October 1, 2009

How Tweet it is in Division III

In recent seasons, there’s been a spike in Division III teams using offenses like the spread and defenses like the 4-2-5. But none of the changes on the field have evolved quite as quickly as the way we follow our teams when we’re off it.

Take, for example, Mount Union sports information director Lenny Reich using Twitter to post a link to a pre-prepared video interview of a Purple Raider athlete on YouTube. Or Hope coach Dean Kreps announcing in the Flying Dutchmen’s Facebook feed that 116 new photos from the Wheaton game have been uploaded.

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and even digital photography and video were but a gleam in the eye just a few seasons ago. Now, they’re all part of Division III athletic programs’ strategies to stay in touch with a fan base that can at times be spread far and wide geographically, as well as in stages of life.



“The decision to reach out to Facebook and Twitter was an easy one, as we know that virtually all of our current students and many prospective students are in both places,” Reich wrote in an interview conducted, appropriately, using Facebook. “Also, many alums are on there connecting with old family and friends, so it was a way to make information more accessible.”

But is the additional access helping bridge gaps in coverage of Division III sports, or further scattering the bits and pieces of information that are hard enough to find using traditional over-the-air and news organizations?

“Social media outlets have not only helped our department stay connected,” writes Massachusetts Maritime Academy SID Jim Seavey (@mmabucs). “I also think it has created new audiences that will grow as time goes on.”



The audience Division III schools are targeting includes far-away fans and alumni, potential students and players’ parents. And while most of the intended audience already has some connection to the schools, social media has allowed the athletic departments and football teams to insert themselves into each one of those fans’ days.

The Presidents’ Athletic Conference (@PAC_Athletics) considers its social media use an extension of its website.

“By adding Facebook and Twitter into the equation,” writes associate director Monique Bowman, “we are able to send information to very popular sites that PAC athletes, fans, alum and media already check on a daily basis.”

Fans who were used to having to search for bits and pieces of detail are now having it presented to them. And they’re getting more than they anticipated.

“I treat our Twitter page a little differently,” writes Concordia-Moorhead SID Jim Cella, whose feed (@CobberSID) since last winter has featured 1,262 tweets to 242 followers. “Not just giving the breaking news but also giving little insights that people would pick up on if they were at the game. I want the fans, families [and] alumni [to] feel like they are sitting next to me at the game and we are having a conversation about what is going on.”



“We started using YouTube in the last year or so,” writes Reich, “and have been floored with the amount of views on just little two-minute interviews with athletes and highlights of our football games.”

“I like to use Twitter to provide ‘quick hitters’ with information about an upcoming contest or event or one that has just concluded,” writes Maritime’s Seavey, “and I always list my website address in the last portion of the message so that audiences can go to the site for additional information. It seems to be working so far.”

The response is backing that up.

“I use social media outlets to drive traffic to my website, and the results have been phenomenal,” Seavey writes. “In the month of September alone, my web traffic is the highest its ever been since the launch of the site in July 2008. We've had more unique visitors per day than students enrolled at the Academy.”

“Our Facebook fan page had nearly 1,000 fans in just over a month of being online,” writes Mount Union’s Reich. “We are currently near 1,900 fans on something that has been going since about the first week of August.”

Mass. Maritime might not have much in common with Mount Union on the field, but there are 1,300 on its Facebook fan page, according to Seavey.

Mount Union’s Twitter feed (@purpleraiders) is “going pretty strong,” Reich writes. The 332 followers have been pointed to video and stories produced by the sports information office, but also have been privy to Reich’s insights on former Purple Raider Pierre Garcon’s exploits with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. (He’s @ShowTime85, by the way.)

The success in reaching fans leads those in charge of the flow of information to think even bigger than Twitter and Facebook.

“I also started preseason blogs for the fall sports and they went over unbelievably well,” Cella writes. “It was a behind-the-scenes look at what each team was doing. I can honestly say that the blog might be the wave of the future for SIDs as people can get scores, boxscores and stats all over the place. People now want to read and see videos about individual players and coaches that make them feel like they are right there.”

