November 30, 2011

Final Thoughts on the End of an Era

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Those who pay close attention to the sports section have no doubt noticed that my beautiful mug has been absent from the back page this semester. While I have maintained my weekly appearances on sports burning question and football picks — the latter has certainly been forgettable to the tune of a seventh place finish — Off the Wall has fallen by the wayside as my tenure as sports editor comes to a conclusion.

This column served as a forum for me to discuss anything from the rise and fall of Tiger Woods and Roger Clemens to attending my first polo game with the obligatory Mets piece mixed in here and there. Needless to say, there is a lot to catch up on after a semester free of my ramblings. In no particular order, Off the Wall presents a quick rundown of the column topics that never made it to the back page this fall.

Cornell Football

I arrived on East Hill under the impression that the football program was nothing to get excited about, and witnessing consecutive 2-8 seasons did little to change that. After attending the Homecoming game in each of those years — one as a student and one as a journalist — I was convinced that the Red would remain in the Ivy League cellar for the foreseeable future.

Admittedly, I was not overrun with excitement when I entered the Schoellkopf press box on Sept. 17 for this year’s Homecoming game against Bucknell. That changed quickly when sophomore quarterback Jeff Mathews arrived under center on that sun-drenched Saturday afternoon. The defending Ivy League Rookie of the Year completed 15 passes for 332 yards, but none stuck out more than an 87-yard bomb down the visitor’s sideline to junior wide receiver Kurt Ondash.

If head coach Kent Austin had the audacity to let Mathews loose on third-and-6 on his own 13-yard line, up by four points with 1:24, then what wouldn’t he allow his quarterback to do? As a football fan, the prospect of watching Mathews and this dynamic offense dissect defenses week in and week out was too good to pass up. Suddenly I found myself waking up before noon on Saturdays, excited by the prospect of attending home games and even willing to take a drive anywhere just so I could listen to road games on the radio.

Watching Mathews throw for 521 yards in Cornell’s 62-41 win over Columbia was the ultimate sign that the program is on track to compete for a league title in the very near future. Watching Mathews break the Ivy record for passing yards a week later against defending champion Penn signaled that 2012 could be that year.

An Inherent Conflict of Interest

One of the greatest difficulties for any student journalist is covering teams that he supports and players that he calls classmates. Being a fan and a journalist are inherently at odds with each other, and separating the two is exceedingly difficult. How can a person stand in Section B screaming “sieve” on Friday, and then sit on his hands in the press box the next night? I have been doing just that for the better part of the last two years, and have yet to come up with a justifiable answer. Perhaps there is no answer.

Ultimately, it is up to each journalist to draw his own line in the sand. For me, there is a fine line between fact and opinion, and a writer loses all credibility when the two become indistinguishable. While these challenges are certainly not limited to college newspapers — editorial all too often bleeds into hard news in many national publications — there is certainly a heightened expectation for favorable coverage, specifically in sports, on college campuses. More often than not, placing a feel-good spin on a story is more appreciated than an honest account. As an editor, I frequently see this warped view of journalism impact the way writers narrate their articles. Understandably, young journalists attempt to satisfy this expectation for cheerleading out of fear that their writing will not be well received.

A Word About Coverage

Providing coverage for all 36 of Cornell’s varsity programs is arguably the sports editor’s greatest challenge. Almost all complaints lodged with the department are of this nature.

The term “coverage” inspires little in the way of creativity. As such, my primary goal when entering the position was to go beyond just covering 36 teams, by increasing the frequency of human-interest pieces and team-oriented features. This initiative was met with skepticism and in some cases anger by many in the athletics community, who believed that the section failed to adequately cover their particular sport. As part of an independent publication, the sports section must put the interests of its readers above those of the teams it covers. Many in Cornell Athletics — specifically Athletic Director Andy Noel and the communications department — understand The Sun’s role on campus, and they should be commended for setting a great example. Hopefully others will soon follow.

Original Author: Evan Rich