Catdomealumni.com’s The Red and Puple interview is back with a great interview with the founder and publisher of the D3football.com, Pat Coleman. Anyone familiar with D3football.com (a D3Sports.com website) knows that the site is THE source for all things in division III football and has helped raise the profile of the division over the past 10 years. Pat and I touch on the back story of how D3sports.com came to be, what it takes to run the sites, and get some of Pat’s thoughts on the state of Division III and what D3football.com has in store for you during the upcoming 2009 season.
This is really a great score for Catdomealumni.com and I’d like to thank Pat for taking the time to trade e-mails with me. Enough of my ramblings, let’s get to the goods.
(Wildcat 11) Appreciate you talking with us here at Catdomealumni.com. The obvious first question for me is about the genesis of the D3sports.com family of sites. Those that are familiar with the sites know that Division III Basketball Online was your first site (created in 1994) and you then changed the name to D3hoops.com that coincided with the launch of D3football.com in 1999. During the time you created the first incarnation of the hoops site you were working as an SID for Catholic University (Pat’s also a proud Catholic grad). What was it about that time that helped you come up with the idea of creating a site dedicated to Division III basketball? Did you find immediate success or was it hard to get fans, other schools athletic departments, coaches, SIDs, to buy into this “new” Internet media? How much time did you dedicate the first site and do you remember the moment where you felt that you might have found something that could grow into what you and your staff have going today?
(Pat Coleman) Well, first of all, thanks for having me, as it were. Secondly, I can't actually take credit for starting Division III Basketball Online -- Steve Ulrich of the Centennial Conference (McDaniel, Muhlenberg, Johns Hopkins started the site in the 1994-95 season. I didn't take it over until November of 1997, after the Centennial had let it go pretty dusty all offseason.
Originally I figured I'd spend a couple hours a night, a couple nights a week on it, it would be more updated than it was before and everyone would be happy. However, I quickly found out there was so much more that could be done if I spent more time on it, and I was surprised by the level of interest from fans and SIDs.
There were definitely schools that didn't buy in right away -- heck, there are schools that don't buy in now, even though we reach hundreds of thousands of Division III sports fans a month. But there's basically nobody who's a coach or SID that hasn't heard of us, at least if they've been on the job more than a couple months, and I think we're taken seriously.
(WC11) I remember finding d3football.com and the posting boards back in 1999. I graduated Linfield in 1998 and it was my first year being done as a football player. It was the fall and I was at a friend's house surfing sites on his horribly slow dial up. I don't know how but I stumbled on the D3football.com and felt like I found a pot of gold. Up to that point, you’ve been running the hoops site but what happened to drive you to start up the football site? There was some other small college football sites out there at the time but nothing that I felt was true to Division III football. Was it just people contacting/talking to you saying “we want a football site”? Was D3football.com an instant hit and did you get hate mail from the likes of Don Hansen and usafootball.com?
(PC) The thing is, the Centennial people also had a football site: Division III Football Online. Our basketball site was so much more comprehensive than it had been when they were running it that I really felt we could do football much better as well. So we talked seriously about starting the football site in 1998, but elected not to because we feared a backlash from Division III Football Online fans. After the 1998 season, however, we knew we had to just bite the bullet and do it. We offered to purchase the site from the Centennial in exchange for whatever advertising we would have made off the front page in the first 12 months. Turned out that would have been a little over a thousand dollars. We wanted the name and we wanted the links from schools to point to us. But not having that forced us to work a little harder and do more to differentiate ourselves. In the long run, that was a good thing.
And yes, D3football.com was basically a hit from the moment it went out the door. I used to hear from Don Hansen himself on a regular basis when he was in better health and it was never anything negative. As for USAFootball.com, well, you have a Dennis Wilson story that is far better than any I could tell, so let's just leave it at that.
(WC11) So I want to paint people an idea of just what a week is like for you. You’re a married father of 3 young children, you work as the sports editor for the Verizon Central Newsroom, and you oversee the operations of D3sports.com. I would say that you have a lot going on. Can you paint a picture for us in terms of just how many hours you put in on the sites during the week? Do you have opportunities to get away to recharge your batteries and do you have the most understanding/support wife in the city of Minneapolis?
