The Tipoff, Priorities: Mentorship, women's game, staying safe

It has been a cold spring, an interminable summer and an agonizing fall, but one way or another it looks like we are going to have a college basketball season in 2020-21.

There are many challenges in pulling this off safely, which is why Malcolm Moran and I have been having incredibly constructive conversations with CoSIDA president Doug Vance, the NCAA's David Worlock and sports information directors around the country to ensure that the role of essential, independent media organizations will be preserved in a way that does not jeopardize anyone's health. We ask all of you to be vigilant as schools and event operators adjust to the new reality. If you hear about something that troubles you, please let us know. We have established these lines of communication for the purpose of ironing out inevitable disagreements.

I would like to take this opportunity to let you know about two very exciting initiatives we will undertake in 2020-21.

First, I'm proud to announce that the USBWA is going to launch a nationwide mentorship program. The program will be designed to pair college students, especially but not limited to journalism and communications majors, with our members who will mentor them during the course of the academic year. To aid us in launching this program, we have assembled an outreach committee that includes members of the academic community as well as the CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. It's an excellent team.

We will have more to say about this endeavor as we launch what will effectively be a pilot program for this season, but I am hoping to have extensive participation from you, our membership. We are all very fortunate to be able to do what we do, and from time to time we are all asked by friends and relatives to speak with young people who are hoping to get into this profession. I believe very strongly that we need to impart to the next generation of journalists the tools, principles and ethics that go hand in hand with our work. So many young people see the trend lines and understandably feel discouraged from becoming journalists. It is our job to encourage and educate them. I also believe this will help rejuvenate the USBWA's membership, which is always a high priority.

Second, the USWBA is going to be issuing weekly awards in women's basketball. Mel Greenberg, who has done terrific work over the years to give us a presence in the women's game, will oversee a committee of voters from across the country who will select a team, player and freshman of the week throughout the season. For far too long, the USBWA has neglected to put enough energy into covering the women's game and recruiting the writers who cover it to be members. American women's basketball, both at the collegiate and professional levels, has never been more entertaining or more popular. There is a ton of upside for us to capture here, and I am looking forward to seeing Mel and his group get after it.

Given all the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, our industry is at a critical juncture. Far too many of our colleagues have been laid off by organizations who were already struggling economically before the virus struck. The recent mass layoffs at ESPN cut all of us to the bone. There is also a concern that the very real need to secure the health and safety of players, coaches and other participants will be seen as an opportunity to further reduce the essential role of independent media organizations. However, we all know that every crisis also presents major opportunities, and so I am confident that the USBWA will adapt to the current environment and emerge stronger in the end. Now more than ever, the world needs truth seekers and storytellers, and so the health and viability of organizations like ours must endure.

Please be safe, everyone, and keep up the great work. Now let's go cover those games!