Press Conferences, Motorcycles and the Fast Pace of News

If there’s one aspect of social media that most amazes me, it’s how people, concepts and events that flew under the radar (or didn’t even exist) two weeks before become everyone’s obsession.

In this moment, I can’t think of a better example than University of Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long.

Last Thursday, Long announced he was placing Razorback football coach Bobby Petrino on paid administrative leave while he conducted an investigation into Petrino’s April 1 motorcycle crash and alleged inappropriate relationship with a football staffer he hired.

The results of that investigation were released Tuesday night, when Long stepped to the podium and announced Petrino’s firing. (If you haven’t already seen it, watch this PR case study-in-the-making.)

Tweets swarmed in with praise for Long’s handling of the situation. Eventually, some writers cautioned against a lovefest, saying Long probably realized he had no choice but to fire Petrino after making one call to the school’s legal counsel. (In his Tuesday night column, Andy Staples does a good job of describing some of the negative repercussions Arkansas avoided with its decision to fire Petrino.) Those people are probably right. Simply firing Bobby Petrino doesn’t make Jeff Long a good example of how to conduct media relations. It’s the way he delivered his message.

I won’t spend paragraphs dissecting it, but Long addressed all the questions that boiled up on Twitter in the time (around an hour) between Joe Schad’s first tweet about the firing and the moment Long walked onstage. What exactly were the grounds for his termination with cause? He hired his mistress for a position on the football staff, for which there were 158 other applicants. Had Long made Petrino an offer to stay that he had turned down? No, Long said; no such offer had been made.

The heart of his statement: “No single individual is bigger than the team.”

With those eight words (and the shedding of a few believable and genuine tears that conveyed the full emotional impact of this ordeal on Long and the entire school), Long cemented his position as a go-to YouTube search in public relations classes for years to come. “A stand-up guy just stood up,” tweeted George Schroeder, who knows him personally.

We’re used to social media creating headlines: athlete tweets offensive comment, boosters flood a recruit’s Facebook inbox, etc. What I forget is how quickly it facilitates the development of and conversation around stories that have nothing to do with social media gaffes. Before Jeff Long took the stage last Thursday, a reporter twitpic’d the release distributed to media. On Tuesday, Joe Schad’s tweet had everyone buzzing about Petrino’s firing before Long confirmed it. Discussion continued throughout the weekend as details surfaced and people spouted opinions as to the appropriate future for Petrino in Fayetteville.

When he hopped on the motorcycle, Bobby Petrino didn’t have the slightest clue his personal and professional worlds were about to unravel. When he woke up Thursday morning, Jeff Long didn’t have the slightest clue his night would end at a podium announcing Petrino’s administrative leave. When I opened TweetDeck at 4 p.m. Tuesday, I didn’t have the slightest clue I’d be glued to a press conference 90 minutes later. I’ll leave the discussion of Arkansas’ (and Petrino’s) future to people actually paid to think about it. All I can think about is how the words I write tomorrow won’t make any sense if I read them right now.

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Delayed Reaction: Rose Bowl

Yes, I know the Rose Bowl game was practically a week ago. But after a couple days in the car and a couple more organizing my life before winter term begins, this is all I could muster for a recap of my wonderful four-day SoCal stint.

I drove down with two great friends – Lauren and Lindsay – and we made a pit stop in San Francisco to ring in 2012.

Yep, we're those people who hold our arms out to take pictures of ourselves. Please note the cable car in the background - we were DEFINITELY in San Francisco.

We spent our New Year’s Day on I-5, and I feel pretty good about my year knowing that the first lunch I ate in 2012 was an In-N-Out Burger.

Because an Oregonian can't come here and not take a picture of her meal.

It was an incredibly smooth journey that carried us all the way to the Hilton at LAX, the Ducks’ team hotel. There were designated ticket pick-up hours, and a line was already forming when we arrived. As we waited, my usual bout of ticket anxiety kicked in. Did I really get one? Yes, I’ve been receiving the Azumano Travel emails. But did I remember to buy a second one? Yes, I distinctly remember listing my dad as Lauren’s emergency contact so I could submit the form as quickly as possible. Do I have my student ID card? It never hurts to look again. Yes, it’s there.

This always happens to me at Autzen. The student ticket distribution system is so touchy that, even with guaranteed student season tickets, I’d get nervous every time I neared the turnstiles.

But my fears were unfounded, and two gorgeous tickets waited for me in a crisp envelope.

The coolest sporting event ticket I've ever possessed, even if it is a rip-off of the Obama "HOPE" design.

We went from the Hilton back up to Santa Clarita, where we’d be staying with the family of an old housemate (who has since married and moved permanently to Eugene). I’d met Jeff and Anne a couple times before, but we didn’t know them all that well and they were incredibly kind and gracious to us.

