The team behind the teams: How BYU’s sports information department is preparing for the Big 12
The story of Jimmer Fredette dribbling a basketball down his church hallway inspired scores of young fans to do the same.
One of these young boys was Austin Rustand. Stories like this about Fredette, along with other prominent BYU athletes such as Max Hall and Steve Young, made him — and many others BYU fans — feel as though they knew their favorite Cougars on a personal level.
“Those guys were my idols and the ones I looked up to,” Rustand said. “And it’s all because some SID told their story in a unique way.”
“SID” refers to “sports information director,” a role now known as “athletic communications specialist” at BYU. Rustand is one of the eight full-time athletic communications employees laboring in sports information to serve as behind the scenes playmakers for BYU’s various athletic programs.
Similar to the young Rustand, many BYU fans do not know the crew behind the stories, statistics and interviews that connect them to their favorite athletes and teams. However, this crew is integral in the communication and representation of BYU’s teams as well as the school’s integration into the Big 12.
The role of sports information
Sports information is an essential key to the representation of both collegiate and professional athletic programs. Maintaining statistics and records, dispersing games notes, writing event recaps and coordinating media efforts are just a few of the important daily tasks for communications specialists.
Sports information employees have the unique role of fostering personal connections with their athletes and coaches. By doing so, they learn of unique stories that can be published and pitched to the media. Lauren Bosco, communications specialist for men’s volleyball, appreciates this part of the job.
“I have made great connections with the coaches and players this season,” Bosco said. “I found this to be the biggest challenge, but also my main goal.”
The BYU athletic communications department has created many tools for fans and teams, including social media pages, the byucougars.com website and the @BYUGameNotes Twitter that showcases live stats and records. These tools maintain statistics for teams and are vehicles of information for fans and media members.
The goals and messages of college athletics are closely intertwined with the university they play for. This applies to BYU, meaning athletic communications seeks for ways to represent the university and its unique history. BYU is unique within the Big 12 due to its affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and connecting the action on the field with the faith off of it will be a crucial role for the school’s sports information department.
“The difference in BYU versus other places is the Church aspect and what we represent,” said Kenny Cox, BYU football’s director of media relations and communications. “We feel like we have an opportunity going into the Big 12 with schools less familiar with BYU and the Church.. let’s tell people about missionary service more, let’s tell people about the good things we do, let’s tell people about the story of the Church.”
The Big 12 allows for BYU’s message to reach a wider, more diverse audience, presenting a prime opportunity for communications specialists.
Cameron Muh is the communications specialist for women’s volleyball and softball at BYU and is eager for the opportunity which joining the Big 12 offers. “The Big 12 appreciates what we bring to the table, and they honor our no Sunday play. We can use that as a stepping stone to share our light in the conference, in the nation and in the world.”
Integration into the Big 12
Entering the Big 12 will bring new challenges and changes for BYU. To account for the projected increased demand for media relations, three additional full-time positions have been added to the BYU athletic communications team in the past 18 months.
While BYU teams already enjoyed an abundance of local media coverage, a growing need for media attention will require more management by communications specialists. As part of power conference affiliation, many BYU games will be broadcast on ESPN+ rather than BYUTV, reaching a larger national audience and increasing the outreach and following that BYU teams — especially football — will have.
Each school in the Big 12 assesses the funding and function of their media relation teams, and BYU did the same. Cox says BYU is “in a good place” compared to other schools. However, the way those in the Big 12 do things will educate the Cougars on practices that they can adopt.
“There are things we are going to learn. How the Big 12 does things, and we will do things that the Big 12 will learn from us. Hopefully it’s a really good relationship,” Cox said. “We think it will be.”
Overall, athletic communications holds one main goal: to portray athletes and teams in the best possible light. The way this is accomplished begins with the relationships they foster with their respective teams.
Brenna Seeman is the current communications specialist for women’s soccer and gymnastics. She is only the third full-time female SID in BYU’s history.
“Having a female SID to work with teams of all female athletes is super helpful because I relate with the girls on that level,” Seeman said. “I can understand all of the things that they are going through.”
Each SID feels fulfilment in their job, with no expectation of recognition for their integral role. “It isn’t a high praise job because you’re shifting the praise to someone else. You’re helping (your teams) get the notoriety and publicity that they deserve,” Rustand said.
As their teams’ biggest advocates, SIDs continue to diligently work behind the scenes. They document game statistic, represent their teams and BYU in an authentic light and continue to prepare for Big 12 entry.
As the team behind the team, they are unknowingly laying the foundation for the next Jimmer.