Student guest post: When wintry weather hits sports

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the fourth of those posts. Aaron Dodson is a junior reporting major and history minor at UNC-Chapel Hill. He is an assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel, and he will be an intern in the sports department at The Baltimore Sun this summer. 

In the past two weeks, many parts of the East Coast have gotten a chance to encounter what some see as the best part of winter and others, like myself as a native of the D.C. area, have come to dread — snow.

Don’t get me wrong: Snow can be beautiful. There’s nothing like a few fresh inches of white powder on the ground. And who doesn’t like a day or two off from work or school?

But not long after the snow first begins to fall, bliss turns into boredom. The snow turns from a pure, white fluff to a brown, muddy slush. People are stuck indoors and get cabin fever.

And the worst part — the snow puts you behind in terms of work and school by restricting your ability to do everyday things such as driving and walking.

For me, however, as a college sportswriter, the show must go on. In the past two weeks, I’ve twice had to battle through the elements to do my job — cover games. And through those two experiences, I like to think I’ve gained the knowledge to answer one question that inspired this post:

How does adverse weather affect sports media coverage?

I’ve determined the complete answer to this question must be broken down into three parts.

Part 1: Determining whether the game will be played.

At the beginning of January, I was assigned by the sports editor of The Daily Tar Heel to cover the North Carolina men’s basketball team’s game at Georgia Tech on Jan. 29.

I was excited. I’d never been to Atlanta, and the general manager of the DTH even got me and my fellow reporter Daniel Wilco plane tickets to go down so we wouldn’t miss too much class.

Then Jan. 28 brought a few inches of snow that many expected. But some cities, like Atlanta, were caught off guard.

Flights were canceled, cars were abandoned on highways and an overall sense of panic resonated through cities along the East Coast.

After being greeted with an email from Delta that said our 2:45 p.m. flight on the day of the game would no longer be taking off, Daniel and I have to ask ourselves: Are we going to cover this game?

In a sense, reporters can’t answer that question by themselves. Similar to a famous line — “If you build it, they will come” — from the 1989 baseball movie “Field of Dreams,” if a game is played, reporters will come.

In our case, Georgia Tech and UNC turned to the following ACC postponement/cancellation policy:

“The only reason a game should be postponed or cancelled is if the conditions affect the safety of the teams or game officials involved. Provided the teams and officials are able to make it to the arena safely, the game will be played.”

With both teams and referees in Atlanta, the game went on. And somehow, Daniel and I made it.

But what if sports writers and media don’t get as lucky as we did? What happens when the elements are too much to overcome and they can’t make it to the game?

These thoughts bring me to part two of the answer.

Part 2: Press row or ghost row?

When we first arrived at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta, Daniel and I expected to have to fight to get to our seats while saying “excuse me” every five seconds and attempting to avoid bumping into other reporters.

Once we finally got up to press row, however, all we saw was empty seats. Though we weren’t cramped like usual, given I got to spread my things out and my backpack even got its own seat, it was weird being one of only few there.

But the fact of the matter is reporters can’t always make it through harsh weather conditions to get to games. And when this happens, publications have a few different routes they can take to assure their audiences know what happened if the game does go on.

The first option is to employ the help of a trusty freelance writer.

For the Georgia Tech game, UNC sports publication InsideCarolina couldn’t get anyone to Atlanta. So a seasoned sports writer in the area picked up the slack, joking before the news conferences started that it’d been a long time since he’d covered a game.

But in most instances, so it seems like, publications just cut their losses and leave the game uncovered.

That was the case at the North Carolina women’s basketball team’s game, the night after the second snowstorm in two weeks hit. UNC’s opponent, Pittsburgh, somehow made it through the blizzard more than 300 miles to Chapel Hill. So the game went on.

My journey to Carmichael Arena was a bit less courageous, given I walked about half a mile through the slush from my room on south campus. But I did have to leap over a few large mounds of snow and ice, which didn’t go too well when I landed in puddles and got my feet soaked.

When I finally got there, I was only one of two reporters to cover a UNC team just three days removed of upsetting No. 3 Duke. So you can imagine it was kind of awkward in the post-game news conference with UNC’s coach and two players outnumbering the people asking the questions.

Overall, the UNC-Pittsburgh game was the exception, not the rule. Games don’t always go on through the weather. I can’t tell you how many ESPN updates I got on my phone, saying games had been canceled.

This notion brings me to the last part of the post:

What happens when reporters make it to the game but both teams don’t?

Part 3: Finding a story when there’s no game.

As snow began to fall on Feb. 12, several hours between the first matchup of the year between UNC and Duke in arguably the greatest rivalry in college basketball, reporters anticipated the game would still take place.

So they made their way to the Dean E. Smith Center and waited, only to receive word that the Duke men’s basketball team would not be making the trip from Durham.

Obviously, when the news broke that the game would be postponed, it was the job of reporters to relay the information they received first from team spokesmen and others inside of the Smith Center, initially via Twitter. And when more information came to light, including the date of the makeup game, they pieced it together in the form of a story with other facts such as it was the first time since 2000 that a UNC game had been postponed.

ESPN.com North Carolina men’s basketball blogger C.L. Brown took to Twitter to express his feelings of making it through the snow for a game not to take place:

But while stranded in Chapel Hill, Brown found an alternative form of reporting the game’s postponement through a story on UNC students’ call for the university to allow them all to sit in the lower level during big games like Duke.

The ESPN blogger’s story was a nice complement to the frenzy that occurred on Twitter when the game was postponed.

And for the reporters that couldn’t make it cover the postponed game, they had fans like this who did their own form of in-depth alternative reporting.

I guess the moral of the story is weather at times affects media coverage of sporting events. But there are always those brave souls that find a way to cover games.