Monday, October 24, 2011

That's A Negative

Princeton's former marketing director Scott Jurgens now works at East Carolina, and there his new team was on Saturday afternoon, playing at Navy.

TigerBlog tuned in just in time to see a graphic flash that read that ECU's quarterback, Dominique Davis (apparently Scott only works at schools where arguably the most well-known athlete is D. Davis) was 19 for 19 passing.

TB texted Scott, who was not at the game. Instead, he was busy putting an East Carolina purple sweatshirt on his dog Barnaby.

As it turned out, Davis wasn't done yet.

The ECU quarterback went 26 for 26 in the first half. Yes, many of his completions were short dump-offs, but he did throw for 256 first-half yards. And besides, how many quarterbacks can go 26 for 26 without a defense on the field?

For the day, Davis finished 40 for 45 for 372 yards in a 38-35 win, one accomplished on a blocked field goal on the final play.

Davis set two records in the game.

First, his 26 straight completions to start the game (his first of the second half was incomplete) were the NCAA single-game record, breaking the old record of 23 set by Tee Martin of Tennessee and none other than Aaron Rodgers, the Packer quarterback, when he was at Cal.

Davis had also completed his last 10 passes against Houston the week before, which gave him 36 straight completions over two games, which is the overall record for consecutive completions.

Given TigerBlog's occupation, he starts to get curious about the historical significance of accomplishments as they unfold, such as completing a bunch of passes in a row or, in Princeton's case, having Chuck Dibilio or Matt Costello put together rushing or receiving yards that obviously have to be approaching or exceeding freshman records here.

The question that TB has always had, also given his occupation, is what responsibility does an athletic communications staff have in terms of providing negative information about its own teams?

For instance, if you're the Navy sports information staff, do you have an obligation to let everyone know that the visiting quarterback is setting a record against your team?

It's actually one of the great dilemmas in athletic communications.

Maybe not for that specific situation. In that case, yes, if you've looked it up, then there's nothing wrong with letting the press box know what's going on.

But what if your team, say, ranks statistically last in the country in something? Or is approaching programmatic records for futility?

What if the release before a game talks about a player who is on a long streak of, oh, missing three-pointers. Maybe a player scored five goals on the first 10 shots of the season but hasn't scored on the last 20 or so?

Does the athletic communications person attempt to create a context for a season? Or is it taboo to go down the path of any negativity.

Fortunately here at Princeton, with its athletic success, the people in athletic communications way more often than not are faced with positive notes and stats and such.

At the same time, that makes the negative stuff stand out more and be more obvious.

Also, there is the whole issue of being a "flack" or engaging in "spin." If you do that, you won't be taken seriously - and it'll be obvious to any reader that there are huge omissions in the information being produced.

TigerBlog's background is in newspapers, where the negative is usually more preferred than the positive, though TB never really went down that path. Instead, he's a big fan of objective context, something that allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

Here at Princeton, TB has had to deal with some coaches who weren't happy about what was being written about their teams. In most cases, it wasn't after something like "Princeton has its longest losing streak in 25 years" but more like when the information was construed by the coach as painting that team's style of play in a negative light, which would then (at least according to the coach) impact recruiting.

For instance, the 2001 Princeton men's basketball team won the Ivy League championship and played in the NCAA tournament and yet never at any point of the season had a player dunk the ball. John Thompson, then Princeton's coach, didn't like when TB would write that the team had 200 or so three-pointers but no dunks, because he felt it played to a stereotype that more up-tempo recruits wouldn't embrace.

Of course, the next recruiting class included Judson Wallace and Will Venable. Still, TB understood his point, or at least the concept of his point.

In athletic communications, there's a fine line between promoting teams and doing everything that can be done to pump up the players and coaches and coming across as a disingenuous lacky that isn't taken seriously.

When in doubt, it's not necessary to go over the top with information or notes that paint teams negatively. At the same time, it's important to be professional and legitimize the information that is produced.

Still, the line is blurry.

Another time that sticks out to TB was when Princeton's football team in the late 1990s was stopping the run but unable to run itself. TB came up with this:

"1.4 yards and a cloud of dust - Princeton and its opponents both average 1.4 yards per rush."



Anonymous said...

More than acceptable, it's genius.

Brett said...

This is interesting because I faced some of these challenges with you. One of the favorite things that Princeton did in my time at the Ivy League was post a story about a basketball player who had done something really stupid after a MLB Playoff game, I believe. Rumors were rampant as to what had happened and the extent of trouble the young man would be in.

As I myself was looking to understand it, in case a call come my way, I ventured into the Princeton athletics website, which featured the story, complete with some remorseful quotes from the student. Situation remedied. Rumors put to rest.

But it also sent a powerful message that Princeton athletics has credibility in its content. I promise you that no other school in the League would have done that. It would not have been considered.

It could be seen to sycophants as a negative, but I remember that it sent a positive message of disclosure and trust.