When the No. 24 Michigan State Spartans came to College Park to take on the No. 9 Maryland Terrapins, I was able to get credentials to cover the game as media personnel for my first time. This is a unique experience not many fans get to experience and it is significantly different than attending as a normal fan in public seating. Given that, I thought I would share a bit about the unique experience with you so you could get an idea of what it is like.
Pre-Game Day Background
To cover a game as media, you have to submit a request to the host school’s athletic office. The timeline you submit the request and are approved to cover the game is likely a bit different in other circumstances than for mine for the Maryland game. In particular, for full time beat writers like Couch, Charboneau, Solari, etc. I am sure they submit the request and are approved much more in advance than myself. Given I only joined the writing staff here at The Only Colors the week prior to this game, we submitted a request the week of for me to cover it since I live in Washington, D.C. and was planning to attend the game anyway. In fact, my husband and I had tickets that I ended up selling once I got approved on Thursday morning for media credentials.
So I got the approval to cover as media, so what now? I got the basic rules run down on what you can and can’t do when covering the game as media. The two biggest no-no’s are that you cannot wear any clothing with a logo for either of the schools and you cannot cheer for either team before, during, or after the game. I did kind of bend the rule because I wore a checkered green button down shirt—it’s just that there was no MSU logo on it. I struggled a few times to remind myself late in the game that I couldn’t cheer for any of the clutch baskets the Spartans were scoring to keep the game out of reach of the Terrapins, but overall didn’t find it that difficult to sit passively while watching (perhaps I have reached old man status a tad too young in life).
Some of the other details you need to be aware of for covering a game? I had to arrive more than two hours in advance to pick up my credentials and parking pass from the campus hotel’s concierge desk. I also needed to enter through the media entrance (it was not explained where this prior emails sent to me, though it was probably listed online if I googled it). Luckily I guessed where it was and ended up correct. They didn’t have a sign anywhere telling me where the media room is, and I had to ask a few event staff before one could finally point me in the correct direction. After the game, I could also go into the locker room and did so.
So to this point, I had gotten my credentials at the campus hotel, I had parked my car, and walked into Xfinity Center’s Media Entrance. Actually, it was more like squeezed through as there was a large kids’ gymnastics group blocking the entrance (they were the halftime entertainment) waiting to be directed where to go. I found the right event staff member to point me where to go for the media room, and off I go on my own into the bowels of the arena. I went down a long ramp, turned around the corner of a privacy curtain, and there in front of me is a big welcome sign from Maryland saying this door is to the MSU visiting locker room. Since I’m by myself, I take a moment to pause and just stand in awe of the fact I actually get to be this up close to the behind the scenes area of the basketball team I have been a die-hard fan of since I have a memory of sports.
I keep walking with a big grin on my face until I get to the area just behind the tunnel out to the court the team uses. I check with an event staff member here and am directed to my right down the hall area between tunnels to the court for the entrance to the media room. I head down that way and find the room entrance and head into it to see a bunch of folding tables set up as a square.
I walk in and see a coat rack over in the far corner from the entrance and go hang my coat up while looking around. There are a good chunk of the MSU beat writers standing together on the end perpendicular to the entrance. Along the wall with the doors are more tables lined up together with folks typing out on them. The media are actually fed by the athletic department before the game, and there is a room carved out in the corner where the food is, so I make my way over. For this game, they provided a lot of Chik-Fil-A box meals. Not to sound overly entitled, but this was pretty much the single thing that was a negative as I hate Chik-Fil-A. It doesn’t even have to do with the fact I am gay. It is solely because their food sucks and isn’t any good. So I grab a chicken sandwich and try to choke down as much as I can as I don’t have time for anything else. Getting to concessions and back wouldn’t leave me enough time to really take in much of the pre-game.
So after I finished eating, I headed through the tunnel Maryland uses and came out to where the media seating section is located. The seats are assigned here, so I had to do a bit of hunting to locate my name. I ended up sitting between Hondo Carpenter and three staff members of the MSU athletic department. For a point of reference, this was the view from my seat:
Here is where the freedom you get as a credentialed media member really comes into play. I got my computer set-up and connected to wifi so I could write the game recap as play progressed, and I could occasionally tweet about the game as well. I set-up the template for things and took a few pictures from my phone for my own sake. Then I got out our nice digital camera and headed down court side to explore the freedom media credentials give you. I got to walk around the edges of the court as much as I wanted, wherever I wanted. I took my camera and did just that during the shoot around. Here are some of the better photos I captured from the pregame.
This is the part that I have the least to elaborate on. It was quite the game for Michigan State as they jumped out to a lead and never looked back. I tried to keep up with occasional tweets about the action while simultaneously writing up the recap as play unfolded. This attempt to make sure I had the recap ready to go as soon as I could after the final buzzer meant I occasionally missed action on the court such as Cassius Winston’s buzzer beater to close the first half. Overall, though, this was a great game to watch live and get to cover as media. Once in a while I would close up my laptop to get a few action shots of the game with my nice camera as well since I could use it as long as the flash was disabled, something I can’t do as a general fan in the public seats.
After the final buzzer, I finished up my game recap as quickly as possible and posted it before heading back to the media room. Here was the part that I looked forward to most outside of the game, the post-game press conference. Bear in mind, this is a sports blog website. I am not a professional writer or sports journalist. I am a fan who writes on a blog about the college team I have rooted for all my life. Not once have I ever been particularly close in physical proximity to Head Coach Tom Izzo, though I have spent most of my life looking up to him as someone to idolize as a person and head coach.
