Behind the scenes: Athletic Media Relations

Duff Tittle, Jeff Reynolds and Heather Cox. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)

Click here for link to the Deseret Morning News story.

They write thousands of press releases, track game and season statistics, design countless game programs each year, and tirelessly keep media and fans informed on the happenings of athletics at BYU and Utah Valley State.

And they do it all in nearly complete anonymity.

Rarely are there glorious bylines touting the handiwork of the sports information departments at BYU and Utah Valley State, yet their work behind the scenes is a vital part of the collegiate athletic scene.

"Our main role is to disseminate information to the public, to the media and to the fans," said BYU associate athletic director Duff Tittle. "It used to be that our major role was to communicate just to the media. Now it's changed. I think really what we offer is to disseminate info, and to tell the BYU athletic story."

Each time a sportscaster or writer relays a random fact regarding the number of games the Cougars have won while playing on a Thursday wearing their white uniforms, that fact was likely included in the game notes compiled by the SID, or sports information director. Every press release and athlete biography you read on, the Web site for UVSC athletics, came courtesy of the UVSC sports information office.

"We just have to make sure we have everything ready and available for the media," said Clint Burgi, UVSC sports information director. "We cover everything from the scoreboard to official game stats, to finding someone to take the call from ESPN when they call for the score for their 'Bottom Line."

The myriad duties fielded by SIDs across the country vary according to school size and media exposure. At BYU, the sports information staff is a model of consistency, with its "newest" member having joined the department eight years ago. Tittle headlines the group, with Ralph Zobell, Jeff Reynolds, Brett Pyne and Norma Collette also on board. Dave Broberg is the athletic publications director.

"You're really only as good as your people," Tittle said. "That's where I feel real lucky. I have a lot of people that understand the business. They're passionate about telling the story and telling about the student-athletes."

The full-time staff is supplemented by a group of interns, with anywhere from 10-12 on staff at a time.

Generally, interns will stay on with BYU's department for a year, beginning in late summer. A large portion of the interns are drawn from BYU's communications program, although some come from outside sources.

"Our internship program has really grown into what I think is one of the best in the country," Tittle said. "Our interns are leaving and going right into jobs at other schools. They play a very important role in the success of what we do."

Each intern in the BYU program is assigned to a specific sport, and they become the primary contact for that sport throughout the calendar year.

"What we started to see was that, if you can use one person in one sport, they buy into the ownership of that sport, and it becomes theirs," Tittle said. "They just do a better job of understanding and finding unique story ideas."

UVSC normally maintains two or three interns on staff to help out, with Burgi and Steve Schaack, assistant sports information director, as the only full-timers. Brent Johnson helps out as a part-time employee.

"It's more like a one-man band for us," Burgi said. "We have to have our hand in a lot more different areas, where a bigger school has more people to specialize in those certain areas."

Though the burdens of having a small staff are many, they are outnumbered by the advantages that come with getting to know each coach and athlete personally, Schaack said.

"For me, the rewarding part is seeing the relationships I build, and seeing the growth of student-athletes from when they first arrive to when they leave," said Schaack, who will leave UVSC this month to take a position at Fresno State.

"Not only seeing how they grow on the field of competition, but also as a person. To me that's the fun part of the job, the associations with the players, coaches and people you see on staff."

That familiarity with the athletes is key for another role played by the SIDs -- that of liaison between the media and the athletic teams. In that role, the SID must be on-call nearly 24 hours a day in order to field interview requests from broadcast and print journalists. After a game, win or lose, it is the SID who must venture into the locker room and seek out athletes and coaches to field questions from probing reporters.

Understandably so, team personnel do not always jump at the chance to address the media, particularly after a loss or poor performance.

"It's always more fun to do your job when you win," Zobell said. "The rough spots don't seem as rough."

Zobell told of a recent episode involving a heart-breaking loss for the Cougar baseball team. After leading TCU by three runs in the eighth inning of the conference championship final, BYU gave up a three-run homer and the go-ahead run, which ended its hopes of a conference title and NCAA tournament berth.

"When I went down to the locker room, they were not wanting to talk to anybody," Zobell said. "(The game) had just been pulled out from underneath them. It took a lot of coaxing to get the few interviews done that we did."

Although the frustration that comes with losing is unavoidable in such situations, the rapport established between athletes and their SID is crucial in providing a more comfortable setting in which to answer those tough questions after a loss.

"I think being a part of each team, living with the wins and dying with the losses, is kind of helpful," Burgi said.

Tags: Feature