I'll allow you a few minutes to put the pieces of your blown mind back together. Okay? Let's go. Big media rivalries, like college sports rivalries, are supposed to be predicated on the idea that the folks on the other side are filthy, writhing subhumans. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that this is silly.
Our second interviewee of the season is Bill Trocchi, author of the weekly "Mid-Major Report" on Sports Illustrated's website -- which would logically make him my primary blood adversary in the great ESPN-vs.-SI wars. In addition to his mid-major duties, Bill is also an SI.com website producer, an upstanding gentleman, a husband and a father. He was kind enough to stop by during this Thanksgiving week to clear the air. We talked about his job at SI, our respective high-major secrets, where the mid/major fault line really is, American-style football, and his years working at
Hustler, this one. Don't get all excited now.)TMM: I have to apologize. Sometime last season, I claimed in this very space that because I hadn't seen you at a game, that you were a robot built by Grant Wahl and that T.R.O.C.C.H.I. was nothing more a futuristic acronym. I saw you at the CAA tourney last year, so I know you're a real person. I hope you can forgive me for that.BT:
Forgive you for seeing me at the CAA tournament and destroying the myth that I was more machine than man, or claiming I was a robot in the first place? Any pub is good pub in this business, you know that. All is forgiven, of course, especially by inviting me into this Q and A.TMM: No problem. Me, I'm not man or machine, I'm just something in between... and I'm lovin' every minute of it. So how did you come to cover mids for SI? Did you volunteer for the position? Did you have to cut a few throats to climb to the top of the heap?BT:
The powers that be knew I had a hoops background, so after a few months on the job, they asked if I wanted to write a weekly column in addition to my 'Producer' duties. Picking up the Mid-Major report the year after George Mason reached the Final Four was a good place to start.TMM: So in your year-plus on the mid-major beat, what are some of the stories you've really enjoyed covering? (Including, but not limited to, the ones you beat me to last season.)BT:
I don't remember beating you to any stories. I enjoyed interviewing A.J. Graves' mom after Butler ran through the NIT. She was a very sweet lady who was 'nervous' talking to me. I failed to tell her I was in ripped sweatpants, sitting in my home office with two of my kids running around crazy in the other room. If she saw me, she would not have been intimidated. I liked interviewing Anthony Grant, and then following VCU's success throughout the year. Dr. Tom Davis at Drake was a pretty cool story, finally getting a winning record before stepping aside for his son. I also have a story on UNO coming out soon that I really enjoyed. Remarkable what those guys have had to go through and are still going through, and then to beat NC State. Good stuff.TMM: I get this question all the time, and I'm sure you do too. What's a mid-major, and at which conference do you draw the line?BT:
As you know, it is unfortunately very subjective. I'll revisit this at some point, but I like cutting it off after the six BCS, C-USA, MWC, WAC and the A-10. I feel like if you have big-time football, you are a major conference, and I don't consider the Sun Belt and MAC as 'big-time' football. As far as the A-10, Temple, UMass, St. Joseph's, GW and Xavier just don't feel like mid-major programs. And you are what your conference is. When we start pulling individual teams out of conferences, there's total chaos in terms of trying to classify things.TMM: I'm with you there. OK, so the Gonzaga question. Mid-major or not? What do you think of what they've done for the past decade with such a small budget?BT:
Gonzaga is the prime example of what I was just talking about. I still call them a mid-major. To me, it is not an insult, but to them it is. In fact, they would not talk to the 'Mid-Major' Report last year because they don't consider themselves a mid-major. You are what your conference is, and it is a mid-major conference. I keep them out of the Mid-Major Report just because they don't like it, but I still think they are a mid-major. To me, they should want the publicity.
