Friday, December 04, 2009

Local Sports... Key word: LOCAL!

Stay Classy Long Island... and cover local football!

Hoop Dreams

This has been a generally good 24 hours for Columbia basketball as the men pulled out a 75-70 win over Lehigh last night and the women hung very tough with St. John's this afternoon before falling 75-63. You can see the full details on both games at

Hofstra: Day 2

The fallout from the Hofstra decision to cancel football continues today and it will grow. On my show on FOX Business today, we interviewed the Hofstra athletic director Jack Hayes who admitted to us that no one but a select few top administrators had any idea this was coming. Even the former Hofstra president and football player James Shuart, after whom the stadium is named, said he was not consulted. Hayes explained that hinting the death penalty was on the way would have destroyed the Pride's season, and that is probably true. I was living in Cleveland in 1995 when the Browns learned during the season that they were moving to Baltimore in '96, and what had been a very strong team up to that point fell apart on the field for an utterly wasted season.

I spoke with Jerry Recco about the Hofstra situation earlier this afternoon and we both agreed that despite the intense sorrow some of these players feel right now, if some of them end up at, let's say, an Ivy school where they may get more playing time AND a degree from one of the most respected schools in America, then this decision could end up being the best thing that ever happened for them.

I don't think it's proper to name any potential transfers here, but I would be shocked if at least two Hofstra players don't transfer to an Ivy school in the coming weeks.

Another great aspect of this story is the intense interest we're seeing here in the New York area for the Hofstra news. This was the #1 topic for callers to sports radio WFAN yesterday and it led the sports news on the dominant news radio station, 1010 WINS, all day.

This tells me two things:

1) People were angry.

But more importantly 2) There IS a market for college football, even non-BCS college football in New York. The local media just needs to cover it more and cover it better.

When I open my local sports section in my Long Island paper, (Newsday), every Sunday I barely see the smallest piece about the Hofstra game the day before and almost never see anything about Columbia sports.

At the same time, we are innundated with sports columns complaining about the bad conduct of big-time college football players and coaches. Maybe if these guys and gals at the sports desks spent more time covering the high-quality football and even better quality students at places like Hofstra and Columbia, they'd get some new hope for humanity.

Here's another tip: no one is going to the local media for news about the big-time sports programs, especially at the college level. EVERYONE else is covering USC, Florida, Notre Dame and Penn State better than they are. Stop trying to survive by doing someone's else's job much more poorly than they are. You have to find your niche and build on it. Newsday's sports pages on fall Saturdays and Sundays should be all about the local football at the high school and college levels. The paper actually made major strides with high school coverage this year, now with just Stony Brook and Columbia to follow, it should make the leap into college coverage too.

Local TV news is usually hopeless. I used to be a local news TV producer, and the problem is 75% of the people on the air in local news are not from the area and have no interest in anything other than landing a bigger job somewhere else.

But Long Island is different. News 12 Long Island and the new FIOS channel 1 are staffed with a good number of reporters who are here for the long haul and are relatively happy about it. News 12 has been around for 25+ years and has a decent, but still not good enough record covering Long Island sports. FIOS is making some inroads already and could see local sports as a way of cleaning News 12's clock. Let the game's begin!

High School News

Speaking of Long Island, a speedy QB/DB who played high school football not far from the Hofstra campus is at least applying to Columbia.

The Mineola American reports that Mike Escobar is applying to Columbia, but does not say if he expects to play football, is being recruited, or hopes to walk on if accepted.


At Sat Dec 05, 04:49:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Kevin DeMarrais '64C said...

You are so right about how the media has abandoned local college football in favor of the Top 25. Unfortunately, I don't see a major turnaround, although a contender at Columbia - which we could have next fall - will help the whole Ivy League.

The media decline started back in the early 80s when the IA-IAA division was created. We first saw it in small steps, such as no published point spreads on IAA games (except, at least initially, Ivy vs. Ivy), and that exclusion spread to pregame features and game coverage itself. Over the years, anyone except the teams in the major conferences got pushed aside. No more mid-week features, diminishing game coverage, a hit-or-miss approach to reporting scores on Saturday night. Yale's Carmen Cozza, overnight, went from one of the nation's winningest coaches to a footnote because the Ivy League was dropped to the lower division and his accomplishments no longer mattered to the NCAA.

And it's not just New York. Yale gets little coverage in New Haven, Penn gets little in Philadelphia, Princeton gets little in New Jersey - three teams that used to get massive local coverage. But you can get all the details of the latest Boise State or Oklahoma or Ohio State game.

Without coverage, we lost the fan base, and that has led to even smaller crowds, giving the major media an excuse for not covering local teams. As the sports editor of The New York Times told me 25 years ago, when we attempted to resurect coverage of college baseball, if your students and alumni don't care enough to come to games, why should we cover it? It's a tough question to answer.

Columbia has done a great job generating interest among students, but it's almost impossible to generate the kind of broadbased fan support we once had without media attention.

At Sat Dec 05, 05:35:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger cathar said...

I noted that, for a 15,000 seat stadium, Hofstra in fact averaged almost 4300 fans per home game. Really? Those kinds of numbers would make most Ivy schools (which have had a well-known problem with declining attendance) delirious. There certainly aren't that many fans at Wien save, maybe, at Homecoming. And 4300 in the stands is generally higher than small, academically well-regarded schools like Davidson and Elon and Williams and Amherst ever draw for football games.

