NORTH FALMOUTH, Massachusetts --Sports information directors who gathered here from across the nation for a groundbreaking meeting June 10 soon discovered a basic truth about their work: They play a crucial role in telling Division III's story at home.
The meeting, organized by the Division III governance staff and hosted by the Eastern College Athletic Conference Sports Information Directors' Association (ECAC-SIDA), brought together SIDs representing most of the division's 44 conferences and NCAA staff members involved in branding and communications, public and media relations, championships media coordination, statistics and governance.
Much of the meeting focused on SIDs' role in everything from publicizing their schools to compiling game statistics to hosting media at championships -- and interactions with the NCAA national office in performing those duties.
But the meeting also may have set in motion a larger effort to include SIDs in efforts to promote Division III's identity and ideals.
"We've never engaged the conference sports information directors," said Bridget Belgiovine, NCAA director of Division III, who attended the meeting along with Dan Dutcher, NCAA vice-president of Division III. "But they do the nuts and bolts work in promoting our schools, our conferences and our division.
"Goal No. 5 of the NCAA and Division III strategic plans directs us to reach out and find ways to promote the Association and the division. What better way is there to do that than engage those who have the closest connection to media and the public?"
For their part, participating SIDs made clear that in Division III, those who live near members' campuses may be a more important target for their efforts than media.
One of the participants, Liberty League representative Tim Danehy, suggested that Division III SIDs gear most of their efforts toward the campus community and student-athletes' parents. Several participants pointed to the key role of Web sites in providing information directly to those audiences, and noted that most conferences have used Division III technology grants for upgrading statistic-compilation and Web capabilities.
That focus on constituencies near home is considered valuable by the Division III staff, who believe efforts to promote the division will be more effective at the local level than through competition for attention from national media (see "Identity Initiatives Target Wider Recognition" in the October 11, 2004, issue of The NCAA News).
"They can be a very valuable means of communicating our story, with each other and through their constituents on campus and in their local markets," Belgiovine said about SIDs attending the meeting.
"They are more than scorekeepers and statisticians. They are a professional partner in what we do in the division."
Each Division III multisport conference was invited to send one representative to the meeting in Cape Cod, either from the con ference staff or a league member.
Although much of the meeting was devoted to discussion of NCAA programs and services available to support SIDs in their work, the gathering also gave participants what was for many a first opportunity to swap ideas with colleagues from other regions of the country.
"We heard comments like, we couldn't wait to get together around a table and ask questions about what somebody on the West Coast is doing, or somebody on the East Coast is doing," Belgiovine said.
One participant traveled from the Midwest unsure of what to expect, but hoped to benefit from interaction with other conference SIDs and the national office staff.
"One thing I hoped the time together would give -- and it did -- was an opportunity to talk with my counterparts at other conferences and to bring back ideas of how I can improve our conference's sports information," said Will Wolper, director of information and assistant to the commissioner of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
"It also was refreshing to hear from the various departments at the national office, and how they view sports information as an integral component of Division III."
Belgiovine hopes the participating SIDs will carry discussions from the meeting back to colleagues at the schools in their conferences, and promote further communication between the national office and sports information personnel.
"If there's one thing we gained from this, it was connecting Division III SIDs around the country with each other through their conference SIDs," she said. "They'll now know their voice is being heard within the governance structure."
Wolper believes SIDs will take advantage of the opportunity.
"Through discussions during and following the workshop, along with exchanges of e-mail since, it is quite apparent the group is eager to maintain communication and contact through the year, and to work together to assist one another and the NCAA for the betterment of Division III athletics," he said, adding there is some interest in formally establishing an association of Division III conference SIDs.
Belgiovine said current plans call for sponsoring another meeting in two years, although the NCAA staff will work with conference SIDs to determine the best times and locations for future gatherings.