The same goes for the Valley, which is an outstanding conference in anybody's book. But if you want to shed the mid-major label, you are going to cost yourself publicity because you'll never enjoy the interest of the majors on a national scale. My argument to these schools is the 'big fish in small pond' thing. Embrace the underdog role, even if you've sort of outgrown it. It is still a good story.TMM: Agreed, agreed. So who are your hot mid-majors to watch this season, and how many bids do you think each of the conference will get?BT:
I actually was fortunate enough to be able to pick the NCAA field for SI's magazine, and the only two mid-major at-larges I had were George Mason and Bradley, which aren't exactly under-the-radar picks. I also passed on Sienna to win the MAAC, which may look dumb in light of their Stanford win. Speaking of my picks, I'll take this opportunity to publicly state when I created my field, I had 66 teams and had to take one out. I pulled Baylor, which was sort of an under-the-radar team. They are 4-0 after winning the Paradise Jam. I know they're not a mid-major, but I had to get that out there.TMM: Speaking of teams that aren't mid-majors, we both have horrible high-major secrets... you went to Vandy, I went to Oregon. I know you cover some high-major action for SI as well (and therefore don't try to hide it), but how did an SEC upbringing prepare you to cover mid-majors?BT:
Covering the mid-majors is like covering anything else, really. I treat 'em all the same. I'm not necessarily an anti-major guy by any stretch. I like covering both.TMM: So tell me a little about your formative journalism career there at Vanderbilt, what it was like there. It's one of those high-powered J-schools I didn't have the grades for.BT:
Actually, for all the unbelievable sports writing talent Vanderbilt has produced -- Tyler Kepner (NY Times beat writer), Skip Bayless (ESPN), Lee Jenkins (SI), Buster Olney (ESPN), Mitch Light, Charlie Miller, Rob Doster (Athlon Sports), Dan Wolken (Memphis beat for Commercial Appeal), Mark Bechtel (SI), Dave Sheinin (Washington Post) plus some others I'm forgetting, Vanderbilt does not have a journalism school. (Grantland Rice also went to Vanderbilt.) At The Hustler (the school paper), we just learned as we went and learned from each other.
Just a tremendous four years covering SEC football and basketball. I'm very loyal to the Commodores, no question about it. And the Tennessee football game from last weekend has been erased from my memory, Men-In-Black style, by the way.TMM: You cover the pig-skin too, you're actually one of the only football writers who I can stand to read because you're one of the few who doesn't try to go all John Facenda on your audience. Do you have a preference, orange ball or brown ball?BT:
Interesting question. I think I figured out I enjoy covering college basketball in person more, because you are right up on the action at the press table. Nothing beats that. Plus, everything just seems more accessible. College football is great, and I have a passion for it and enjoy writing about it, but if I had to make a choice between covering a college football event or a college basketball event, I would take hoops. They are the top two of all the different sports I've covered in my career and I hope to cover more events in both.TMM: I know you're also a family man, which is something that the journalism world don't necessarily care about in a world of deadline this and disposable-opinion that. Let the folks out there know how awesome your family is.BT:
We've got a starting five at the Trocchi household. My wife Amy (Vandy, '93) is the point guard, running the show and having eyes in the back of her head. I'm the plodding power forward, trying to stay out of the way and looking for garbage points. Tyler, 7, is the center, a spindley guy who has the family rotating around his sports schedule. Will, 5, is a shoot-first, ask-questions-later two guard who likes to start jacking it when he gets off the bus. Mia, 3, is our small forward, still growing into her game but has shown plenty of potential and can run the floor.TMM: Since writing is generally a very solitary and anti-social exercise, is it tough to balance type-time and family time? There are quite a few upwardly-mobile bloggers out there who'd like to know how to figure that one out if you have any tips.BT:
Unfortunately, writing is only about 10 percent of my job at SI.com. I'm what's called a 'Producer', which essentially is a website editor. We monitor the wires, edit originial content, write the headlines, pick the photos and present the news of the day at SI.com in some sort of organized manner. When time allows, we sometimes write columns and get out to games, but that usually requires a manpower shift or two. That's why you and I have not crossed paths much on the road out there.
Hopefully I'll get to more games this year, but right now it is a lot of phone, internet and TV work. As far as the balancing thing goes, my hours are at night and the wife's are during the day (from home), so there is quite a bit of handing off in terms of the three little ones. Free time isn't really in abundance these days, but we're enjoying it nonetheless.TMM: I can't let you off the Generic Cream Soda Hot Seat without answering this mystery. What happened to Julia Morrill, your mid-major predecessor at SI, my former adversary? Seriously though, she was a great writer, a fantastic conversationalist, and, I hope you don't mind me saying it, prettier than you. I saw her byline on a few Final Four stories, but since then, nothing. Is she still there?BT:
Julia is a 'Writer-Reporter' for the magazine and works out of New York. I'm a producer for the website working out of Atlanta, so I must admit never to meeting Julia in person. I communicated with her during the tournament last year, but we haven't crossed paths since. She is still with SI, and if/when we do cross, I'll tell her she has a not-so-secret admirer at Midmajority.com.TMM: Yeah, I think she knows. Lastly, I just want to thank you for submitting to this madness, and for helping fight the common misconception that representatives from two different gigantoid media conglomerates are out for each other's blood. Because the way my karma's been acting lately, I'll probably be reporting to you someday. If we run into each other on the road this season, will you let me buy you a beverage? A sandwich?BT:
You can buy me anything you want. And I'll return the favor at whatever mid-major tourney I get to cover at the end of the year. I'm not really out to get anybody. As you know, there's plenty of hoops to go around. Adios, my friend.And farewell to you, new mid-major friend! Happy holidays, everyone. Go hug your enemy.