According to Reich, Mount Union has a text-messaging service with more than 500 subscribers. “Before we knew it the folks at Stretch Internet were telling us that we had more folks signed up than one of their Big Ten clients,” Reich writes.

The Purple Raiders also produce a commercial radio feed online that has drawn more than 500 listeners per game.

“This all tells me this is where we are going,” Reich writes.

The next challenge is to try to keep the audience growing, and one way to do that is to draw in the folks who aren’t big users of social media.

“We're constantly trying to figure out ways to enhance what we do by interacting with those who choose to follow us,” writes the PAC’s Bowman. “Facebook and Twitter are definitely ways to interact with the more tech-savvy generations, but we are finding that older alum are slowly but surely inching into these media.”

But having more ways to connect with more people -- whether it be Kreps logging on to Facebook after midnight to post the Hope-Adrian JV score, or Cella tweeting a link to the latest online Cobber Athletics Newsletter -- doesn’t it end up just being more work?

On one hand, sports information directors, many of them one-man bands, agree. But it’s nothing a smartphone can’t help handle, Reich notes. And from Seavey’s perspective, being the person behind it all keeps the voice consistent and points fans in the same direction instead of all over the place.

Besides, getting a response that used to not be possible, is a reminder that all the work is appreciated.

“I look at how much things have changed over time,” writes Reich, who has held seven jobs since coming out of college in 1997, including one where he was also the school’s webmaster. “This past May at the NCAA Track & Field Championships, Mount Union had an athlete win a national title. During his race I took pictures … after the race was over I posted on Twitter/Facebook, then after he won, interviewed using my Blackberry to post video on YouTube ... then finally wrote a story and made media calls. Used to be the most important thing was writing a story and making some calls. Now that is down the line a few spots.”

Reich writes that “the future will allow people to access information on variety of applications whether moblie, broadband, video, audio, print, etc.”

“The new technologies debate is one that has heated up in the college sports information circles over the last two years, and technology can be viewed in two lights: it can be the best thing in the world or the worst thing in the world, depending upon your viewpoint,” Seavey writes. “I fully admit I was skeptical of the new social media ventures when they were first introduced and really worried that if I used them, would it take away from the things I was trying to do on my own webpage? Thankfully, I was wrong on that -- it has done the complete opposite and enhanced everything. I can remember about 20 years ago when technology brought the fax machine into the business, and in 1989 it was the greatest thing in the world -- now, it too has become nearly obsolete. The key to using new technology effectively is to stay as current as possible.”

Division III football fans, share with us your insights about how following the game has changed recently, on Post Patterns’ Around the Nation thread.

Ten Best
As part of Around the Nation’s celebration of 10 years of D3football.com, let’s delve into recent history with another top 10 list. 

The year we started this site was also the first season of the automatic bid. Suddenly, more than four teams per region could make the playoffs, and more importantly, one could get in without ever leaving their fate in the hands of a selection committee. The direct route to the postseason ensured access to the postseason for every team aligned with a conference of seven squads or more, and freed up teams to schedule better non-conference games without the fear of it ruining their playoff hopes.

Realizing the impact of these changes has been a steady process, but now, all but four Division III teams are aligned with conferences, nearly all in leagues with an automatic qualifier or set to get one in the next two years. Over time, as teams migrated to and from, the makeup of Division III’s conferences have changed, with some growing, some becoming more powerful, some covering more geographic area, and others doing the opposite.

