(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.
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.
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!
· 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.
|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 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!|