By Ryan Decker
Last season I had the good fortune of covering the West Virginia University football team. Each week the Mountaineers took the field I wrote a recap article for West Virginia Illustrated, an online publication based in Morgantown.
When WVU played at home inside Milan Puskar Stadium, I had a front row seat on the third level of the press box.
For away games, I sat in my apartment with my laptop on the table in front of me. I would use the best stats page on the Internet I could find for that week’s game, and do my best to split the screen into thirds – one part stats, one part word document that at game’s end would become my story, and one part Twitter to live tweet the game.
And, of course, I’d be watching the game on the TV in front of me.
Although seeing the game live and in person from the press box is much different (and better) than just watching it on TV, both have their merits.
The press box at Mountaineer Field is home to a few of my five reasons I love covering WVU football games.
1. Different view from the student section
Sitting – well, standing actually, WVU students don’t sit at football games – in the student section on Saturdays surrounded by thousands of your fellow friends and classmates is exciting. Milan Puskar Stadium has a great atmosphere, especially during night games.
But sitting on the opposite side of the field surrounded by professional media members has a way different feel and view to it.
For one, there’s no cheering in the press box. If you celebrate a big play or a touchdown with any volume other than a whisper you will get looked at.
You also begin to look at the team from a different perspective. You view the players and coaches not from a fan’s perspective, but from a media member’s. That’s not to say you lose your fandom; if you’re like me you still root for the Mountaineers (silently) during the game.
Not only during the games do you get a different look, but afterwards as well.
Few students can say they have been inside the Mountaineers new team room for a Dana Holgorsen post-game press conference and the subsequent post-game player interviews to follow.
2. The food!
One thing that any college student learns quickly is that if someone offers you a chance for free food, you take it. This isn’t my way of saying, “I’m only in it for the food,” but if delicious macaroni and cheese and cookies sound good to you, then I suggest finding out a way to get into the press box on game days.
After being at different sporting events both at WVU and other places, I have to say that the media members during Mountaineer football games are definitely taken care of very well. The food is fresh, and the best part is they never ran out.
3. Covering NFL talent
When safety Karl Joseph was taken as the No. 14 overall pick in the NFL draft earlier this year it hit me that I had covered and interviewed a player that was going to be suiting up for an NFL team on Sundays.
Then, over the next two days, four more players heard their names called.
Obviously the feeling that I had was far less surreal than the feelings the players had when they picked up the phone and an NFL team was on the other line, but it’s still an amazing experience to say I covered eight players that will be playing for NFL teams this fall.
And with two more years left, that number will certainly rise.
4. Becoming a familiar face
The great thing about being a journalism student at WVU is that you do a lot of learning outside of the classroom. The more athletic events you go to, the more you learn.
At the same time, the more sports you go to and cover – football, basketball, baseball, soccer, etc. – the more familiar your face becomes. And this is a two-fold positive outcome.
One: Your face becomes more familiar to other media members. You begin to create a rapport with other people covering the Mountaineers. At the end of the day, that is the end game you’re shooting for – having a job lined up when you graduate.
Two: You become more noticeable with the athletic department and Sports Information Directors (SIDs). SIDs are your lifeline in collegiate athletics. If you want information on a team, or want to do an interview with a D-1 player, they are the people you have to go through. The more familiar the SIDs become with you, the more they will take you seriously as a journalist and a reporter, and (likely) will be more willing to help you out.
That’s no way of me saying the people in the athletic department aren’t helpful anyways; they certainly are.
It’s all about making a name for yourself.
5. The experience
Nothing I have mentioned thus far is more important that the experience you get actually covering the games. OK, maybe the food is a close second, but experience is still key.
Experience is everything in journalism.
The more you write, the better writer you become; you find your style of writing. The more you talk on the air, the better you sound; you find your pacing and your voice. The more games you cover and watch, the better your knowledge of that team and sport is; knowledge you can recall back on later that season or later in left.
In turn, experience is a major selling point to a prospective boss a few years down the road.
I learned Thursday evening that this will be my second season covering the Mountaineers for WVi. Like I am anytime I take on an assignment, I’m excited and ready to get to work.
Let’s Go Mountaineers!