With that in mind, ATN presents to you …

Ten conferences that have changed the most in the D3football.com era:

10. The NWC: The conference shifted affiliation from the NAIA to Division III in 1998. Pat Coleman writes, “This was almost a Division III non-entity when the site started. If you knew anything about the conference, you might have heard of Linfield's streak of consecutive winning seasons, or you might have seen that Pacific Lutheran made the playoffs in 1998. But it's unlikely you knew how to pronounce Willamette, or knew much of anything about Frosty Westering, if you weren't already in the Pacific Northwest. Westering's Lutes changed all that with their run to the 1999 Stagg Bowl, where they blew out one of the Division III elites, Rowan. Since then, Linfield has followed with a national title and the league has helped fuel the West's reputation as the strongest region in Division III football.”

9. The PAC: In 1999, it was a conference with six football teams, five based in Western Pennsylvania. Westminster (Pa.), a former NAIA power, had just joined the conference. Its members competed as a Pool B (no automatic bid) conference until 2007, two seasons after Thomas More became its seventh member. Geneva came over from the NAIA in 2007, the same year St. Vincent re-started football, giving it its current nine members. One thing that hasn’t changed though: Except for the occasional championship by Waynesburg, Thiel and Thomas More, it’s been Washington & Jefferson at the top of the heap.

8. The NJAC: When New Jersey City University dropped football in 2002, it left only half of the 10 conference members fielding teams. Now, the league might as well be called the NYNJAC, with Cortland State (joined in 2000), Buffalo State (2006), Brockport State (2008) and Morrisville State (2008) in the fold, along with Western Connecticut (2004). The NJAC didn't have an automatic bid at first, with just six schools sponsoring football, and got even further from it after NJCU dropped the sport. The other big change in 10 seasons is that the NJAC, by virtue of Rowan’s powerhouse status in 1999, was one of the nation’s top three conferences, and was capable of sending its champion to the Stagg Bowl. Now, it’s a more balanced group, with four of five of the 10 teams each season battling for one or two playoff spots, and capable of winning the playoff bracket filled with Eastern teams in it, but not a Stagg threat.

7. The SCAC. Trinity (Texas) long dominated its six conference mates, culminating in a 2002 trip to the Stagg Bowl. Now the conference is on the verge of turning over yet again, as Millsaps, DePauw and Centre have pulled up alongside the Tigers as yearly contenders. Rose-Hulman left for the HCAC in 2006, the same year that Austin College migrated to the conference from the ASC; The SCAC’s automatic bid status never suffered. Former independent Colorado College and Division I member Birmingham-Southern joined in 2007, making the SCAC the conference with the most travel requirements. Teams flew in and out of Colorado Springs, San Antonio, Memphis and Birmingham, and had to drive from major airports to the middle of Tennessee and Indiana. Colorado College dropped football after only two seasons in the conference, and in 2009, the conference hovers around the middle of the pack in terms of strength, far removed from Trinity’s run to Salem.

6. The LL. There was no Liberty League for half of our time online. In 1999, RPI, Hobart, St. Lawrence and Union made up the Upstate Collegiate Athletic Association, along with Rochester, a member of the UAA in other sports. In 2004, the Liberty name was announced, along with football-only memberships for WPI, Kings Point and Coast Guard. Kings Point chose to go by its formal name, U.S Merchant Marine Academy, and rival Coast Guard bolted for the NEFC after two seasons. In 2007, Susquehanna extended the conference into Pennsylvania, joining from the MAC. Their stay will be short as well, as the Crusaders join the Centennial in 2010. Strengthwise, the conference has flirted with rising into the top third of football leagues, as well as falling into the bottom third. Only RPI in 2003 has been as far as the national quarterfinals.

5. The ACFC. Perhaps no conference has been the revolving door that the ACFC has. In 1999, the conference was Wesley, Salisbury State, Frostburg State, Ferrum, Greensboro, Chowan and Newport News Apprentice. By 2011, just Wesley and NNA will be left, and the latter is not a true Division III member. Ferrum and Greensboro joined the Dixie Conference in 2000. Buffalo State and Brockport State joined in 2004, only to defect for the NJAC later. As a four-team conference with two playoff-worthy teams in recent seasons, the ACFC has been a big player in the race for Pool B bids. Salisbury and Frostburg will chase a Pool A automatic bid in 2011, when they join the Empire 8.

