Sunday, March 22, 2009

Online, On Point

In the midst of NCAA tournament coverage, it's natural that football talk takes a back seat.

And when I came across
an article by Binghamton University alum (by way of Harpur College) Tony Kornheiser singing the praises of his school, I took it for what it was worth: a college basketball column. If course, it took one quote from a columnist at the Washington Post to grab my attention:

"I’m a sports writer of longstanding and the first time I ever went to a college football game that I didn’t cover, my son went to Penn and I was 56 years old. There are fine athletic schools that make their reputation on basketball, all those Catholic schools in the Big East, Georgetown has been able to do without a football team."

"Without a football team"? You didn't really say that Tony, did you? Don't you read your own paper?


OK, so maybe Tony hasn't spent many Saturdays climbing into a press box at the, make that any. But it does speak to an ongoing challenge for Georgetown in the midst of its worst decade (by wins and losses) in the program's 120+ year history--how do you get the word out about a program who a lot of people apparently never hear of, or don't hear anything good about?

Georgetown's challenge is to balance publicity versus promotion for its sports--publicity is free, of course, promotion costs money. And to further complicate matters, publicity is a lot different than it was a generation ago, when the only audience was a collection of beat writers whose names were enscribed inside the pocket-sized media guides that schools prepared before every season. Thanks to the Internet, everyone's the audience.

Until further notice, one has to assume "promotion" is largely limited to revenue producing sports, of which there is one - men's basketball. But publicity is the opportunity to leverage the tools at its disposal to not only publicize Georgetown football, but make a case for it. If the Kelly staff drops another one or two-win season at the feet of the Patriot League, Georgetown doesn't need to hear the grumbling of unconnected alumni asking "why are we even doing this?"

What the specifics are, I'm not sure: I'll leave that to the Gridiron Club, but here are some initial thoughts.

Let's start with a mission statement. Mission statements are, by their very nature, expansive and not terribly specific. Take a look at this mission statement:

"We aspire to be an employer of choice, providing a rewarding and team-oriented environment where a diverse group of professionals with integrity and vision work continuously to enhance our position as a formidable competitor and global market leader. In responding to a diverse marketplace, we are committed to our customer base, products, suppliers, communities, and employees to create a multicultural and diverse organization."

Sounds great, right? That's the mission statement of AIG Corp.

OK, then, the mission statement at a Division III college:

"The football program at [the college] will be a part of the educational process for the student-athletes participating in the program. In addition to learning the skills of playing football on the college level, our players will be taught the values associated with being a good citizen, a good student, and a good teammate. These values will assist our players in their lives and careers beyond their undergraduate years at the college. We want out players to be involved with the college in activities other than football."

Georgetown has clear goals for its program--let's get them out there: not just for the uninformed, but for the supporters, the benefactors, the parents, and the students themselves. Everyone works better when they all know where a program is heading, what it expects, and what it aspires to.

More than words, however, the Internet allows opportunities unforeseen in recent years to extend the message of a program beyond the campus and its borders. Yes, the Internet has brought game recaps, box scores, and even audio and video (if you know where to find it) to the community beyond the gates. There's even more around the corner.

A brief look on the alumni pages of the University notes some new icons with some unfamiliar names: Webcasts, Fora.TV, iTunes U. These Web 2.0 technologies have the potential to revolutionize how the Georgetown message is distributed to individuals and groups which may never see the campus, much less learn from their professors and speakers. Maybe coaches, too.

To date, these embyonic programs have focused on weighty, serious topics. "This is a wonderful opportunity to extend Georgetown’s mission by bringing university content to a global audience and fostering global discussions and understanding on some of the most important issues of our time,” said University spokesperson Julie Bataille on the debut of iTunes U.

Good people can agree to disagree, but if iTunes U is nothing more than a home for discussions on the gravitas of foreign affairs, it will never meet its potential.

And this is where Athletics needs to play a role.

The Georgetown story is not just about realpolitik, it's about the leadership of its students and alumni. The football program has numerous stories from its ranks that would be well suited for a podcast or video presentation.

  • I want people to hear about David Fajgenbaum and his efforts to build a nationwide support network for families who have lost parents to cancer.
  • I want them to hear about Janne Kouri's battle with paralysis and how he is helping others succeed through his efforts.
  • I want everyone to hear about the lessons learned by Gen. George Casey on a football field 40 years ago that helped him in a distinguished military career.
Bernard Muir is fond to say that Athletics at Georgetown has a story to tell, and what better way in this age to bring the stories of Georgetown Athletics to an untold audience of people with a pocast or video series? Football can be a pacesetter in utilizing web technology to not only make a case for itself, but highlight the unique opportunities that playing football provides within a Georgetown education.

Can it help with recruiting and fundraising? Yes. Can it do more than that? Absolutely.

And yet, there needs to be structure. Podcasts for podcasts sake are lost in the mix of the online universe. A strategic direction for utilizing these technologies as part of the overall athletics experience is vital, and now is the time for football to take a leadership role. The more I learn about this program, the more I know how important it is in providing academic and athletic leaders within the Georgetown University community, and for the communities outside the gates as a whole.

Let's get a plan together and tell the story.