PROVIDENCE – As one longtime newspaper scribe pointed out, “this is something that’s been a long time coming.”
In an effort to better coordinate with members of the working press – be their classification entail print, photo, television or the Internet – the Rhode Island Interscholastic League held a “Media Day” forum Wednesday afternoon at its headquarters, located on the Rhode Island College campus.
This first-of-its-kind confab featured journalists from daily and weekly newspapers along with one TV sportscaster sitting in a room that included a head table, where RIIL Executive Director Tom Mezzanotte, Assistant Director Mike Lunney and newly-appointed Director of Marketing Tracy Quarella presided.
“We want to give a better picture of what goes on,” Mezzanotte explained about the primary reason why such a meeting was called.
For nearly 90 minutes, both sides discussed and exchanged ideas, the Interscholastic League explaining to the media what it does exactly, with the media offering suggestions that would allow them to complete their job in a more accurate fashion. The dialogue was open and frank, and always seemed to refer back to the primary mission that both parties share – better promoting high school athletics in the Ocean State.
Before getting into the specifics of the league he oversees, Mezzanotte expressed gratitude for the coverage provided. He brought up several states where the chronicling is not even close to being as comprehensive and inclusive as what this state’s press corps provides.
Every outlet brings something to the table, whether it’s a game recount from the previous day’s action, a TV segment devoted exclusively to “Friday Night Lights,” or the weekly magazine show that WJAR Channel 10 and Cox Communications produces entitled “Varsity Life.”
Mezzanotte went on to discuss the league’s stance on realignment and why the formula that’s used in all sports is in place. Before introducing hard-core figures that would serve as the primary means in placing schools in divisions, the league would position a team based on feel.
One time, a school wished to know why it was placed in one football division as opposed to another. When the league could not come up with an adequate reason why such a move transpired, that same school threatened to take the Interscholastic League to court.
Such a near misstep resulted in the creation of a mathematical calculation that shakes out to 70 percent of a team’s win-loss record over an eight-year period with 30 percent devoted to the school’s male or female enrollment.
Citing a prime example of how the math shakes out, Mezzanotte brought up the Tolman High football program, and why it’s competing in Division I this season after a successful run in D-II. The numbers computed placed the Tigers in the top tier while North Kingstown, a team that has struggled in recent seasons, could drop down a division.
“It’s the procedure we have in place,” said Mezzanotte about realignment, which is now revisited once every two years. “Is it fair for everybody? No, but we’re trying to promote competitive balance.”
Mezzanotte also clarified how the league handles the belief that the private schools hold a recruiting edge. He stated that prior to each season, the league makes it a point to sit down with representatives from each of those schools to specifically discuss what those parameters entail. Should the RIIL receive a call or an e-mail about possible recruiting violations, Mezzanotte says the school in question is immediately informed.
“We are not an investigative body,” Mezzanotte stated.
The role of the Principals’ Committee on Athletics was clarified; the PCOA is a group that includes 15 principals, one athletic director and one superintendent. This governing body meets close to a half-dozen times during the school year.
“They make the final decision,” said Mezzanotte, adding that all realignment tabulations must be approved by the PCOA before becoming official.
The league unveiled some upcoming events, beginning with a student-ambassador program that will take place Thursday. One student from every high school is expected to be on hand.
“Kids have great ideas that can make a positive impact in their schools,” Lunney remarked.
Another RIIL-sponsored event will focus on the 40th anniversary of Title IX, set for Friday, December 7.
Lunney addressed how the RIIL goes about scheduling facilities for tournament usage. He brought up challenges such as availability and whether the location is affordable and meets management needs (i.e. adequate seating arrangements and concessions).
“Our philosophy is that we want to get into first-class environments,” said Lunney.
When it came time for the media to speak its peace, the notion of having an official scorer on hand at tournament sites was bandied about. It was a suggestion that has plenty of proverbial legs, especially when taking into account that one publication may adhere to a different set of stats than another, which then leads to confusion on the part of the viewer or readership.
“We’re encouraging consistent scoring,” remarked one journalist.
Before the meeting was adjourned, Mezzanotte announced the formation of a Media Advisory Committee that would use Wednesday’s get-together as a jumping-off point to further strengthen the ties between the two sides. Several media members quickly raised their hands, a sure sign that positive steps were, indeed, taken.