4. The E8. Who remembers Ithaca as an independent? Until the Empire 8 first awarded a football championship in 2002, that was the case. But quickly the conference became one of Division III’s most respected, as members Ithaca, St. John Fisher, Springfield and Hartwick have all been in the playoffs, and Alfred has averaged eight wins a season over a five-year period. With Utica joining Ithaca, SJF, Hartwick and Alfred, it was a five-team conference in 2002 and ’03. Springfield and Norwich joined in 2004, and this season marks Norwich’s first in the new ECFC, leaving an Empire 6.

3. MAC. Ever-changing since its inception – more than 50 schools have been members of the conference at one time or another – in 1999, the MAC was 11 teams and two divisions, with Lycoming riding high as a national power. Scheduling was ready-made, with at least nine games against conference teams. In 2007, Moravian and Juniata left to join the Centennial, whose members had originally split from the MAC for football in 1981, and Susquehanna went to the LL. Suddenly, with just eight football teams, MAC teams were looking for games. And the logical crossover with either the NJAC or PAC wasn’t as easy as it once would have been, since those conferences had grown to 10 and nine teams, respectively. The MAC lost its half of its best rivalry when Moravian joined Muhlenberg in the CC, but it gained in early-season non-conference profile, with games against mid-Atlantic powers like Wesley, Christopher Newport and Montclair State. And with a MAC-PAC challenge, matching teams based on order of finish, set to begin next season, some of the scheduling needs will be eased.

2. USAC. Perhaps no conference has fluctuated as much in national profile as the one formerly known as the Dixie. In 1999, the programs at Averett, Christopher Newport, Shenandoah and North Carolina Wesleyan hadn’t even started yet. The first three, combining with Greensboro, which played its first game in 1996, Ferrum and Chowan, formed the new conference. Eager to create a new image, it re-branded in 2003 as the USA South, and dropped Chowan, which resurfaced in Division II. The USAC ascended as high as 12th in our conference rankings, but had fallen to 20th this offseason. Its frequent back-and-forth with the ODAC greatly influences its standing, but so does a lack of playoff runs of more than two games.

1. UMAC. Just over the past three seasons, the fluctuation from a 12-team, two-division conference including one non-Division III member in Trinity Bible, to a five-team conference including brand-new St. Scholastica, to this year a 10-team league with the remnants of the quickly defunct SLIAC, qualify the UMAC for this spot. Conference members, who have played on high schools' fields the week prior to games in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, are used to changing circumstances.

React to this week’s list, make submissions for the coming week’s list or come up with new categories for future use by using our message board, Post Patterns, on the Around the Nation thread under general football. You can also send e-mail to Keith@D3football.com or use our feedback form.

Coming soon: Ten most successful post-D3 careers, 10 most memorable moments, 10 program turnarounds, 10 low points, ranking the 10 Stagg Bowls, best to least-best.

Upon further review
Revisiting topics from previous ATNs:

Last week’s column on the Courage Bowl inspired quite a wave of feedback, some I’ll share here and more I’ll share on the ATN board on Post Patterns.

“Keith,
I regularly check D3 for the latest football news. My son Trenten Tully is a senior linebacker and team Co-Captain on U of R who just played in the game. A little known fact about Trent is that at age 5 ... he too had been diagnosed with leukemia. He is a survivor and that game has a meaning to him far beyond what the ordinary person could possibly know. He was honored to mentor Jack, one of the honorary captains for U of R and his Mom was just elated and took numerous pictures of the two of them after the game. Thanks for choosing this great topic to write about on your site. As a father of a cancer survivor and a heck of a football player, I VERY much appreciate it! Well done!
-- Darren Tully”

“I am an avid Mount Union Purple Raiders fan and enjoy visiting D3 Football a few times a week to keep up on what's going on in Division 3 football. I enjoy reading the articles by your staff and the comments the other D3 fans leave. I have never left a comment myself, or sent any emails until today. I sit here with tears streaming down my cheeks after reading your article on the Courage Bowl. It has to be the best article I have ever read on this website. Thank you so much Keith for writing it. It makes one stop and reflect on what the truly important things are in this life.
-- Larry Odey”

The list of under-noticed rivalry games produced two e-mails about Lycoming and Susquehanna’s “Stagg Hat” rivalry.

