Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Sports Information History Lesson

Midmajority.com, according to its own wording, is "now in its sixth season. The Mid-Majority is a blog about the 24 smaller Division I college basketball conferences (and independents) by Kyle Whelliston and Damon Lewis."

Such a website would have been unthinkable not too long ago. Today? All it takes is some ambition and a niche subject matter, and you too can stumble upon something successful.

TigerBlog was fascinated by two stories he recently read on midmajority.com. Basically, Whelliston (whom TB has never met) has spent some time performing various tasks at college basketball games, including spending a night as an assistant sports information director and another night as part of the official stats crew.

The story about the official stats crew centers around his experience at the UMBC-Central Connecticut game. The person in charge of entering stats at Central Connecticut is Vinnie DiCarlo, who 15 years ago was an intern right here at HQ.

Whelliston calls DiCarlo a "stat legend," which is a moniker that can apply to so many different people all across the sports information landscape. Here at HQ, we often use the services of another "stat legend," Brian Solomon, whose full-time job is at Rider.

The piece does a good job of conveying what it's like to be entering stats during a game, and TigerBlog is okay with anything that gets any unheralded "stat legend" some publicity, especially when it's Vinnie.

TigerBlog found the other piece, about being an assistant SID for a night, to be less accurate a reflection of the profession. In some ways, it's spot on, but it's a bit out-of-date. Keeping stats and running a press area at games is an essential sports information function, but it's increasingly becoming less and less what sports information is all about.

To us here at HQ and to many across the landscape, the profession is changing 180 degrees, away from being a media relations-oriented job to being a media-outlet job. Of course, for regular TigerBlog readers, this isn't news.

There was another article that caught TB's eye, one that talked about the declining value of newspaper coverage to college athletic programs.

The idea is that a college's own website, such as goprincetontigers.com, is its own media entity - and oh by the way, one that can generate revenue. It directly contradicts what sports information has been for its entire existence; namely, an office that exists first and foremost to assist other media outlets in their coverage.

The result was a relationship where SIDs were often viewed as subservient to media members, a situation that led to several realities:
* media people became overly reliant on SIDs for minor tasks
* media people didn't really understand the perspective of the SID
* SIDs became increasingly frustrated with having to deal with media people to get the word out instead of being able to do it themselves

As soon as the web came along, it all changed. The world that Whelliston talks about is one where the SID's highest priority is still to the media, one where the SID needed great patience and absolutely ZERO ego to do the job well.

It's a world that takes TigerBlog to E level of Jadwin Gym, into the file cabinets that are entitled "former coaches/administrators." It's a four-drawer collection of people who once worked here, back in a time when everything was done on paper, which subsequently was shoved into file folders.

They trace a fascinating history of Princeton athletics. Drawer after drawer, file after file, filled with releases announcing the hiring of so-and-so or the resignation of so-and-so. There are head shots, almost all in black-and-white, which reveal their date via hairstyle.

And these releases, now on paper that is crinkled and yellowing, were subsequently mailed out to media outlets, who may or may not have used them.

TigerBlog's post about missing out on record-setting performances generated this comment:
"Congratulations on your longevity (is it a record or does Bill Stryker '50 have you beat??) and all of the good work. Looking forward to more in the new year. All the best to you and your colleagues."

The name Bill Stryker appears on a good number of the releases that are currently hanging out in the Del Boca Vista for releases, E level. Bill Stryker was a 1950 graduate of Princeton, and he became the sports information director here in 1958. He then spent the next 16 years as SID before having his title change to Director of Athletic Relations. Judging by what his responsibilities became, it would be the equivalent of being in charge of communications for Friends' groups (the fundraising arm of each team). He also was the PA announcer for football and hockey (and maybe basketball).

Stryker died in 1986 at the age of 59. As near as TigerBlog can figure it, he has spent the longest time with either the actual title or responsibilities of sports information director.

For years and years, athletic information was a function that was kept under the domain of the University's public information office. As near as TigerBlog can figure, the first actual SID was a man named Dan Coyle, a 1938 Princeton grad who would go on to become a major in World War II before returning to his alma mater. He spent 10 years with the title of SID before going on to spend an additional 25 years in other administrative posts at the University. Coyle died in 1973 at the age of 57.

