CGN Roundtable: On SIDs

We talk a lot about gymnasts and coaches and even athletic trainers, but what about the individuals behind the scenes that make the team tick from a media perspective? As gymnastics reporters, we work with a lot of SIDs, or sports information directors, when it comes to covering meets in person, setting up interviews for stories and every other need in between. Often underappreciated or overlooked, we wanted to use this week’s roundtable to discuss the great SIDs we’ve worked with over the years, as well as the qualities of a good SID and what we want to see from them in the future to help grow the sport of gymnastics.

Let’s start by giving readers a little insight into what an SID does. What have you sought from them in the past and how have they helped make your life as a reporter easier?

Elizabeth: SIDs are basically the liaison between media and a team. They help set you up to cover a meet in person, facilitate interview requests and even help you out with name pronunciations, results from competitions and more.

Mary Emma: SIDs have helped me obtain credentials to cover a meet in person, helped me set up interviews for features as well as send me photos and other media to help with coverage. My job here at CGN would literally not be possible without the help of SIDs. 

Emily M: In addition to what Elizabeth and Mary Emma have mentioned, SIDs are also our lifeline for verifying information. Remember when we saw Rhonda Faehn on the floor with Michigan and went, “huhhh?” I emailed the Michigan SID to confirm her role, mid-meet at 8 p.m. on a Friday. He responded within seconds! And when California had that weird moment, being pulled off the floor at regionals and everyone on Twitter started panicking? I emailed the SID right away, and he got back with the full details and an official statement by the start of the first rotation. SIDs are on the clock whenever an event is happening and many other times, too. 

Tara: SIDs are what it sounds like—information directors. They’re responsible for being the touch point between the team and media and facilitate coverage and exposure for the team. They decide what information to release and what should remain within the team bubble (think how some teams aren’t as transparent about injuries). SIDs coordinate credentials for in-person coverage and interviews. They also keep us in the loop by sending press releases and posting them to the team’s website.

When you hear “easy, helpful media access,” what teams immediately come to mind?

Elizabeth: I know when I reach out to teams like LSU, UCLA and Michigan, I’ll pretty much always get a speedy and helpful response—whether I’m asking for an interview, official results for a competition or a statement on something that occurred with the team they manage.

Mary Emma: Smaller programs aren’t always as responsive as larger programs, but WVU and Pitt are definitely exceptions. I’ve covered many meets for both teams and all the SIDs I’ve worked with from the two schools have been incredibly helpful, whether that meant sending me photos after the meets, setting up interviews or even just making sure my credential is in the right place (see one of my answers below). 

Emily M: Michigan; that athletic department is huge and a well-oiled machine. LSU and Oklahoma are also excellent and so easy to reach. Both SIDs always respond very quickly, even if it’s to say they can’t help with my question—even in the middle of the night!

Tara: Every WVU SID I’ve worked with has been great. I’ve never actually covered a meet in person there like Mary Emma, but they’re always great about sending out releases and media opportunities, and the old SID was a great help when WVU came to Denver. Same goes with Oklahoma, who was also a big help when they visited. Denver’s SID has been great with me also in terms of facilitating in-person coverage or photography.

How has an SID gone above and beyond for you in the past? This is your opportunity to shout out some of the best!

Mary Emma: I covered a couple of meets at West Virginia during the 2019 season, and the SID at the time was extremely accommodating and clearly appreciated me being there. Media generally sits in the media section at the stadium, which is behind the lower seating area and pretty far from the action, making it difficult to ID gymnasts for live blogs. At my first meet there, I was up in the media section pulling my computer out, when the SID came walking up the stairs saying “come on down to the floor, you’re way too important to be up there.” It really made me feel so appreciated (impostor syndrome is real, especially when you’re not used to covering meets), and of course I had a much easier time with my live blog. I have also had the opportunity to watch a couple of Pitt’s practices, thanks to their SID setting it all up (shoutout to Carly!)

Emily M: We were having a lot of trouble getting ahold of official score sheets, the detailed ones with all four judges’ scores for each routine, during regionals. That’s really important because we were tracking nationals qualifiers, and we needed all the data to sort out the tie-breaks. I emailed the SIDs at each host school pretty late in the evening during the second day of competition to ask if they could send the sheets once they were available. Everyone responded helpfully, but Oklahoma went above and beyond, scanning in all the sheets, even from day one of competition. I think I got the last email at maybe midnight CST. It was so helpful and so above the call to turn everything around so quickly in the middle of the night.

Tara: This seems small, but at a Denver meet the Oklahoma team was standing on the same side of the floor that the press table faced. It was super hard for me to see past them and ID tumbling passes, but the Oklahoma SID was sitting next to me and handed a guide over that had all of the gymnasts’ routine compositions. I think before that I had mentioned it in the first routine’s live blog—I’m not sure if she was keeping tabs on my blog as the meet went on, but either way she knew my struggles and came to the rescue. 

How can an SID play a role in helping to grow the sport of college gymnastics?

Elizabeth: I know SIDs are busy folks, but the more responsive and assertive they can be, the better for the sport. As media, we often, subconsciously or not, gravitate to doing more articles on teams we know will be easier to access and interview. Plus, going above and beyond to provide easily accessible coverage of a team is another way to grow the sport—even with small things like ensuring the team schedule is updated with video and score links in a timely manner or the social media is transparent about technical difficulties.