According to Susquehanna’s Web site: “Since 1993, SU has battled Lycoming for the Stagg Hat Trophy, which is an actual fedora worn by Amos Sr. while he coached at Susquehanna. The hat was given by the elder Stagg to 1954 SU graduate and former assistant coach Rich Young, who donated it to the Sunbury (Pa.) Kiwanis Club to be bronzed and made into a trophy.

From 1960 to 1978, the Kiwanis Charities Festival was the Crusaders' first home game, and the winner took possession of the Stagg Hat Trophy for one year. After the Kiwanis game was discontinued, the "Old Hat" was returned to the trophy case at Susquehanna, where it remained until the Crusaders and Warriors began playing for it on an annual basis in 1993.”

“At the end of ATN, you asked about trophy games. In 2004, the Liberty League shuffled its schedule to put geographic rivals together for the final weekend. A couple of years ago, I asked Dennis O'Donnell about making that game a trophy game to try and enhance the rivalry to get it back to the "old days." I proposed competing for the Centennial Cup in honor of the 100th meeting between Hobart and Rochester. U of R agreed and we've played for the Centennial Cup in each of the past two seasons. The series is currently tied 47-47-7.”
- Ken DeBolt

Who are those guys?
Since it’s hard enough to keep track of the 238 teams and 27 conferences we follow, ATN keeps a watchful eye on Division III’s record in out-of-classification competition:

As conference play heats up, the opportunities for inter-divisional play cool down. But this week’s slate features quite the diverse group: a Mexican team, another from an historically black college (HBCU) and a third from a university focused on educating American Indian and Alaska natives.

vs. Division I, FCS (1-0 in Week 4; 2-6 in 2009)
None

vs. Division II (2-1 in Week 4; 5-7 in 2009)
LaGrange at Lincoln, Mo. (Great Lakes Football Conference)

vs. NAIA (2-4 in Week 4; 20-10 in 2009)
Southern Virginia (independent) at Guilford
Westminster (Mo.) at Haskell Indian Nations (independent)

Also: Tecnologico de Monterrey (Mex.) at Austin, an exhibition game which does not count on Austin's record.

Games of the week
For a breakdown of this week’s games to watch and why, see Friday morning’s Triple Take, featuring a look at what to watch this week by D3football.com’s Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman and myself, on our blog, The Daily Dose.
The press box

Readers: ATN is looking for particular feedback on best post-D3 careers, famous Division III alumni (players, coaches and entertainers/politicians, etc.). ATN is also interested in talking with former players about their experiences in pay-for-play postseason all-star games.

ATN is also considering devoting one October column to best Division III memories of the past 10 years. We’ll pick a handful of your best stories, about anything on or off the field, so long as they’re well written in about 500 words or fewer.

Also seeking feedback on Ten Best (top 10 of the past 10 seasons), moments to remember for the year-in-review and road trip suggestions for October and November (ATN especially likes non-Saturday afternoon kickoffs that can be paired with a game at a traditional time).

Around the Nation always encourages general opinions on the column. Readers can best get a response by posting on Around the Nation's running thread on Post Patterns (under general football). Send e-mail to Keith@D3football.com or use our feedback form.

Five Ways to Saturday
Follow Around the Nation …
1. … When the column publishes on Thursdays.
2. … Throughout the week on Twitter. This is ATN’s first season tweeting. Follow @D3Keith.
3. … Mondays, Pat Coleman and I wrap up the week that was in our podcast. Download from iTunes or listen to it in the Daily Dose’s media player.
4. … When ATN travels on Saturdays, trip highlights are blogged on The Daily Dose.
5. … Further discussions raised here on Around the Nation’s Post Patterns thread, at the top of the General Football board.

