One Great Season is marking its one-year anniversary this week with interviews of several sports media personalities. Today's subject is Sports Illustrated college football writer Stewart Mandel. Feel free to suggest future interview subjects by clicking here.
By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
One Great Season: Which conference's Media Days will you be covering?
Stewart Mandel: The Big Ten, and then the PAC 10 tour event here in New York. In general over the past few years, the conference media days have become less and less useful. They used to be a great opportunity to get some quality time with coaches and players for your preview stories. But the SEC, for example, has become such a circus nowadays. More people are covering it as an event unto itself. I used to go to ACC media days at a country club, and the public didn't even know it was going on. Now, people are live-blogging from every conference's media days. For (national writers) working on trend pieces or features, you can't get anything exclusive so it's not even worth it to go anymore.
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OGS: Can you share a memorable story or two from previous media days?
SM: My favorite one would be when I was in college (at Northwestern) during Big Ten Basketball Media Days. Bob Knight was still at Indiana and he was going off on a sarcastic, 10-minute monologue about how important the NCAA's new rule was that required players to keep their jerseys tucked in. It was kind of a waste time, but at least it was funny.
OGS: What was the most memorable performance you witnessed in a college football game last season?
SM: The most impressive team performance was Oregon destroying a USC defense the way they did last year. Jeremiah Masoli was the guy in that game.
OGS: Anything else?
SM: Another memorable moment was at the beginning of the season, that first game between Boise State and Oregon. It was an ugly game, one of those rare few where you don't really know what you're going to write about.
So with a couple minutes left, we're all leaving the press box to head down to the field, and at one point we heard this big commotion. So we pop our heads into one of these fans' luxury boxes to look at the TV. Good thing we did, because that's when we saw LeGarrette Blount and that whole fight happening. It took until then for us to have something to write about.
OGS: College football is certainly its own type of animal compared to any other sport. What about it gets you so excited this time of year, knowing a new season is right around the corner?
SM: It's such a part of our fall ritual. I just get excited thinking about Saturdays in the fall. It's the most unpredictable in sports.
Next year, they'll play 82 games knowing it's probably going to be the Heat against the Lakers in the NBA Finals. But in college football, we read all these preaseason magazines and we think we know what's going to happen. But then, for example, Sam Bradford gets hurt in the first game and Oklahoma's season changes dramatically, and so does the entire college football season.
OGS: If there's one drawback to your otherwise great job, it's that you can't wake up and watch College GameDay and then meet up with your buddies to drink a few beers and watch football all day. When was the last time you had a Saturday like that in the fall?
SM: Well, I don't travel every week, so there are one or two Saturdays during the season where I can meet up with my friends and watch Northwestern. I can't get into it that much though because I'm keeping my eye on the other games as well. It's not a total cut-loose scenario because I still have to find something to write about.
The closest thing I've had to a true fan experience recently was when I took some time off during March Madness 2009. I went to Las Vegas with some friends and we had a lot of fun. It was great.
OGS: What game are you most looking forward to seeing this year?
SM: We don't know what games we'll cover yet, but Texas-Nebraska should be a great game. With the expansion and the way the Big 12 championship game ended last year, there's some bad blood there now. But from a purely football standpoint, I'd say Florida-Alabama might be the game everybody's waiting to see.
OGS: How about in September?
SM: I'm looking forward to a couple: Penn State-Alabama and Miami-Ohio State. I don't know which one of those I'll cover, but the week before, I'll be at Boise State- Virginia Tech, and I can't wait for that one. If Boise wins and goes undefeated the rest of the way, I know my mailbag is going to be flooded every week with people writing in saying they don't deserve to play for the national championship.
At first, Boise was the lovable underdog, but now, there's some pretty serious backlash.
OGS: It was kind of a crazy offseason. And although the expansion wave didn't hit as hard as some thought it would, the changes were still significant. At what point did you realize some big things were going to happen?
SM: When Teddy Greenstein reported that the Big 10 had expedited its timetable for expansion and that they were looking at more than 12 teams. Then, that whole two-week period that followed -- the Chip Brown period, if you will -- things really blew up. I usually take June off, and I told my editors to put me down for two weeks (vacation), but I ended up working those two weeks anyway.
OGS: You're a pretty heavy Twitter user. How has social media changed the way you do your job? And what non-traditional sites do you try to look at once in a while?
SM: Twitter has changed things completely. I almost feel at times I'm writing for two different outlets. I'm tweeting all day every day and I'm writing columns. It's also probably the No. 1 place where I find breaking news. Anytime anything happens, you find out about it on Twitter. And it's changed the way fans follow the sport, hopefully for the better.
On the Web, if you make a mistake, you can re-publish the article and it goes away. But on Twitter, it's out there. You have to be careful. So far so good for me, but some of my reporter friends have been hurt. Twitter is so much about the one-liners and sarcastic remarks, but you have to be careful. In the press box, writers talk pretty candidly to each other. I live in fear that I'll make an off-handed remark to somebody and there will be a kid from the student paper behind me who takes offense to it. And the next thing you know, he puts it out there on Twitter.
As far as blogs go, I definitely look at Dr. Saturday. He does a great job analyzing things and being on top of the news. The Wiz of Odds is a great aggregator with his Reporters' Notebooks. There are various team sites that I'm not on every day, but if there's something going on with, say, Rich Rodriguez, then I'll definitely look at mgoblog.
OGS: How do you decide between sending out something quick on Twitter or saving it for your next longer-form piece, maybe developing it some?
SM: Twitter is more to react to the various little things that might go out on a given day. In 140 characters, you're not going to be able to say too much. When there's actual, real big events happening, that's when you go to your computer and write a full-on analysis/reaction column that people are expecting from you. At the end of the day, I'm not getting paid by Twitter; I'm getting paid by Sports Illustrated.
OGS: Though the national championship game is always quite a spectacle, are you sad when the dust settles a few days later that your beat kind of goes dark for a while?
SM: No. I don't mean to sound spoiled, but at that point, you're ready to be done. It's a long haul. And this year was rough, because, if you recall, after the National Championship game, the report came out the very next day that Pete Carroll was leaving for Seattle, which set in motion the chain events involving Lane Kiffin, and then Derek Dooley, so the season didn't really end right away.
Obviously, you miss college football, but from a job standpoint, you're in the throes in October and November and things are piling up and it feels like it's never going to end, so it is a relief when it finally does.
OGS: What's your favorite stadium to cover a game from?
SM: LSU is one of them for sure, and Oregon is definitely one of them.
OGS: What are the best college towns in terms of the local cuisine?
SM: That would be Austin, Texas, for the Tex-Mex. There are a bunch of different places, but I definitely look forward to that. Though I definitely look forward to Baton Rouge for some Creole and jambalaya.
OGS: Who's the funniest writer on the college football beat?
SM: Everybody's pretty fun. In the press box, I think Pat Forde is hilarious, but the funniest guy covering college football honestly is Dan Rubenstein. It's a good crew. There's basically a small contingent that includes Dennis Dodd, Bruce Feldman, Pete Thamel, Ivan Maisel and Gary Parrish. Dan Wetzel will show up occasionally. Wetzel is hilarious.
Thursday's Q&A: Sports blogger Susan Shan