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By David Pickle
As Division II athletics programs begin communicating this fall, they will operating from the same playbook.
A model strategic-communications document − developed collaboratively by Division II SIDA (communications officers), the Division II Athletics Directors Association, the Division II Conference Commissioners Association and the national office staff − defines seven principles that should guide communications for any Division II athletics program. It also describes the staffing and resources that are necessary to support those principles.
“We are at a time when the needs of Division II are perfectly in sync with the needs of athletics communicators,” said Division II Vice President Mike Racy. “We need communicators who are dedicated to telling the full story of what it means to be a Division II student-athlete. At the same time, communications directors have a need to be redefined as fully integrated members of athletics staffs.”
Rich Herman, sports information director at Clarion, said the development of the document signals a new beginning for Division II athletics communications.
“Progress is being made in all aspects of our profession,” Herman said. “I sense there’s an excitement that it is a new day and that new things are happening. What’s happened occurred through a partnership at the top levels of Division II, and people in athletics communication now know that if someone has a positive suggestion, it can be heard, discussed and maybe acted on.”
The seven guiding principles are:
“The idea is that any program that implements a plan addressing those seven areas will communicate effectively,” Racy said.
“We all know the role of the sports information staff has changed dramatically over the last several years,” said Saint Leo Athletics Director Fran Reidy, who represented the Division II ADA in the development of the paper. “This document helps clarify the roles and importance of the athletic communications office on each campus while allowing each institution flexibility in its organizational structure to achieve its overall communication strategies.”
John Humenik, executive director of the College Sports Information Directors of America, said the model should play an important role in creating a culture of collaborative communication, as opposed to the previous model of information-sharing that relied heavily on management of statistics and media guides.
“There’s this drum that’s beating within Division II that collaborative communication is where things are going,” Humenik said, adding that athletics communicators should see the opportunity before them. He encouraged candid conversation with athletics directors to redefine expectations based on resources and needs.
“The athletics communications director might say that means that I can’t do X, Y and Z like I used to be able to do,” Humenik said, “and then the AD might say, ‘Hey, I understand that and I’ll explain that to the coaching staff and the rest of the administrative staff, that we’re on a different page now and headed in a different direction with what our expectations are of this office from the university and athletics department perspective.’ ”
Racy emphasized that the staffing and resources sections are intended only to describe personnel and resources that have been applied at successful Division II athletics communications offices. The document does not mandate any financial or personnel commitments.
Though the document contains no requirements, Herman said the division benefits from a greater understanding of what’s needed to get the job done.
“We needed to make sure that people understand that we need more staffing to accomplish the things we want to accomplish,” he said. “Now we have a tool that better explains the type of staffing that could be utilized at different institutions if they so desire.”
Herman emphasized that the document does not necessarily call for increased spending. Instead, it encourages the reallocation of resources where possible.
The development of the model strategic-communications document was highly iterative, as was the case with the model athletics department and model conference office documents. There were at least seven versions, including one developed after the Presidents Council asked for a revise after its April meeting.
However, Herman said it’s all for the good.
“When I go back and look at the staffing areas and other areas that were rewritten after the presidents asked us to take another look at it,” Herman said, “it’s a much better document now than it was then.”
Steve Murray, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and the CCA representative on the project, said the partnership behind the work may serve Division II almost as well as the document itself.
“Perhaps the greatest benefit of this process has been the increased and improved communication among the leadership of the division, the D2ADA, DII CCA and DIISIDA,” he said.
Humenik echoed the sentiment while also praising the role that communicators played in initiating the dialogue.
“The drumbeat had to start from us,” he said. “The message is loud and clear out there, and we understand it. We’re going to do what we have to do at our end to help the athletics and university communities view our role in a strategic context. Communicators need to embrace this need and joint desire.”