Monday came: Gameday. We navigated public transportation to Pasadena, which was surprisingly easy. As we exited the Metrolink train we rode from Santa Clarita to downtown LA, the train operator issued the usual warning to remember your personal belongings but added, “and no offense to anyone, but go Oregon.” We cheered.

There’s really nothing I can say about the game that hasn’t already been said. All I have to add is how excited I am to know that I was there. Even in the excitement of the moment, we acknowledged that this was a game for the ages. When DAT’s 91-yard run is played on the Autzen jumbotron years from now, I can tell my kids, “I was there! I saw that!” That fumble recovery? I was there! Heck, I bet I’ll even drop that line with regards to Montee Ball (who, despite Wisconsin’s loss, is a beast).

If there was any way to experience your final Oregon football game as an actual Oregon student, this was it. BCS redemption. California sunshine. History made on a number of fronts. Geez, it’s fun to be a Duck.

The view of the field from our end zone seats (unfortunately, we didn't have the luxury of depth perception).

The classic Rose Bowl trip photo.

My Converse stand among a post-win sea of confetti and pom-poms.

What a wonderful day.

Just for kicks, a few other fun trip anecdotes:

  • We left early Saturday morning, and it was pretty darn cold. So cold, we couldn’t get the doors of Lauren’s Ford Escape to open. We poured water over the openings and yanked on the trunk door. Then we realized the doors were locked.
  • The concierge at our hotel in San Francisco warned us to layer up before we headed into the city for NYE. “Everyone says it’s freezing,” she said. Knowing that San Francisco can be chilly, we ran back to fetch our coats. Then proceeded to peel off layer after layer as we walked through town – apparently that city is warmer in December than June.
  • Before we left, I called LA’s MTA and mapped out a pretty legit route to the stadium. Jeff, one of our hosts, told us about the faster Metrolink train we could take downtown, but none of us thought about the return trip. When we arrived downtown after the game, we learned that the day’s service to Santa Clarita had ended…meaning we were stranded. Jeff and Anne get a gold star in heaven for driving to North Hollywood and picking up our helpless trio.
  • The hardest part of being a college football fan is enduring the endless Chick-fil-A ads, after it was mercilessly removed from Oregon several years ago. (I love Chick-fil-A, but Lindsay, whose family hails from Georgia, is an even bigger fan.) Thankfully they still exist in LA, so we were able to get our fix.
  • We stayed in Redding on the way home, and as we walked out of the hotel, a CHP officer was walking in. Noticing our Oregon attire, the first thing out of his mouth: “Have fun in Pasadena?” Even the fruit inspection people at the California border asked us if we were headed for the game.

Oh, one final thought. If you’re looking for a classy but not-too-expensive place to dine in LA, head for Bottega Louie. My roommate at the UO is from the area, and she and her mom treated us to a fabulous lunch on Tuesday, complete with mini desserts. Aside from major family meals like Thanksgiving and Christmas, I don’t know the last time I’ve seen so much quality food on one table.

Pastas and pizza galore, fried calamari, caprese, asparagus, some sort of delicious beet dish. Food coma.

CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY TART.

Coffee, of course. And the most beautiful take-out boxes known to mankind.

I have a bunch of other pictures – most notably, of Bottega Louie’s insane macaroon trees – but you get the idea. Amazing restaurant, great company. (And drinking iced coffee in January.) One of the greatest afternoons on record.

A dark, rainy winter is ahead, but I feel lucky to have had four days in the sun with my friends and my Ducks.

Last real home game as a student. Pass the tissues.

As a born-and-raised Oregonian, the Civil War football game has played an important role in my life. My dad is an OSU grad, and he took my sister and me to a few Civil War games growing up. Most were at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, but he took us to one at Autzen (2003, I believe) – the picture of Hope and me decked out in OSU gear with Autzen in the background is ironically hilarious now that I’m a UO fanatic.

Anyway, the Civil War is always a special game, especially when you’ve grown up in the state and have bragging rights on the line.

Today also marked my last official game as a UO student – the Pac-12 championship game, which I will attend, doesn’t really count in my mind – and it’s causing me to freak out a little.

Honestly, going to football games and following the team has been my favorite part of college. The memories created inside Autzen – falling in love with college football when GameDay came in ’09; storming the field after securing a Rose Bowl bid in the 2009 Civil War; going crazy during last year’s Stanford contest; yelling, “It never rains in Autzen Stadium” before every game; clapping along with the fight song – will stay with me forever.

When college begins, you never really think it will end. Up until now, life and education have come in manageable four-year chunks. Now, it’s off into the great unknown. (“Fears for the future” could be a post in and of itself, but you get the idea.) Who knows if I’ll be at all the games next fall? Who knows if I’ll even make it to one? Will I ever watch games from the same angle again? (Literally; I can’t imagine looking at Autzen from a different perspective after sitting in the student section for four years.)

