conference question: my hands weren't shaking!) His immediate response was to turn the question around on me. He pointed to another reporter and told me to ask him, as he had listed the Dragons as only the second-best team in the city. I didn’t necessarily have an expectation for Bruiser’s response, but I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t THAT. The lesson (which I’ve learned in life previously) – don’t ask a question you’re not prepared to hear the answer to!
Drexel players warm up during their lone regular-season battle against Old Dominion.

· To repeat myself: it is tough sitting quietly/emotionless while covering your alma mater as a member of the media. But to do so in an exciting game in which the Monarchs came back from a hefty last-minute deficit, only to miss a last-second free throw that would’ve sent the game to overtime, on senior day of the most successful class in ODU history??? That was more of a challenge than sitting there quietly during any number of ODU football games.

· Someone who sat next to me asked me to display scores of the other games in the CAA that day. We talked briefly during media timeouts and eventually I introduced myself. He turned out to be none other than Rod Bertovich, Deputy Commissioner of CAA Basketball. Meeting Mr. Bertovich continued the line of good people associated with the CAA that I met throughout the season.

· Unfortunately the Deputy Commissioner of CAA Basketball had to go visit a rather-loud fan who had been heckling the referees excessively. (Seriously, who hasn't complained about a ref? But this guy was exceptionally obnoxious.) It did not look good on ODU fans, even if it was just one rogue fan among more than 8,000. I’d rather call out such fans than pretend that they don’t exist.

· Sitting on my side opposite Mr. Bertovich was an NBA scout. After helping him with directions around town, he asked me not-so-casually about Kent Bazemore. I told him that he was at his best being a facilitator rather than being a team’s primary scoring option. So of course, Bazemore would go on to score a career-high 37 points and practically kept the Monarchs in the game by himself. I stand by my assessment, though – Bazemore improved his scoring touch every year but has excelled when he's not his team's primary scoring option. But what do I know? By this point in the basketball season, I also realized that I’m just a reporter who understands football better than basketball.
CAA Tournament
Halftime of the George Mason/Georgia State game.  (I'm the ugly one.)

I’m going to keep this short, as I could write an entire separate blog post about this event, but it was an honor to meet the following individuals:

o Chris Metsala (we had obviously conversed over email but I’d never met him in person)
o Robert Canady, who writes for CollegeHoops.Net
o Brian Mull (I did get to meet him and express that I enjoyed his work!)
o Mike Brodsky (an exemplary Northeastern graduate who knows CAA basketball better than 99.9999% of the fans out there)
o Michael Litos (if you’re reading this and don’t know who he is, go to CAAHoops.com)

What did we learn today?
I have been a fan of Craig Kilborn’s ever since his SportsCenter days, well before he helped start The Daily Show. I loved how he concluded his work by asking, “What did we learn today?” I’m aware he himself didn’t start that trend but it felt his personality.
So, what did we learn from the last several months?
·We learned more respect for people who do this for a living.

· We learned that we know and can write better about football than basketball.

· We learned the importance of treating everyone equally. (This is not a brand new concept to me, but the impact of being respectful to all people comes in handy. If you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t need to be told that.)

· We learned that the athletic departments of CAA schools are filled with people of high-quality.

I hope to be able to cover CAA football and basketball next season. Even if things don’t come through, at least I had one season that I just memorialized.
Thanks to all the people I met this season! I am humbled by this entire experience.
That's all, folks!