Wednesday, October 13, 2010

For Hofstra, adding the Islanders is about lessening the subtraction of football

The Islanders' partnership with WRHU is a MUCH better idea than this logo.

Another one of those “only at Hofstra” moments took place last Friday, when Hofstra and the New York Islanders announced WRHU has become the flagship radio station of the Islanders. So now the biggest piece of bait the Hofstra school of communications can offer potential broadcasters is the chance to cover a sport that the school does not play.

Incongruity aside, this is a great, great coup for Hofstra and WRHU, which will air half the Islanders’ games on 88.7 (the other half will air on the Islanders’ website). WRHU will provide a better signal than the Islanders’ last two radio homes, the AM station WBBR and the FM station WMJC, as well as a more natural fit for sports programming than WMJC, which is better known as Long Island’s ‘80s station.

In addition, not only will WRHU provide the audio and technical support, its broadcasters will also serve as color commentators along side Islanders play-by-play vet Chris King as well as sideline reporters and intermission hosts.

It is, to borrow a cliché from another sport because I’m only mostly sure that the objective in hockey is to put the puck in the net, a slam dunk for Hofstra. And yet as much as this is a matter of the Islanders avoiding the embarrassment of opening the season without a radio home, I wonder if this is also a face-saving measure for Hofstra as it continues to make amends for the short-sighted decision to kill football.

Sound crazy? Well, my fellow students found this hard to believe in the mid-1990s, so I can only imagine what today’s students will think if they read this, but one of the biggest reasons I went to Hofstra was for the football team. And I know I wasn’t alone, then or now.

For budding sportswriters and broadcasters who are optimistic/crazy enough to want to pursue a career in the field, there are two major, resume-boosting beats to cover as collegians: Division I football and Division I men’s basketball. A student doesn’t have to cover football or basketball to learn and develop the narrative of the beat writer, how to build contacts and relationships and how to establish himself as the source for news and information about the team.

But football and basketball are the glamour beats—the ones that jump out at potential employers as well as the ones with the biggest audiences, the biggest personalities and the biggest challenges. I regret not writing this sooner, but I can tell you my experience covering Joe Gardi in 1994-95 prepared me for the task of covering professional athletes and coaches—impatient, suspicious men from whom trust was difficult to earn and who searched obsessively for any slight, real or imagined, that they could use for motivational purposes.

My favorite Gardi story is the time he told me during an interview that nobody at Hofstra wanted the program to succeed because the football offices weren’t in the PFC complex with the rest of the teams and administrators. I was too shocked to say the obvious: That the football team was housed in Margiotta Hall precisely BECAUSE the school’s decision-makers wanted to bolster it and turn it into a champion.

But Gardi couldn’t shut off the “us against the world” mechanism that turned his program into a national power—a nice preparation for listening to the Boston Red Sox declare that everyone was waiting for them to fail in 2007, a season in which the Sox spent the final 166 days of the regular season in first place before winning the World Series.

So while communications students past and present didn’t take nearly the hit that current and former football players took when football was executed, it was still quite a blow. The Class of 2010 alone has three former football play-by-play men who landed jobs in sports broadcasting (Mike Leslie, Jonathan Lauder and Stephen Florival). This is not a fluke: Dozens of former football play-by-play men from WRHU are employed in sports broadcasting, including Defiantly Dutch Era broadcaster John Discepolo, who is now a sports anchor in Seattle after working at Fox 5 and WCBS2.

The lack of football isn’t going to guarantee unemployment for future School of Communication graduates. But it diminishes the scope and quality of their education outside of the classroom.

According to this link, there are 95 colleges offering a school of communication. Seventy-eight of them play football, and all but three of those schools field Division I or I-AA programs. Among the schools that offer both a communications school and a Division I football team are Syracuse, Missouri, Northwestern and Columbia—the very best communications schools America has to offer and the types of universities with whom Hofstra wants to be mentioned in the same breath.

For a school preaching that football was sacrificed so that Hofstra could “…invest in academic initiatives,” the truth is the decision harmed a sizable segment of the student body. So what better way to bandage that wound than by teaming up with the Islanders and turning Hofstra into the only school in the country offering its broadcasters-in-training the opportunity to cover a professional sports team? It’s a nice move, and the least the school can do for the communications students who didn’t get any return from the investment of last Dec. 3.

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