Sports information is like electricity or water. When the power's on and everything's flowing regularly, nobody notices. Everybody takes these things for granted. But whenever anything goes wrong, people act like it's the end of the world. Sports information directors are expected to be perfect, to have the entire school record book on the tip of their tongues, to make sure everything along every scorer's table runs correctly and efficiently during games. And they usually are
perfect, spending their days in perfect anonymity.
Which is why they're the true saints of this business, the unsung heroes of Our Game. If you believe that heaven is the inverse of earth, SID's will inherit mansions in the clouds, white Lamborghinis and front-row Elvis tickets. The job is so thankless, and there is so little respect afforded them, that when they're quoted in a news story, it's usually as "university spokesman." It's as if "sports information director" is a synonym for "sanitary worker." And who would want to interview the janitor, anyway?
On a cold December Saturday in our Nation's capital
, I was afforded the opportunity to be part of the machine. I arrived at IUPUI gym (a/k/a "The Jungle") two hours before game time for the Jaguars' nonconference matchup against Duquesne. When I got there, sports information director Ed Holdaway had already done most of the prep work; he'd set up the four segments of the scorer's table, plugged in the possession arrow and the boxscore printer, tested the outgoing phone lines for the radio broadcasts, and turned on the scoreboard and shot clock.
Ed quickly put me to work. We walked down the long hallway from the gym to the closet-like media room, and I set about arranging and stacking the information packets: game notes for Duquesne and IUPUI, and the weekly releases from the Badlands Conference and Atlantic 14.
There were 10 of each, even though the expected media contingent was very light. Despite IUPUI's 8-3 record to begin the season, no local newspaper sent a reporter. Not even the school paper, The Sagamore
, was represented. The only journalists in attendance were an Associated Press stringer and the visiting Dukes' beat writer from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Ed brought out a white three-ring looseleaf binder. "This is a very rare object," he told me. "There are only two of these in existence."
It was the 2009-10 Jaguars media guide. It's available online
, but the school has joined many others south of the Red Line by not printing a glossy-covered version. I asked Ed if this was part of a green, planet-friendly initiative on the part of IUPUI. "No, our print budget's been slashed," he explained.
At least the food budget stayed intact. "A big part of being an SID is eating pizza," Ed intoned wisely. "Let's see how much you can put down."
There were four pepperoni pies, and I picked the meat off and gathered the discs in a napkin. I was only able to make it to five pieces.
The fun ended with the evening's first emergency. The Tribune-Review
writer had trouble getting on the wireless internet; there was a login screen that kept asking him for a password. As the teams warmed up with a three-song rap selection echoing off the Jungle's walls, Ed spent the last 45 minutes before game time frantically trying to set up a guest account on the IUPUI system, coordinating with the school's information technology department. SID's have to be jacks of all trades, MacGyvers in coats and ties. Sometimes, they have to be IT guys.
With the crisis passed, Ed gave me my in-game marching orders. My primary job would be distributing in-game box scores. I was to sit on the end of the scorer's table near the IUPUI bench (which means getting towels and empty cups thrown at you all night by demonstrative head coach Ron Hunter), and spring into action during media timeouts. I was to run down to the middle of the row to where staff member Adrian Katschke ran the Stat Crew software, and grab the eight copies of the box score from the printer at his station. I had a delivery route: visitor's bench, visiting radio, visiting SID, home SID, home radio, and home bench. Benches got two copies. The two writers at the side table only got service at halftime and at the end of the game.
People watching the game at home rarely think about media timeouts. It's not something you generally count down to. They come at the first clock stoppage after the 16, 12, eight and four minute marks of each half, and that's the time for two or three minutes of commercials. Folks in the arena get a short performance from the band and cheerleaders, or a cheesy shooting contest, or a giant-check presentation. Even the writers don't really contemplate them, unless a clock stoppage becomes a strategic element of the game. In the hundred or so games I attend every season as a journalist, I usually think, "Oh, another 'media.'"
But when you're on the sports information side of things, media timeouts are very important landmarks of time. They should really be called "SID timeouts." When the scorekeeper raised his fist, the gesture that signals that extended stoppage, I leapt out of my chair and ran towards the printer. Adrian had the stack of boxscores waiting for me; I whirled around the back of the table, distributing the important grid-based accounts of the first four minutes of play.
