Friday, January 15, 2010

Of A New Lexus And Soup

So Rick Pitino bought the Louisville men's basketball SID a Lexus IS convertible for his 50th birthday?

A 2010 version of the car has a sticker price starting at $38,490. TigerBlog assumes that Pitino, who makes millions and millions of dollars, went for a higher-end model.

TigerBlog himself has been the recipient of gifts from coaches in the past. Pete Carril, when he was the Princeton men's basketball coach, often brought TB soup for lunch, a tradition Carril had started decades earlier.

And of course there has been tons of Princeton gear through the years, as well as lacrosse and squash equipment for TB, TigerBlog Jr. and Little Miss TigerBlog.

Still, a brand-new Lexus? Uh, nothing quite like that has made its way to TigerBlog, though he will be turning 50 in the not-too-distant future. Maybe then?

TigerBlog has read any number of stories of late that refer to sports information people as unheralded, working tirelessly in the background so that "real" media people can do their jobs. And, predictably, TB laughs at those descriptions.

The blog entry on ESPN about Pitino's gift included this:
Sports information directors -- the college athletics department's public relations people -- have pretty thankless jobs, even when they rise to Klein's professional heights. (Ask any former student journalist: Those working below folks like Klein in SID departments have an even tougher job, and they almost always deliver the goods. This comes in helpful when you're trying to do a story about your school's star tennis player or something.)

Again, as TB has often said, maybe that was the case years ago. Now? It's so removed from what the profession has become, and TB reads into stories and comments like the one above an inability of most media members to realize that.

Still, the relationship between sports information contact and a team, especially the coach, is an interesting one.

There are three kinds of sports here at Princeton, those that require the sports information contact to be at home games to do stats, those that do not have any game management aspects to them and those that require the SID to go to home and away games. A big issue now is the value of having the SID travel vs. the expense it creates, and different schools (in the Ivy League and nationally) have much different views in this area.

Having the SID travel to away games in sports like football and men's basketball dates back decades and began due to the volume of media who would also going on the road. Over time, traveling expanded to include other issues, such as the ability to get accurate stats from the other school and largely to gender equity.

It was also a perk in many cases, as it offered a chance to get out of the office and be part of the team experience. What's the point of working in athletics if you're not going to watch the highest profile teams play?

Over time, though, all schools began to use uniform stat programs, which made the exchange of information simple. And, in many ways, it's easier for an SID to do the job from the home site rather than from the road. When a team travels, the SID usually goes on the bus, and the team isn't always excited about waiting around for someone to finish up when it's late and the destination is either the next day's opponent or home, which is often hours away.

TB routinely traveled on the bus with the men's basketball team when he worked at the newspaper, but has only traveled on the bus once with a Princeton team since he actually began working here, and that was on the men's lacrosse trip to Harvard in 1996. Other than that, TB prefers to drive himself.

Here at Princeton, the SID travels with football, men's and women's basketball, men's lacrosse and usually men's hockey. For lacrosse and hockey, it's largely for purposes of doing radio, which ties to corporate sponsorship.

TigerBlog has missed very few Princeton lacrosse games in the last 20 years, and there is no better way to learn about people and team dynamics - and then write about them - than by watching them interact off the field. Still, TB always tries to remember a line that Woody Allen used when he was playing the title character in "Broadway Danny Rose" - "in business, friendly, but not familiar." In other words, the SID should be approachable but doesn't want to be too much a part of what's going on.

An SID spends an extraordinary amount of time working with any particular team, and the SID comes to know basically everything there is to know about that team. It's a different kind of relationship than the athletic trainer, who often sits at practice and has a much more "hands on" dealing with the athletes. In the case of the SID, the time spent is similar to that of the athletic trainer, but that time is spent in front of a computer.

Because the SID cannot (and should not) get everything produced approved by the coach, it is imperative that the coach trust the SID completely. Coaches, by their nature, like to control what goes on with their teams, and that control extends to what public information is made available. If the coach does not trust the SID, then a natural friction will develop, which is bad for everyone.

If the coach does trust the SID, then the inherent understanding is that the SID is putting out information in the best interest of the program. Yes, there have been times when coaches have said to TigerBlog that they didn't like some of the ways he's written things or some of the facts he's used, and that's part of a give-and-take that can only exist with trust.

Sports information people operate - here at HQ, at least - with the idea that they're here first and foremost to help give the athletes the best possible experience. Think about it. Almost all of the information that comes out about any college program begins with the SID.

If the coach and SID are on the same page, then great relationships are the natural result. TigerBlog has experienced this first-hand, and the satisfaction of knowing that the coaches and athletes appreciate what is being done is huge.

Of course, it hasn't quite reached the point where TB has had to give a coach a ride in the new car that he just received as part of that appreciation, but hey, there's still time.

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