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Kindred: College sports information directors fighting for their profession

Kindred: College sports information directors fighting for their profession

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Those in sports media are seen as disseminators of information. We do that the best we can, but we don’t do it alone.

We get considerable help from those who disseminate to the disseminators … that is, college Sports Information Directors (SIDs) and their staffs. Their duties are too lengthy to detail here. Just know that veteran SID Steve Kirschner of North Carolina recently listed them in a tweet thread that required five tweets. And he prefaced the list by saying, “Surely it’s missing stuff.”

These are people who work long hours for low pay, certainly if calculated hourly. They work weekdays, weeknights, weekends and, when their teams’ schedules demand it, holidays.

Now, like so many businesses, they are under siege because of COVID-19. Since the virus put sports on hold in mid-March, SID offices from NCAA Division I to Division III have been hit with furloughs, layoffs or both.

At Division I Memphis, the entire athletics communications department was eliminated. Schools desperate to cut expenses because of lost revenue have found sports information expendable, in part or in whole.

That is “very disheartening” to Mike Williams, director of Illinois State’s athletic communications office and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Advocacy Committee.

He and others are having to advocate for their profession. Fighting for it might be a better word.

“More than ever, we need to be able to tell our stories,” Williams said. “We’re not talking about games and championships and wins and losses right now. We need to be able to tell the background stories and the academic success stories and all of the other things that go on within an athletic department.

“Unfortunately, too many people around the country are not getting that opportunity … too many schools are not seeing the value of a full communications staff. There are three people on the committee I’m on who are on furlough or don’t have jobs right now. These are people who have dedicated 10, 15 years of their lives to this profession.”

Williams will tell you he is fortunate. Illinois State president Larry Dietz and athletic director Larry Lyons have not slashed his department, which includes four full-time employees and three graduate assistants.

Williams said Missouri Valley Conference rivals Missouri State and Southern Illinois each are “down a person” on their sports info staffs. Nationally, some schools are turning over more and more of their athletic communications to their university communications department. That is, to folks accustomed to 9 to 5, Monday through Friday jobs who have little or no training in athletic statistical programs, gameday responsibilities, etc.

“We work with our university communications all the time on projects. But they wouldn’t have any clue how to do my job, and I wouldn’t have any clue how to do theirs,” Williams said. “I don’t think people truly understand the depth of what we do (in sports information).”

In the media, we get it. They facilitate interviews with athletes and coaches, provide pregame notes and information, in-game and postgame statistics, share tidbits about their teams that can lead to feature stories, columns or even a series of stories.

They are out of the public eye, but they are there, advocating for their athletes, coaches, teams … their schools. Take them away and the university’s "brand” suffers.

Kent Brown, director of athletic media relations at Illinois, has been unable to replace a full-time staffer who left recently for another career opportunity. He said the position is among “18 to 20” at the university left unfilled or eliminated.

“We hope to have that position filled at some point,” Brown said. “Because of revenue shortfalls, I know there were some really tough decisions made (nationally) by leaders on how to get by. There are a lot of people who have put in a lot of passion and commitment into their careers and the teams they work with who have been let go.

“We hope that as sports start gearing up again that will reverse course at some point and a lot of people will get their jobs back.”

At Illinois, with what Brown called “robust” COVID-19 testing ongoing, the campus needed external personnel to help with testing and oversee some of the testing sites. He said four people from the SID office, along with members of the video department, marketing staff and ticket office, have worked in those roles since August.

“It’s not what these people signed up for, but it helped them keep their jobs and the campus picked up their salaries during that time,” Brown said. “I know several other schools have staff members who were temporarily moved to other campus departments to help fill in.”

There has been no shuffling at Illinois Wesleyan, where Katie Gonzales is the SID and has two graduate assistants. Gonzales is thankful for that, yet has been impacted by furloughs or job losses in the industry.

“Some of my best friends who left (Eastern Michigan) about the time I left to come to Wesleyan made moves to different schools and they’ve seen their positions get cut or faced long furloughs,” Gonzales said. “It’s hard to see your friends struggle and feel kind of helpless because it’s not like I have any freelance opportunities or any way to help them professionally.”

With the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin pushing fall sports to the spring, Gonzales anticipates going “from 0 to 100 (mph), having potentially 24 sports going on at roughly the same time.”

She is hopeful they can be played, no matter the workload. This fall, the absence of competition has provided a chance to produce feature stories/videos on IWU athletes and coaches.

Currently in the works are Veterans Day features on former Titans who have gone on to serve in the military. “That’s not as likely to have happened if we had all the sports going on and we were going into crossover seasons and NCAA tournaments and those things,” Gonzales said.

She has seen sports information personnel at Division III schools in neighboring states lose jobs or face lengthy furloughs. They are among the people Williams and his committee members are advocating for as they talk with college athletic directors and presidents.

Or, more accurately, fighting for.


Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: pg_kindred

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