I noticed there were six copies, not eight. At the time, I thought little of it.
It's difficult to lose yourself in the game action when you're focused on the next media timeout. After the 12 minute mark, I charged over to the printer again. But there was an orange blinking light, and the dot-matrix message on the glowing green readout spelled out, "Paper Jam." Adrian tried to clear the jam by opening and closing the tray, then checked the insides of the machine. By then, the horn sounded again, and I retreated back to my station.
When I went over to the printer at eight minutes, the printer still wasn't fixed. Nor was it at four minutes. The flow of sports information was disrupted, and I felt strangely guilty and responsible. I looked over at the radio commentators to see if they were in need of stats. They didn't seem to mind. It wasn't really an issue.
Until halftime, that is. When the buzzer blasted, the players and most of the coaches ran off the court. An assistant from each team stood at the scorer's table, waiting for the boxscore to take to their respective locker rooms, the information that would shape and sculpt their second-half strategies. Adrian was under the desk, banging on the printer, trying to figure out the malfunction. All the while, the assistant coaches hovered like suited spectres.
After eight minutes of halftime, Adrian located the problem. The seventh printout from the first media timeout was smashed between the teeth of the exit mechanism, wrinkled from the rollers. He tried to extract it with anything small and metal he could find -- a pen, a key. He turned around to a woman in the front row who was holding a small baby in her arms. "Do you have a pair of tweezers?" he asked with wild eyes.
She responded with the same type of puzzled, shocked, disgusted look that anybody would offer if a stranger asked them that question.
I leapt into action. I saw a single black binder clip on the table at Ed's station, extracted one of the silver dongles, and straightened it. "Would this work?" Adrian stuck it into the machine, and pulled out a long strip of accordioned paper. He turned to me and smiled, offering the scrap as a gift.
I'd like to say that it was my quick thinking that saved the day, that unclogged the sports information machinery on this night. But a serious situation required a serious solution. Finally, the IUPUI sports medicine staff delivered a pair of tweezers, and the entire page was extracted.
The second half began, and the engine was back to full speed. At the four media timeouts, I hummed around the sideline, delivering those fresh stats, warm to the touch and straight from the printer.
When the game was over, Ed sent me back to the media room with the Stat Crew final box, the play-by-play printouts, and the first half boxscore. I was to run 12 copies of the 10-page "book," for delivery to the locker room and the writers.
Ed also gave me another job to do. He slipped me his cell phone, and while I stood at the copier, I called the four local Indianapolis television stations to give them the score for their late newscasts. "Sports desk," they all said when they picked up.
"Final from IUPUI," I'd say. "IUPUI 73, Duquesne 64.
High scorer for the Jags was Robert Glenn with 27."
A few of them had additional questions.
"Was that a conference game?"
"Could you spell Duquesne for me?"
"What's IUPUI's record?"
I stymied my urge to scream into the phone, "Look it up, you lazy dumbass!"
I remembered that I was
the source of enlightenment. I was
the fountain of sports knowledge. I was
the assistant sports information director.
Ed and I collapsed the four segments of the scorer's table and placed the scoreboard equipment, possession arrow, cables and cords in a big box to wheel back to the media room. That's where he'd write his recap of the game for the IUPUI website.
It was also where the tall stacks of game notes and weekly releases sat, virtually untouched after three hours, a microscopic layer of dust beginning to accumulate upon them.
"So, Kyle, what did you learn tonight?" Ed asked me. "Did you learn that sports information is rarely about information, and has absolutely nothing to do with sports?"
"You know, Ed," I replied with the exhale, meaningful furrowed-brow gaze and firm back-pat so recognizable from closing scenes of Very Special Full House
episodes. "I learned a lot tonight. I learned that sports information directors must never, ever be taken for granted."
There's a saying out on the road, duplicated on tens of thousands of bumperstickers. "Without truckers, America stops." To paraphrase, without SID's, Hoops Nation stops. Sports information directors toil in the background, making uninformed radio announcers and print journalists look smart. And for schools that don't even have a local beat writer, the SID is the true steward of team history.
So the next time you're at a game, thank an SID. Give them a hug, and thank them for their service. Without them, you wouldn't know anything.(Second in the "Kyle Doin' Work" series. Previously: Assistant Coach for a Night)