Of course, I know I should be happy that the biggest problem facing me at the moment is how I’ll handle myself without a student ticket to Duck games. But it’s a strange feeling, knowing that I’ll never have quite the same relationship with the Oregon football team.

All nervousness aside, it was a beeea-u-tiful day in Eugene and the Civil War was a blast. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking:

My roommates Shannon, Katy and me on the walk into the stadium. (Yeah, this is Instagram'd. Judge me.)

This isn't a great angle, but the UO and OSU marching bands played the national anthem together. The UO band formed an "O" and the OSU formed an "OS," like their logo.

Celebrating a Duck victory with friends. Won the day.

Weekly Recap: Kirk & the Quake, Social Media in Pro Sports & Baseball Withdrawals

Happy Sunday night from the library!

Between bouts of studiousness, I decided to recap my favorite readings from the week – lots of good stuff in the baseball, social media and college football worlds.

As great as this weekend was in college football (or not great, depending on how you look at it – the guys at The Solid Verbal aptly termed the ‘Bama-LSU showdown the “Lame of the Century”), I have to admit that I miss baseball. Desperately. There is something about it that’s more constant than football.

Sure, no one’s going to sit on the couch and watch baseball games for a whole Saturday, and unfortunately the season isn’t filled with World Series Game 6-style contests. Football provides an exciting burst every weekend for a few months, but it’s nothing like the steadiness of baseball that can occupy your thoughts from March to October.

My grandpa frequently tips me off to interesting articles, including this NPR story by Glenn Stout that touches on those baseball-withdrawal emotions. It will resonate with baseball fans. Take heart, he reminds us: it’ll be back soon enough.

Speaking of baseball, I was lucky to stumble upon a blog series hosted by the Social Media Club. During the first week of every month, they feature posts on a specialized topic, and November was focused on social media use in professional sports.

Wednesday’s post looked into the Cleveland Indians’ social media efforts, specifically their hugely successful Tribe Social Deck promotion, which launched in 2010 (now named the Indians Social Suite). Rob Campbell, former digital media coordinator for the team (talk about a dream job title), detailed how social media impacted the team. Some eye-popping stats:

  • In a sentiment analysis conducted prior to the implementation of their social strategy, they found that online sentiment about the team was 50% positive, 10% negative and 40% neutral. Two years later, an analysis measured a near 80% positive rating.
  • By using a unique approach to social media-based promotions, the team increased its social media revenue by over 125% this year. They offered their Twitter followers and Facebook fans a ticket discount, but offered them a greater discount if they shared it with friends.

I also learned a lot from Kevin Saghy, a public relations and marketing specialist for the Chicago Cubs. His post looked at how the Cubs enhance the fan experience by expanding online relationships; for example, if someone tweeted that they were at their first Cubs game, someone from their PR team would ask for their seat location and bring them a small gift. How cool is that?! It’s awesome, but he stressed the importance of meeting fan expectations before trying to exceed them – something that can be easily forgotten when you’re rushing to make a big impression.

And now for one frivolous item:

I hate to make fun of this face, because I'd freak out if an earthquake happened while I was on live TV. But Herbstreit's earthquake eyes make me laugh.

A few weeks back, after attending College GameDay in Eugene, my roommate Miranda developed a crush on Kirk Herbstreit. She didn’t express interest during the actual taping, but we had ESPN on the tube later that night and she revealed her affections. Our conversation:

Miranda: Who’s that guy on the far right?
Me: Kirk Herbstreit.
Miranda: Kirk Herbstreit?
Me: (jokingly, but knowing she wouldn’t ask for no reason) Yeah. Why, Miranda? Do you have a crush on him?
Miranda: A little bit! (A minute later, after Googling) Oh my gosh, he’s 42!

You can only imagine how adorable she found his reaction to last night’s earthquake in Stillwater, Oklahoma. “His eyes got so big!” she exclaimed. I know this video has made its way around the Twitters today, but I found it hilarious and had to include it anyway. (I’m so glad Yahoo!’s Graham Watson pointed out how long Fowler’s question was to begin with; the first time I watched it, I couldn’t believe how much he rambled. I wouldn’t have blamed Herbstreit for asking him to repeat it, even without the quake.)

If you’d like to divulge your television broadcaster crush (mine is Brian Williams) or share any interesting tidbits or articles you read this week, I’d love to hear!

Flowers, Football and a Wedding. Saturday.

Fall Saturdays make the greatest days.

Mine began at 8:30 a.m., when I took my pillow and blanket into the living room and posted up on the couch for the final 30 minutes of College GameDay.

On this particular Saturday, several friends were in town because an old housemate was getting married. By the time GameDay was over, our house was buzzing and coffee was brewing.