Now, for the first time, I got to actually be in the same room as this man. So of course because I was one of the last media folks in the room, I stuck to the back as all the seats were taken, and I did not have any question in mind I wanted to ask. After a minute or two, the door in the back corner of the room by the coat rack opened up, and in walked Coach Izzo. He strolled over to the podium that is covered with electronic recorders belonging to all the beat writers, and starts the post-game press conference. My hearing is downright terrible, and his microphone was not piped into a sound system so I could not actually hear a lot of what was said by him, but the experience is one that will stick with me regardless.
As soon as Coach Izzo finished up, all the MSU beat writers quickly collected their belongings and rushed out. I knew they were headed over to the locker room, so I made sure to tag along with everyone. On the way, I also happened to walk by Coach Izzo talking with I assume ESPN. It was a lot more cordial of an interview by them this time compared to the 2018 affair, a game I also attended but as a fan in the nosebleeds.
Now, before we get to the locker room moments, I am going to set the background to why this is a particularly important moment of my own life based on my background. I have always had a little bit of a beef with my older brothers. I am the youngest in my family, and when I was a little kid we were all at a Michigan State game back in the days of Shawn Respert. A family friend arranged for my two older brothers to get to go into the locker room with my dad after this game, and they came back with autographed MSU basketballs compliments of Shawn Respert. Being a little kid, I threw a bit of a tantrum as all I got to do was walk around the edge of the court after the game while they got to go into the locker room and get autographs from Shawn Respert. The family friend managed to get a personalized autographed ball for me in the end that included a brief note to me, whereas my brothers’ only had Respert’s autograph. Nevertheless, I have always held a bit of a grudge even into adulthood that they got that experience of a locker room visit and I did not (even if I wouldn’t truly remember it given how young I was at the time).
Well, now here I was after a huge win over Maryland walking into the MSU locker room. I imagine it is a bit different when it is a home game, but it is certainly an interesting experience regardless. When I walked in, most everyone had Rocket Watts surrounded and were asking him questions about his big performance for the night. I couldn’t catch much of what was asked and said, but I did hear him answer at one point that he was feeling like he was really starting to connect and get more comfortable playing with everyone after so much time together throughout the season.
Elsewhere in the locker room the players generally went about their business finishing getting dressed after their showers and packing up their bags to head out to the team bus. One of the more interesting things I noticed was when players would get loud in their talking back and forth with one another, the beat writers would turn and glare angrily at them because it was interrupting their interview with a player.
After a bit some of the writers finally started breaking off from Watts to interview some of the other players. A few caught Ahrens one-on-one. Over on the other end of the locker room I think I remember it being Xavier Tillman Sr. started to get quite the crowd at this point as well. While I mostly was just standing to the back of the pack around Watts up to now, I decided to catch Kyle Ahrens as he finished up the last of the questions with one of the beat writers. I didn’t have any particularly hard ball questions for him related to the game, but wanted to ask a few fun ones reflecting more so on his experiences as he neared the end of his final season. So here is the recap of my interview with him (answers are paraphrased through notes as I don’t own a recorder and didn’t have an app on my phone handy for this):
Me: What is it like being a senior and coming down this final stretch of games?
Kyle: Time flies coming down the stretch. It is hard to believe how it’s all gone by.
Me: You have been to a lot of Big Ten Tournament sites to this point, from Indianapolis and Chicago to Washington and New York. Which is your favorite tournament of the bunch?
Kyle: Indianapolis is my favorite. The venue is the best atmosphere wise, and they have cool touches such as the road names from all the conference schools. Chicago is good too (especially since we won there), but DC and New York just weren’t the same atmoshpere.
Me: Which venue is your favorite road game in the conference?
Kyle: Ohio State because it is like home for me, but Maryland is great too and the atmosphere tonight was just amazing. Really, though, this conference is full of great venues and you’ll get a great game no matter where you play.
A big thank you to Kyle Ahrens for taking the time to chat with me. After I finished my questions with him, that was about the same time Cassius Winston made an appearance for media and I headed a few feet over to where that group was. I listened in for a bit on the questions, but eventually headed out to collect my stuff and head home.
When I got back out to my seat in the stands to pack up, it was interesting to see the activity. Back in the tunnel area you could see the team bus parked right outside the garage door waiting for the players. Just inside there was a table with boxed meals for the team to grab on their way out. Inside the arena on the court they were busy setting up for a wrestling match the next day. In the media section all the MSU beat writers were slowly making their way back out to finish up their recaps for the night before they made their way back to their hotel rooms.
I, on the other hand, collected my laptop and other items, snapped a few more keepsake photos, and made my way back to my car to drive home for the night. Contrary to what one might think, the parking provided for this game to media (including professional beat writers for MSU) was a bit of a hike from the arena. That isn’t to imply I am complaining, more just providing an interesting bit of information one might not think would be the case. In fact, prior games MSU has played in College Park had parking right up next to the arena based on what some of the beat writers told me. Just another behind the scenes factoid for you all.
I hope you all enjoyed a look into what it is like covering a basketball game as credentialed media. I certainly hope this won’t be my last time doing so, and maybe this fall (if the pandemic gets under control by then to allow for the season to happen) I will get to cover one of MSU’s football games as well and I can compare the two sports for you all. In the meantime, that’s a wrap on this one and another “Victory for MSU!”