A new feature on the Athletic Department’s website, MgoBlueAuction, offers Michigan fans the chance to bid on “Once In A Lifetime” products. Not a bad idea in my mind – if someone wants to pay a week’s salary to tailgate with the department bigwigs, I say take the sucker’s money and give him a bit more ‘kraut on his hotdog.
Honestly, I think the auctions can be a great idea. I think it’s good to offer fans road trips or a chance to meet Michigan legends or visit areas of the athletic campus generally off-limits. And signed paraphernalia is always a big seller.
But as someone who wants to be a sportswriter for life, I’m a bit upset about the “Sportswriter for the Day” lot, which, last time I checked, was going for an absurd $740.
I’ll admit, sportswriting is one of the coolest jobs I can possibly conceive of. My office on Saturdays is Michigan Stadium – enough said. But what too many people don’t understand, obviously including Michigan’s marketing department, is that sportswriting is a job. A day in the life of a sportswriter is competitive, stressful and busy. You’re nervous about what the writer next to you has, what Markus Curry might have said to some other guy about why he didn’t play, your impending deadline, your completely illegible shorthand and the fact that with about 10 minutes until your story has to be in, you’ve just finished typing in the byline. And let’s not forget about the fact that your salary is about in line with a new employee at your neighborhood McDonald’s and your hours are far less stable.
Sure there are perks, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, but I’m not sure how I feel about dressing up the sportswriting job and offering a dumbed-down version to the highest bidder, while presenting the opportunity as an “actual” day on the job. This can’t help the job’s stereotypes – whoever ponies up the most money will undoubtedly go home that night and tell his wife, kids or butler that sportswriting is the easiest job imaginable. After all, he’ll say, the game was fun and exciting, the food was decent and (you’re not going to believe this one) Lloyd Carr spoke at a press conference. Greatest day ever.
Of course, I’m not so devoid of self-esteem that I need to go on whining that my job isn’t respected enough. It’s frustrating that people view what we do as play instead of work, but I can deal with that. And there are plenty of jobs that offer chances to “Be Someone Important For a Day.” The difference, of course, between being the athletic director for a day and taking your try at sportswriting is that when the marketing department auctioned off the chance to follow Athletic Director Bill Martin for one day at the office, they didn’t choose a day when he would have to meet with the University Board of Regents, or an afternoon when he would have to fire a coach. Likewise, sports teams don’t hold fantasy camps directly in the middle of a title chase – they take place during the offseason.
But this sportswriting gig is going to be for the Penn State football game, one of the seven most important days on the football writer’s calendar this year. This isn’t the spring game, which is covered by mostly hungover writers who realize that they’re not writing about anything particularly important, this is one of the biggest games of the season.
Clearly, the excitement of this offer is not the chance to be a sportswriter for a day. It’s not the pre-game tour of the press box (“There’s the field, there’s a phone, there’s a hotdog – that’s it, see you after the game”). Rather, it’s an opportunity to pay a lot of money for a good seat with a great view. So why not bill it as such?
The Athletic Department has long been guilty of overcommercializing what should be a working press box. Since the mystique of Michigan Stadium does not allow for luxury boxes to be built, several VIP seats are located on the press level, in close proximity to the working writers. NCAA rules stipulate that there can be no cheering in a press box, but I’ve never seen anyone walk over and ask a big donor to the department to stop vocally supporting the team. To me, this is no different than the Athletic Department putting its waiting room in a corner of a conference room, where visitors waiting to meet with a coach would sit in the middle of an important meeting. Sound ridiculous? I agree. These days, you can’t get into the student section without an MCard, but the press box is open to anyone and his brother.
But these are hard times – the Athletic Department has to make a buck somehow. Likewise, the Daily’s budget can use some help. Maybe we should sell one of our season passes to the highest bidder. I’m sure the Free Press and the News could also use some extra green. Or maybe we should auction off a chance to be “Marketing Director For The Day,” when for a nice sum of money, a fan can follow around Marketing Director Tom Brooks, wear all the different combinations of Michigan apparel conceivable and come into close contact with many Michigan athletes.
I’m sure that Mr. Brooks would argue that his job consists of much more than that. I respect him enough to know how hard he works, how thankless his job is and how much he’d hate it if we billed his job as mentioned above.
So how do you think we feel?
Jon Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.