My roommate and I took an impromptu trip to the Eugene farmer’s market and swung by HomeGoods to pick up a wedding gift (even classier than buying the gift day-of: writing and signing the card in the car en route to the event).

Until we left for the wedding, I had one eye on football games and one on getting ready. It was held at the Mt. Pisgah Arboretum, just outside of Eugene. The wedding was perfect: short but meaningful ceremony, great dance playlist and Cafe Yumm! bowls for lunch. (If you’re not from Eugene, Corvallis or Portland, you don’t know what you’re missing. Yumm bowls are my kryptonite.)

If you’re a college football fan, I know what you’re thinking: Who gets married on a fall Saturday? Well, neither the bride nor the groom are huge football fans, and we made it back during the first quarter of Alabama-LSU. Not bad at all. By the time all the evening’s action was in full swing – there was frantic remote-control flipping between ‘Bama/LSU, OK State/K-State and Oregon/UW – we were out of our fancy wedding attire and back on the couch to take in the night games (including a Duck win over UW. Nice try, Chris Polk!).

Fun farmer’s market trip. Beautiful wedding. Solid Ducks victory.

Not a bad Saturday.

Just to humor myself, a few photos from the day (Yeah, I used Instagram. Judge me all you want.):

Unfortunately, I didn't bring any of these bouquets home, but they're a lot prettier than the beets and broccoli I bought.

Yumm bowls and beer. Can't go wrong. (For the uninitiated, Yumm bowls are made with brown rice, black beans, a to-die-for sauce called Yumm sauce, tomatoes, olives, cilantro and sour cream. There are other variations - for example, some people like guacamole or salsa with their bowls - but I've perfected my Yumm preferences.)

A few of the friends with whom I enjoyed the ceremony, Yumm bowls and dancing. From left: Lauren, Miranda, me and Brad.

The Big, Scary Thesis

As a freshman, the Honors College thesis was a semi-intimidating, rather mysterious project that we didn’t have to think about for three years.

Now as a senior, the Honors College thesis is a wildly intimidating, still mysterious project that IS DUE IN EIGHT MONTHS. So start researching.

Gratuitous Duck photo: backup QB Bryan Bennett, who shined vs. Arizona State after taking over for the injured Darron Thomas. Bennett does tweet though: @BryanBennett3.

Dramatic? A little. But still true. As a student in the UO’s Clark Honors College, one of my graduation requirements is to write an undergraduate thesis on some topic related to my major. Since I graduate this spring, I’m in the Thesis Prospectus class this term, which is designed to help us narrow our focus and start the research process.

I’m a public relations major who l-o-v-e-s social media and sports, so combining the two for my thesis seemed natural. That’s how I arrived at my topic: a look at the development of social media policies in college athletic departments and their implications for college athletes’ free-speech rights.

Even the casual fan can’t help but notice that social media is becoming an increasingly important factor in the sports world. Hardly a day goes by when ESPN doesn’t quote an athlete tweet instead of a prepared statement, and fans clamor for re-tweets and mentions from sports stars.

However, there’s bound to be trouble when you let college athletes (students aren’t always known for having the greatest judgment; for example, I’m writing this at 1 a.m. and ate a massive Voodoo doughnut an hour ago) freely use a social platform that allows them to say anything they want in under 140 characters.

More and more schools are implementing social media policies (or “responsible use guidelines”) for their athletes. But do athletes, even though they’re on scholarship and publicly represent the school, deserve to face such restrictions? A 4.0-student who receives a full academic scholarship and participates in, say, the debate team, can tweet anything he or she wants. Are athletes facing unfair treatment?

No, I’m not going to be standing on the street corner, crusading for athletes’ First Amendment rights. But the question fascinates me, especially as a greater number of schools place restrictions on athletes’ social media use.

My prospectus is still in its early stages, but tomorrow I present it for my class and make my first big leap into thesis-dom. It’s still early in the process, and I’m uncovering new research and new angles every step of the way.

How does the intersection of sports and social media interest you? If you have any thoughts or suggestions for my process, or any random thoughts at all, I’d love to hear them! (And in the off-chance that you’re a college sports reporter who’s covered social media-related topics…can I interview you?)

As scary as the thesis is, being an Honors College student is worth it, if only for this photo. When GameDay was in Eugene last week, their production crew used rooms in the Honors College building; as a "thank you" for letting them take over our space, they gave us set tours. This is me in Chris Fowler's usual spot.

GameDay Overtakes the Quad

Awesome = College GameDay setting up on the campus quad today.

Not awesome (from a school standpoint) = My inability to focus on anything besides Saturday.

A view of the GameDay set from the Knight Library. At this point, the "O" hanging from Lillis was only half-completed.

When I emerged from class an hour later, the “O” was finished.
A view from the other side of the set, where the fans will stand.
I have my doubts about how visible the “O” will be on TV Saturday, but it’s going to look awesome on campus for the next few days.