I suspect there's another reason Hofstra decided right this very minute to drop football: the issue of alumni support for the university in general as facilitated via the football program.

The "evidence" may be only hearsay (I've never seen a real breakdown), but it's long been an assumption, an adage, that interest in university athletics leads to both financial support for it and also for the university in general. (My own modest contributions to football, basketball and rowing eventually led me to giving yearly to my class fund, as well.)

The truth is also that Columbia treats its donors very nicely on its own understandably small scale. Dianne Murphy in particular makes personal contact at every event she attends and remembers peoples' names. But there are other nice little touches to recognition of givers, including, notably, the hand-written (and in at least one recent case hand-addressed!)notes Joe Jones sends by way of acknowledgment. I wonder if Hofstra had a similarly developed, friendly-seeming program. Columbia may not be "big time" in terms of athletics in general, but its very relative smallness allows for a genuinely personal touch in many surprising ways.

Hofstra football may not have ever engendered such support, either for football per se or for the university in general. (Now, of course, there's no way of knowing either way, it's a dead issue.) But the fact that Hofstra administrators specifically cited that $4.5 million figure as a reason for ending football makes me think that they'd decided that football simply could not generate offsetting revenues for the university down the line even by way of creating "brand loyalty" among football supporters and, particularly, former players. This is not generally the case at Columbia, thank goodness.

At Sat Dec 05, 09:27:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Despite some HS BB and FB players from their coverage area, the Westchester Journal-News rarely has a story about Columbia games. They do some about Fordham's, if memory serves.

At Sat Dec 05, 10:27:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Stan Waldbaum '62C said...

No question that Kevin DeMarrais is correct in his assessment that the decline in media coverage has adversely affected the Ivy League and other 1AA Division schools. However, I would submit that the media decline in at least the New York Metropolitan Area actually started in the 1950's rather than the early 1980's and resulted from the advent of television as well as the rapid growth of the professional football and basketball leagues. Television was the exciting new communications medium and its availability enabled sports fans in the Northeast where the Ivy Leasue schools were located to watch college football and basketball games from throughout the country free of charge. Almost simultaneously, the college sports fan base in the Northeast also found a new interest in professional football and basketball which put additional pressure on the Ivies and other schools. Then, of course, there was the huge collegiate basketball point-shaving scandel in the early 1950's involving NCAA and NIT champion CCNY, LIU and other local colleges that totally destroyed big-time college basketball in New York City. The anti-sports folks in the local colleges used the scandal to eliminate all further funding for major sports at the New York City colleges, and, for that matter, the local high schools. As interest in high school and college sports in the New York Metropolitan declined, the rest of the country became much more interested in college sports than ever before. The large state universities throughout the United States significantly raised their sports profiles and became the leaders in both college football and basketball, a phenomenon that continues today. The state universities saw the economic benefit presented by the new television medium and used it accordingly. Meanwhile, the Ivy League, which had been the leading football conference in the country, decided that it wanted no part of the new college sports scene. Understandably the newspaper and other print media lost interest in the Ivy League similarly situated schools even before the IA-IAA division was created.

At Sat Dec 05, 02:20:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Kevin DeMarrais,

I played with you on the sprint football team -- I liked to hit, and the only guy I didn't look forward to going one on one in practice with was you. Lady and gentleman Lions, this guy was a rock on the field, so it's no surprise that he has been so steadfast in his loyalty.

If you say that we could be a contender, it sounds just as good as if it came from Brando in "On the Waterfront."


At Sat Dec 05, 08:09:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was listening about this story on WFAN while riding in my car on Wed....Mike Francesa asked his technician what other area teams were big 1AA teams....(and asked for the attendence figures)...they were hard pressed to name another valid f-ball program in the area like a Hofstra...after much thought they finaly thought of Fordham!!!!!! Ugh!!..I was yelling at the radio Columbia you idiots!! This is a major sports radio station in NY? and on Yes nationally?? Enough said for educating the local football fan.

At Sun Dec 06, 01:00:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The lack of coverage of local sports is the result of several factors. First of all, the decline in local coverage is broader than just football or sports coverage. Newspapers and television are doing a terrible job of covering regional politics, business, you name it. The economics of journalism is the major reason: they've lost their advertising base and news rooms have been decimated. The interest in covering top 25 football in large part is that it's a wire service story that doesn't require a reporter.

Secondly, there is a tremendous amount of live televised sports that is effectively free that draws off our fan base and makes any one team a smaller story.

And for better or worse, Ivy League football is I-AA and doesn't participate in a playoff system.

So Columbia and the other Ivies have to focus on the two things they can control: playing as high a level of football as possible so we at least get our students and alumni in the stands, and second doing more of our own marketing,where it seems we are doing a somewhat better job under Murphy.

At Mon Dec 07, 11:31:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The absence of a great state university in New York has also dampened the enthusiasm for college football in this area. New York is really unique in that it doesn't have a great state university which competes on the D1level. But if Columbia can put together a winning program we will get better media coverage. We got pretty good coverage in '96.


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