Vol. 58, No. 1 December 2020 .pdf version
Seth Davis: Priorities: Mentorship, women's game, staying safe
Malcolm Moran: To many, Jernstedt was the 'Architect of March Madness'
Advice and encouragement in a strange season
Norlander, Quinn dominate Best Writing Contest
CoSIDA, USBWA offer COVID guidelines
Join the USBWA or renew your membership

Advice and encouragement in a strange season

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The USBWA membership has never encountered more challenges than it will be facing while navigating COVID-19 protocols on campuses this season. The USBWA sought words of advice and encouragement from both writers and administrators to help guide you:

Washington Post reporter Chuck Culpepper: (Chuck has covered on site, during the pandemic, four golf tournaments, one tennis major, two Triple Crown races and eight college football games between Sept. 26 and Nov. 14, in Baton Rouge, Athens, Clemson, Tuscaloosa, Minneapolis, State College, South Bend and Huntington).

Besides doubling or tripling your masking for any airplane flights or roadside restrooms or arenas, and besides getting yourself some goggles for same, and besides forgiving yourself for all profanity when those goggles fog repeatedly, there are the storytelling hindrances. If our jobs can seem a constant and compelling hunt for details, that hunt suffers when we can't work an interview room in a post-game, can't ask questions either one-to-one or few-to-one.

More from the USBWA:
2020 Best Writing Contest winners
NEW! USBWA Mentors Program
Give to the Chris Dufrense Memorial Sports Journalism Scholarship at Cal State Fullerton
Join the USBWA or renew your membership today!

That makes the hunt for other details ever more essential: the specific sights around towns, the specific sights around arenas, the songs, the sounds, the tenors of certain moments. Such things have become more relevant than ever to all kinds of stories, of course, because of the nature of the pandemic moment. Keep in mind how people trapped at home do seem unusually curious about what's out there.

If trapped at home oneself, which is such a disruption of our normal function, it can help the mind to take that limitation and try to transform it into an opportunity. It can become a time to explore the broader story ideas difficult to pursue while in the process of covering a season. It can allow for more calls, for a more thorough pursuit of details, more intricate knowledge of more subjects on more teams, and for dropping in on more press conferences than ever before, even if all by video. It also might allow for better eating habits, if we can abide such a thing.

First Vice-President Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune: During those weeks where no games were played, weeks that seemed to stretch on for years, I was often asked, 'What are you doing? Are you bored? What do you have to write?'

The truth is, I don't know if I'd ever been so busy.

America was struggling to figure out life during a pandemic. Civil unrest and reckonings with racial injustice were bubbling across the nation. An intense election season fueled anxiety.

Like most historic moments, athletes are touched by these issues and their voices help shape how Americans view polarizing topics.

The WNBA and NBA showed playing in bubbles could work, managing their playoffs without infection. The players were among the most outspoken about racism and encouraged voting. College athletes marched against injustice and demanded stricter safety protocols against COVID-19.

There are outbreaks among college football teams, reminding us of the difficulty of containing the virus spread. The play-or-don't-play debates capture the conflicting ways Americans feel about proceeding during the pandemic.

With or without games, sports reporters shouldn't be confined to box scores. Not by our editors. Not by 'stick to sports' readers. Not by our own feelings of limitations, thinking we work in the 'toy department.'

Some of the most defining moments of our nation have been symbolized through sports and told the stories of America: Jackie Robinson finally stepping to the plate in Major League Baseball. Kathrine Switzer being pulled off the Boston Marathon course. Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists on the Olympic medal podium.

And right now.

Villanova men's SID Mike Sheridan: Take time to examine how your beat intersects with the rest of the world. And don't shy away from writing about it.

In the last 36 years, I have been blessed to enter dozens of college basketball venues, first as an editor at Basketball Times, and more recently as the men's basketball contact at Villanova. Of course, the experience of entering an arena in 2020-21 is going to feel markedly different than any prior visit.

The challenges for those covering the games and those of us working to assist you, will be significant. The requirements mandated to ensure safety will alter the experience of covering a game in substantial ways. What is permissible under one state's guidelines might not possible be in an adjoining state.

The few extra minutes with a coach in a postgame hallway or a longer conversation with a player at a campus eatery on an off day, might not be feasible. Press-row capacity will be reduced in many cases. Postgame Zoom conferences will be the norm. You might rarely be in the same room as a coach or a player you routinely cover.

It will present roadblocks.

But I believe it will work, in large part due to the long history of cooperation between the USBWA and CoSIDA. The leadership of both organizations has been assessing the most practical avenues to facilitate coverage in a pandemic. Our fraternity appreciates the pivotal role the print media has played in the growth of our game and we will strive to service the media as we always have.

We can work together to put our best foot forward in 2020-21.

South Carolina women's basketball SID Diana Koval: Patience, creativity and grace. Those are the concepts I keep coming back to in navigating basketball season. If media members and communications directors can show each other all three, we will all succeed in this setting that has more restrictions to access than we've ever faced. It's not that some things will look different; it's that everything will look different.

In the last 10 months, I have been blown away by our local media their understanding, their dedication to continuing to cover our teams with respect, their willingness to be part of the solution. I've always seen my job as a partnership with our media, and this year has shown me the true value of a strong partnership. Our goals may not always align in terms of messaging, but when it comes to getting the job done in these strange times, thinking of ourselves as partners goes a long way.

As a communications director, I remain committed to doing everything I can to help media members do their jobs. As a person in close contact with our team, this season I have to be just as committed to doing everything I can to help protect the coaches and student-athletes from this virus. When those two missions come in conflict, I will always err on the side of safety but I will always be open to creative ideas to get the two missions back in alignment. Media who accept the restrictions put on access and are willing to work with communications directors to find alternate paths to their goals will thrive.

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