Sports Information Directors: To contact Keith McMillan, use keith@d3football.com, or mail to D3football.com, 13055 Carolyn Forest Dr., Woodbridge, Va., 22192.

comments powered by Disqus

Keith McMillan

Keith McMilllan, who has been a columnist for D3football.com since 2000, has provided color commentary on D3football.com's national broadcasts of the Stagg Bowls. He played at Randolph-Macon in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference for four years and covered it for two more.

Previous Columns

March 3, 2014
Analyzing the NJAC and E8's big moves
Wesley and its Capital Athletic Conference brethren join forces with five New Jersey schools to form...
November 24, 2013
Look who stole the show in Round 1
Many of those who shined in the first round of the 32-team playoffs weren't the nationally elite...
November 21, 2013
Playoff picks, surprises, disappointments
ATN assembles a team for an annual look at who might surprise and disappoint us in the 32-team...
November 16, 2013
On this day, they were all big games
Keith McMillan has instant reactions both inside and outside the playoff picture on the final day of...
November 13, 2013
A pre-regional rankings primer
Keith McMillan introduces the committee and their roles, analyzes Pools B and C and takes reader...
November 10, 2013
Snap judgments: Seen from the other side
Millsaps may well have a story for the ages out of Saturday's win vs. Centre, as will Cornell and...
November 7, 2013
Poll positions: What to make of regional rankings
If you haven't seen regional rankings before, or your team hasn't been a contender in recent years,...
November 3, 2013
Snap judgments: The aftermath
With so many games featuring two ranked teams, we should see a lot of movement in Sunday's Top 25...
October 24, 2013
Poll positions: Doing some number crunching
The Top 25 doesn't exist to steal anybody's joy. It is merely a prism through which to view...
October 20, 2013
Snap judgments: Cycling up
Maryville and TCNJ are atop their respective conferences, the John Carroll defense isn't the only...
October 13, 2013
Snap judgments: A blurry picture developing
Not literally -- we get great pictures from our associated photographers and SIDs, but that won't...
October 8, 2013
Poll positions: Streaking up the rankings
Keith McMillan looks at why one computer ranking is making the case for a blue team No. 1, and not a...
October 6, 2013
Snap judgments: Bounceback seasons
Olivet, St. Lawrence, North Park, Husson, Western Connecticut ... the list of improved teams this...
October 3, 2013
Re-ranking the conferences
With September's games, and the vast majority of non-conference play in the books, Around the Nation...
September 29, 2013
Snap judgments: Look away from the Top 25 scores
At first glance -- like say, the scores page, with the top 25 scores the initial finals that catch...
September 26, 2013
History lesson: Engineering rivalries
Week 4 is perhaps the most odd Saturday on the schedule. There aren't many great rivalries, but...
September 24, 2013
Poll positions: How the voters reacted
A kick going wide left produced a wide variety of reactions, but when Wesley got taken down a peg,...
September 22, 2013
Snap judgments: Week 3
The Tommie-Johnnie rivalry is back, UMHB's defensive line is pretty darn good, the MIAA has a better...
September 19, 2013
History lesson: Wesley vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor
Now that longtime rivals Wabash and DePauw are both in the North Coast, and Mount Union and...
September 18, 2013
Poll positions: There's some movement coming
The top of the poll didn't change much last week but Saturday's games could have a significant...
September 17, 2013
Off the beaten path
Just because a team isn't in the Top 25 running or mentioned in the podcast or doesn't have a Play...
September 11, 2013
Poll positions: Why teams shuffle
In Around the Nation, Keith McMillan discusses a nonstandard way of assembling the ballot after Week...
September 8, 2013
Snap judgments
Keith McMillan's Around the Nation column returns. You'll see ATN several times a week, including on...

Other Columnists