Last week I was given the amazing opportunity of traveling to Orlando, Florida for the CoSIDA Convention. CoSIDA (College Sports Information Directors of America) is a national organization made up of individuals working in Athletic Communications, whether as Sports Information Directors (SID’s), Athletic Directions (AD’s), graduate-assistants, interns, and more from all over the United States.
I received this opportunity through a new Division III Student Program through the NCAA. The program, created by the wonderful Adam Skaggs, was initiated with the goal of having students currently working in their respective Sports Information Offices to attend the convention to get of taste what a profession in Athletics Communication would offer. Myself, as five other students, were selected from a pool of about 40 applicants to attend the convention, which would be paid in full by the NCAA.
Yes, this professional development was FREE.
Prior to the trip, each student was paired up with a mentor to help aide them in the process of this massive convention. My assigned mentor was Eric McDowell, former CoSIDA President and current Sports Information Director at Union College. Prior to the convention, Eric and I were able to chat on the phone to help me understand all that would be going on in Orlando, what to bring, and how to dress.
Since this was the first year of the Student Program, there were no set expectations for students or mentors. We were basically given a convention schedule and told to run with it.
My three days in Florida were completely packed with panels, informational sessions, and networking receptions, as well as a Hall of Fame Ceremony and Awards Luncheon. Each event was usually only about 10 minutes apart, and often on opposite sides of the massive Mariott World Center Hotel and Convention Center. The other grant recipients and I (to be further referenced as “the Squad”) stuck together during most of the convention, and became extremely close considering we knew each other for less than 72 hours.
The three-day business trip was full of early mornings, late nights, interesting panels, great networking, lasting friendships, and amazing memories!
On Sunday I boarded a 6:30 AM flight (thanks mom for driving me!) and landed in Orlando around 10 AM. Considering the convention did not begin until 3 PM, I did what any sane person would do: headed to the pool!
SIDE NOTE: I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself if I went to Florida without “vacationing” at some point. I immediately spent three hours at the hotel pool, which had three swimming pools and a hot tub. I was in heaven.
SIDE SIDE NOTE: Even if it’s cloudy in Florida, you should still wear sunscreen. You’ll burn. And that’s not the best look for your first day at a professional convention. Lesson learned.
Later that day we had our Student Program informational sessions. Here I met all the other Squad members as well as the other mentors. Everyone was extremely welcoming and very distinguished. The accolades of the mentors included CoSIDA Board Members, Past CoSIDA Presidents, Sports Information Directors, Panelists, and more! The students also represented a diverse group of schools, ethnicities, backgrounds, and interests. During our sessions we got to know each other as well as our mentors and establish our goals for the convention.
That evening, we attended the CoSIDA Academic Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony where we were in the presence of former athletes who excelled not only in their sport but in academics as well. What amazed me was that this year, every inductee was female and thus it was very exciting to get to celebrate the amazing accomplishments of these women. We heard the stories of women who became professional athletes, professors, doctors, and coaches, long after their collegiate athletic careers were over. As a student, it was very fascinating to hear how collegiate athletics helped to shape these women in their careers and how I can do the same!
One of the inductees in the Academic Hall of Fame was Heather O’Reilly, former Women’s National Soccer team member, Olympic Champion, and World Cup Champion; so I may have been fangirling a little bit when I got to meet her.
Although our programming was complete after the Awards Ceremony, the night had just begun. One thing all the students quickly learned was that SIDs really know how to have fun after a long day of work. We were all shuttled over to Disney Springs where we attended a private party at a bowling alley. With food and drinks on the house, us students were able to network with our new peers, as well as learn more about each other.
Monday was Divisional Day, and we were split up into panels that were geared directly towards Division III. Our first panel was an interactive session on Crisis Communication. We discussed “What Would You Do?” scenarios that are very relevant in today’s political and social environment, even though no one wants them to be. Issues included: cutting popular programs, hazing scandals, a death of a student athlete, as well as how to handle the backlash when an athlete takes a knee during the national anthem.
As a student worker, I have never had to be behind the decision making process in these types of situations and it was very interesting to hear from veteran SIDs and ADs who have experience in these topics. One of the most important points I took away from these panels, was you always must plan for the worst possible situation. And you want to make sure your athletes are aware of the consequences of their decisions, hopefully before they act upon them. Although you hope these scenarios don’t occur at your institution, you must always be prepared so you are not scrambling when they occur. I found this panel to be one of the most interesting conversations that I had at the convention.
