"Attention media: You're gonna want to hear the segment on state tournament coverage ..."
Professionally, I never expected to hear from a podcast that come March and April I may not have access to covering high school athletics at state tournaments like I have — safely I may add — all school year, but the reality is 2021 will certainly look different than 2020 and any year before.
And hopefully next school year and beyond, as things get back to normal.
Discussed by John Millea, a former prep sports scribe, now media specialist at the MSHSL, on episode 137 of "Preps Today" with Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan, was anticipated changes for the 2021 winter state tournaments.
"I want to shed some rumors. The High School League, we haven't made any announcements, but I want people to know. Closed circuit to media people that cover high school state tournaments, it's going to be different. Because of COVID, it will be way different than anything we've had before," Millea shared.
Millea said there will be limited spectators. Currently, buildings such as the Xcel Energy Center and Target Center do not allow fans into games. If those management groups say no spectators, there will be no spectators, Millea said.
"Nothing has been finalized. These discussions are ongoing," he said.
As of last week, here is what Millea knew.
- There will be no in-person interviews at state tournaments. (This comes as no shocker as guidance from the MSHSL all winter has been virtual interviews with athletes and coaches.)
- Radio stations may broadcast the team they cover, and only the teams they cover, with a one-man crew.
- It's possible there will be no photographers allowed from newspapers and such. If this is the case, the MSHSL will hire pool photographers and images will be made available to organizations.
- Media will be encouraged to watch games from home. There will be no charge for streams, or TV broadcasts, for media. Zoom press conferences would be utilized for reporters to ask questions from home.
"We want people to have the idea of watching these games on TV or streaming," said Millea, who was adamant with MSHSL co-workers that streams and live stats must be working at all times to be successful in this transition.
"It's a new world, but that's the standard right now in pro and college sports," he added.
On Feb. 19, event management at the University of Minnesota allowed me to cover a women's tennis match between the Gophers and Nebraska. So it got me thinking about media attendance and what can and cannot be accomplished virtually.
So I reached out to Paul Rovnak, director of communications for athletics at the University of Minnesota. Our sons played baseball together two summers ago.
Reporters and photographers are at events. Where they sit, where they stand, has been different.
"We do not ban media from attending events. We have had media at every event we have contested this year," he said.
There have been limits with indoor sports such as hockey and basketball. A publication such as the Star Tribune may only have one reporter there now, maybe a second if a columnist asks to be in attendance.
It's the same with professional sport organizations, said Jace Frederick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Frederick is on the beat for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He figures he's been in-person for roughly 50% of home games.
"For Wolves/Wild/Gophers reporters, being there is the same as watching on TV right now. And for photographers, it hasn’t been awesome shooting from so far up," Frederick said. He said camerapeople and reporters have been positioned at the top of the lower bowl at Target Center versus on the baseline or near the court.
Additionally, like what the MSHSL is proposing, post-game interviews have been all virtual.
Frederick is the prep coverage editor as well for the Pioneer Press. He feels the question marks remain most unanswered in individual sports such as gymnastics, wrestling and boys swimming and diving.
While team sports such as hockey and basketball are covered yearly by Channel 45, individual sports may be more difficult to stream and photograph with multiple mats, lanes and events in use at one time.
"One of the reasons we get into sports writing is we want to be in the arena," Souhan said on the podcast. "We want to see the sweat, feel the breeze as people run by. We want to be as close as possible. We want to talk to people on the record, off the record behind the scenes."
Souhan, though, said a recent column he wrote on LeBron James was done all virtually. He was not in the building for the Lakers-Timberwolves contest.
CALM DOWN, KRAUSHAR
Getting a bit fired up at times, my commonsense man is David LaVaque, prep reporter for the Star Tribune. A Friday afternoon conversation last week calmed me down a bit after the initial reaction to the news.
While Frederick and Souhan cover teams that are broadcasted on FSN North, Big Ten Network, etc., watching some state tournaments virtually certainly will be challenging.
Some of what makes community journalism so important is that local feel a reporter or photographer brings. Being in the moment, in-person, is the most effective way to relay information and share the story.
That said, LaVaque reminded me these changes will likely exist for one tournament season. And he suggested that if a team from my coverage area does advance to the state tournament, I could hang out with parents who may be watching from home. A different perspective than usual.
So, I'll take the high road. Whatever is needed for the post-season to have a conclusion in 2021. And you won't have to find out the score or read about the result in a podcast. You'll find the story right here in this space!