Coyle's tenure as SID went from 1946-56, while Stryker came on board in 1958. When Stryker left, Princeton had three SIDs who would go on to be leaders in the field: Phil Langan (who recently passed away), John Humenik (who is now the executive director of CoSIDA) and then Steve Raczynski (who went from Princeton to Stanford).

That era was followed by some turnover, and there is a scathing column written by none other than Harvey Yavener in 1982 ripping Princeton for its sports information efforts. In April 1985 Chuck Yrigoyen took over, and he was SID until 1989, when he moved on to the Ivy League office. Today he is the commissioner of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

The Office of Athletic Communications turned over to Kurt Kehl in 1989, and he would stay until 2002. Today he is Vice President for Communications for the Washington Capitals. For Kehl's first five years at Princeton (during a glorious run of football, men's basketball and men's lacrosse success), the very capable No. 2 person was named Mark Panus, who would leave intercollegiate athletics after that.

The E-level file cabinets reveal the files of many who have worked in the OAC in the last 20 years, a group of highly capable people. Some have stayed in close touch with TigerBlog through the years; others have faded away. People like John Cornell. Mike Zulla. Tim Bennett (long-time assistant at Yale). Kris Pleimann. Emmy Zack. Laura Stange. Chuck Sullivan (now the head of communications at the Big East). Mike Jackman. Scott Lowe. The above-mentioned Vinnie DiCarlo. David Rosenfeld. Manish Mehta (now a writer for the Star-Ledger). Erin Melody. Michael Falk, who has been at Muhlenberg for nearly 20 years. Jenn Garrett. Matt Ciciarelli (congratulations on the birth of child No. 2). Jen Rynearson. Ben Solomon. Tom Milajecki. Melissa Lempke. Sophia Duck. Kim Milardo (she married former Princeton lacrosse player Owen Daly).

The current staff of Craig Sachson, Yariv Amir, Kristy McNeil and Andrew Borders has done an exceptional job, transitioning from the old era (publications, media relations) to the new (video, podcasting, multi-media). Princeton fans who go to goprincetontigers.com regularly are seeing their work about 90% of the time.

TB himself has had seven different titles while working here, and he is in his 16th year. How close is he to Stryker?

In terms of service time, pretty close. In terms of the job itself, the work that Stryker did and the work that TigerBlog does have basically no overlap.

Well, maybe some. PA at Princeton football, for one.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

There are only 5 of you producing all of this content??

There was a sadness about this piece, I must say, reading about a few people I either knew or whose names are very familiar from earlier eras of following Princeton sports and who have now long since passed away.

Princeton OAC said...

Yes, five of us, and four of us (Kristy McNeil, Craig Sachson, Andrew Borders, Yariv Amir) are responsible for 37 of the 38 sports. As for the sadness of the piece, TB never met some of the older people who worked here, but he is familiar with what they brought to Princeton athletics and is grateful for their building the framework of what we do today.

Mike Falk said...

Thanks for the mention. I'm proud to be included in the impressive list of people who have worked in the Princeton OAC. Those were two great years of my life.

GIANT GLASS said...

TB A little trivia.

Name the only person (that i can think of) to catch a no hitter in the Majors, and then coach a player in college who was traded for the guy who threw the no hitter he caught...

GIANT GLASS said...

actually, my comment was meant for the next post...

Gib Kirwin '58 said...

Are we missing the SID who accompanied the basketball team to San Francisco in 1979 and then eventually headed to Ann Arbor for a healthy promotion? We had dinner at a North Beach Italien restaurant with Pete and the team (which ate up everything in sight). Included a freshman (the first year they were eligible?) now HC at the Orange and Black up north.

Princeton OAC said...

The SID who went to Michigan was John Humenik, who would go from Ann Arbor to Gainesville as the head of Florida's sports info efforts before becoming executive director for CoSIDA.

Mushlihin said...

Nice...

CY3 said...

I consider it an honor to have spent those six years (two as an intern) in Jadwin Gym. And it's great to see all of these names listed, especially Bill Stryker's. I know he is smiling down with the success of his beloved Chicago Blackhawks. Thanks, TB, for another great trip down Memory Lane.