Throughout the day we attended a few more panels relating to Division III, including new training for event workers, the path to becoming a senior administrator, and social media strategies. There were a few more panels that were directed more towards CoSIDA Board Members and current SIDs, so the Squad decided to skip out on those in order to attend a few more intriguing panels.
The first panel related to Diversity in Sports. As a student group, this topic related extremely well to us since most of us received the NCAA Grant for Women and Minorities, we all fell under these categories. The speakers talked about ways in which we can influence universities, since the field is dominated by white men. Across all three divisions, administration and coaching staff are on average 85-95% white. It was intriguing to hear from SIDs of all races and both genders speak to their struggles in moving up in the industry. But the thing that shocked me the most about this panel was the lack of attendance. The Hall, which could have easily hosted 500 people, was only filled with about 40 individuals. And of those who did attend, the majority were women and minorities, who are already extremely aware of the issue at hand. In my opinion, that session was too important to be ignored. In the future I hope that CoSIDA makes panels concerning diversity in the workplace mandatory, so that those who are in power to make a difference, can first understand the problem at hand. All of the other students felt this way as well, and we made sure to express our support to the panelists in their fight for representation.
Sad we have to say that in 2017, right?
The next panel we went to was one we were all extremely excited to attend: Speed Networking.
And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.
We were all seated across from someone, and within the 45 minute panel we were able to meet seven different professionals in Athletic Communications. Within four-and-a-half minute sessions, we had to establish a relationship with each person in order to create a new connection. Within my speed session, I met professionals from multiple Division I schools (Fordham, Sacred Hart, Bryant), Division III schools, and even an individual who was at the convention looking for a new position! I exchanged business cards with each person and was actually able to make some really good connections in those four short minutes. I met a Division I Broadcaster who sculpted his own position within his institution, I was told about a graduate assistant opportunity in broadcasting, and even met an individual who was recruited to attend Saint Joseph’s College for Baseball! The connections I made in those 45 minutes, although they were brief, they were enough for me to at least get some advice about entering the field. This was an opportunity I would not have gotten otherwise, especialy since the Divisons were separated for a lot of the programming. This was the first year CoSIDA had speed networking and I definitely believe it was a beneficial program, especially being an up-and-comer in the field it was a great chance to get advice from people with more diverse backgrounds and specialties.
The events did not stop after our final panel on Monday evening. The Squad and I went to four more social events: the Division III Reception, the Women Leaders in College Sports Reception, an ESPN by the Pool Party, and finally another vendor party.
At each party we were greeted by Athletic Directors, Sports Information Directors, and Athletic Assistants from many reputable universities. Each of them were excited to see undergraduates who were already working in Sports Information Departments , and were very happy to give us advice. The ESPN by the Pool party, which ended up being inside due to rainy weather, was a great way for me to network with people currently working at ESPN about how to climb the ladder to an organization as reputable as ESPN. The best part about these receptions was that I was able to meet people from various schools, large and small, across Division I, II, and III. I learned about different opportunities available at each level and what would be the best option for me. Overall I made a lot of great connections that will hopefully be valuable to me in my future!
Another great aspect of this convention was the amount of free food and drinks that there were at each party. The ESPN party was serving free cake and ice cream! If that doesn’t want to make you pursue sports information I don’t know what will!
On our final day at the CoSIDA conference, the Squad and I had more freedom on the panels we wanted to attend. I attended various panels on social media, including how to utilize the various platforms, how to balance your posts for each team, and what to post on each platform. I also attended a session on student-athlete activism and transgender issues. I found this panel very informative since these are issues that have only recently become relevant and may be difficult for administrators to handle appropriately.
Although I wish I could have stayed longer on Tuesday to attend some of the other panels, I was grateful for the opportunity to attend the CoSIDA convention and learn about the Sports Information industry from professionals at every level. I would highly recommend any student working in Sports Information to apply to this student program, as the benefits are plentiful. I am grateful to have made such amazing friends in the Student Program, and to have had great mentors along the way. (Thank you to Adam Skaggs for organizing it, and I can’t wait to see what the future program will have in store!) I made so many connections that I plan on keeping in touch with, and overall the experience helped me to become more confident in networking (which can be extremely scary!).
As I mentioned before, the experience was extremely rewarding and I would highly recommend this, or any other NCAA conference, to any student looking to work in Athletic Communications. I hope that I am able to attend another convention in the future, but until then I will be implementing my new knowledge in the Sports Information Office at Saint Joe’s!