Mary Emma: Making the sport more accessible to fans is huge. Teams that tweet out videos of standout routines will undoubtedly make more people follow their team. There’s nothing worse than someone from a smaller school scoring a 9.9+ on an event and then the gymternet never being able to see it.

Emily M: I think some of the best SIDs are the ones who understand how to bridge the gap between the gymternet and more general fans of their school’s athletics. Think of the social presence of teams like UCLA, Utah and LSU. The more that SIDs can make the quirks of gymnastics accessible to general fans while still giving more knowledgeable gym fans great content, the better. That’s a huge ask! But I do think we’re seeing it more and more, and as media we do try to help. Our recruit ratings, for example, were designed in part to give SIDs a way to market recruits to general fans. When SIDs can say, “We have three 4-star recruits in this class!” the football fans will know what that means. We saw that first hand when Olivia Greaves changed her commitment to Auburn.

Tara: Accessibility is key. The more social engagement, the better. Regular posting, including videos and interaction with fans, will draw people in—from gymternet members to casual fans. 

What’s a general pet peeve you’ve experienced in the course of doing a story or covering a meet?

Elizabeth: Some SIDs aren’t used to people wanting to cover their gymnastics team, which I totally understand, but the media is just trying to do its job just like everyone else. Being prepared for that is a simple thing that goes a lot way and makes us want to come back and continue covering the team time and time again.

Mary Emma: For me, my biggest pet peeve while covering meets has been disorganization. I’ve covered at a couple of schools where no one seemed to have a clue where my credential was, sending me running around trying to find it. It can be stressful when you’re at an unfamiliar place and have no idea where you’re supposed to go.  

Emily M: SIDs are so busy! At many schools they cover multiple sports, sometimes even sports with overlapping seasons. I was once trying to write a story on a team whose women’s basketball team was in the Final Four at the time. The SID was responsible for gymnastics and women’s basketball, so the story ended up going nowhere because they were just too busy with what I assume the department viewed as the higher priority basketball success, which was totally fair and not at all the fault of the SID. I wish athletic departments would recognize that gymnastics has grown and has media attention, and that they would devote more resources to the gymnastics SID position.

Tara: Disorganization and unresponsiveness, for sure. Like Emily said, SIDs are busy and often cover multiple sports, so I definitely understand gymnastics isn’t always the No. 1 priority. Being prepared and organized goes a long way when you’re trying to juggle multiple sports and events. 

What’s something you think is misunderstood about SIDs by fans?

Elizabeth: One thing is probably that an SID’s only job is to cater to the needs of media covering the gymnastics team. However, most SIDs are in charge of a fall sport, another winter or spring sport and also help with football. Plus, the breakdown of responsibilities really changes from team to team.

Mary Emma: Echoing Emily M here, I don’t think most of the gymternet or just sports fans in general have a clue what an SID even is or how much they do for their teams day in and day out. One of my best friends from college worked as an SID, and I had no clue what that even was until I started at CGN. Quite literally, NCAA gymnastics would not be possible without the help of SIDs.

Emily M: I get the sense that fans don’t really know what an SID is; I didn’t until I started at CGN! I think fans probably also don’t realize how very online a lot of SIDs are. You’re tweeting about their team? They see it.

Tara: I don’t think the gymternet really understands that most SIDs cover multiple sports and some even have responsibilities beyond their team(s). (Denver’s SID is also the athletics web services manager, for example.) Like Emily said, most SIDs are pretty active online. Many of them also run the team social media, though this also varies from team to team.

What’s some advice or a tip you’d give an SID trying to grow or improve coverage of their team?

Elizabeth: Accessible meet coverage is so important. Most teams don’t have a TV contract to broadcast meets, and because of this, it’s SO important to do everything in your power to ensure there’s still some sort of video (for all teams competing) and working scores for every single meet—even if that means grabbing a random volunteer to do an Instagram live for each event. A good comparison we always make at CGN is what would football do? A football team would never leave fans without the game score for even a second, so scores are important throughout gymnastics meets too.

Mary Emma: Social media presence is HUGE. There’s a reason the majority of viral floor routines have come from UCLA, and that’s because it knows exactly how to use social media to its advantage. Look at Pitt and Temple as examples. Both are relatively small programs but have built a significant social media presence over the last few years.   

Emily M: I agree with Elizabeth, project No. 1 needs to be access to the meet through scores and video if at all possible. I realize many teams just don’t have the budget or staff for a big, fancy production, but even a Facebook live run by the team manager or even a student is preferable to nothing. No. 2 for me is treating gymnastics media the way you would basketball, football or hockey. Most SIDs I’ve interacted with already do! But there have been a handful of moments when it’s been clear that gymnastics and its media are an afterthought, and that’s frankly insulting–not just to me but to the student-athletes who deserve balanced coverage as well.

Tara: I sound like a broken record at this point after Elizabeth and Emily, but accessible, high quality meet coverage is so important. There’s nothing worse than a meet without working live scores (hello, it’s 2021!) or a malfunctioning video feed. I’m not asking for perfect, just existence. Also, active social media. Every team’s meet day style is different, but tweeting out lineups, highlights and potentially even scores (and not just the hit routines) as they come in is a great way to enhance coverage.

READ THIS NEXT: CGN Roundtable: On Oklahoma and the SEC

Article by Elizabeth Grimsley, Mary Emma Burton, Emily Minehart and Tara Graeve

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