(PC) I am able to get away from the sites a little bit, thanks to Gordon Mann and his work on D3football.com and D3hoops.com. Gordon's a guy a lot like me, did radio in college at a D-III school and loved D-III athletics, didn't want to let go. He's grown from being a guy who would go out and do a handful of broadcasts a year into someone who can and does update the front page of the site on game days when I am traveling and really takes over a lot of D3hoops.com during the football playoffs. With basketball games starting Nov. 15 now, the crossover season is quite long, and we need his presence on D3hoops.com in order to get important early-season news cared for.
At one point I was probably spending 60-70 hours a week on the sites in the heart of the season. Gordon's help, better technology and some other things have enabled me to cut that back to 40-50 hours a week. Plus the 40 hours on my day job.
I don't know why Cate puts up with me sometimes. I really don't. It's not like D3sports.com pays the mortgage. I don't recharge the batteries much -- I try to take some time off after the Final Four and again after baseball ends before diving into Kickoff.
(WC11) Wow, that is really an incredible amount of time and it’s great that you have a supportive force at home that boosts you up. Really cool to hear that. You mentioned that D3sports.com isn’t paying the mortgage but do you ever see the sites developing into an opportunity where it could be a full time business? Without getting too deep into your private matters have outside companies approached you with an offer to buy the sites?
(PC) I've never been approached formally but I guess you could say I've gotten feelers. Nothing with a formal dollar amount. Once upon a time I thought I could see a path to D3sports.com being a full-time job for me under my ownership but right now, with the economy the way it is, that's a much longer path. See, the problem is, I'm a journalist and not a businessperson. More could be done with the site, to be sure, from a business standpoint.
(WC11) It’s hard to assume but I would think that the core of your readers are educated working adults that advertisers like to target. Would you ever consider entering a partnership with a sports media conglomerate if that allowed you to be full time at D3sports or would you be too worried about control with a corporate structure?
(PC) If the right offer came about I would certainly have to consider it, but I would want to still be able to work on the site and cover Division III even if I sold ownership of it to someone else. And I would want to make sure my right to continue publishing would be guaranteed if the ownership group went out of business. I remember a lot of good people lost control of their sites after they were bought out by Rivals.com and Rivals went belly-up.
(WC11) I'd like to talk a little bit about your relationship with the NCAA. From the outside it appears that D3sports.com and the NCAA have a great working relationship in regards to access and being corporative. Has it always been a good relationship? Do you think the NCAA appreciates the work and how D3sports.com has helped changed the culture of Division 3 in regards to a more knowledgeable and connected base of fans, coaches, administrations, and players? Are there areas you would like the NCAA to be more flexible in regards to the media and division III?
(PC) Actually, I would say our relationship varies by sport, and is heavily dependent on who the NCAA's liaison is for each sport. As a great example, I just spent about a week in Appleton, Wis., helping our baseball editor, Jim Dixon, cover the Division III baseball championship. A liaison I had never met, eight regional chairs I had never met and in a sport where we are relatively new and not in a position to help the NCAA in terms of gathering data and fact-checking. Also, there are so many arms of the NCAA that we deal with, not just the individual sports, but the NCAA's "front office" for Division III, so to speak, their photography licensing group, the broadcast rights people. These relationships take time to build and some are great, some are not. But the NCAA's vice president for D-III apparently asked for us to be included in the D-III identity movement interviews so we know there are people who understand what we're doing is a positive.
On the other hand, I wonder if the fact that we are constantly advocating for better treatment of Division III by association staffers puts us at odds with them. There's no reason why we should be conducting regional rankings based on flawed data, or why we should be able to do a better job calculating the number of Pool B bids than they are. It's ridiculous, and it needs to change. The only way it will change is by someone being the watchdog. That's the role the media has traditionally played with many large organizations, and we certainly try to do that as much as we can.
That brings me back to an earlier question, actually -- some have asked if we do this site for the NCAA or would want to work for the NCAA. I don't see that as being feasible unless we would be in a position to fix those inherent problems.
(WC11) Staying on the topic on the NCAA, I’d like to get some of your thoughts on the now cooled off Division IV movement. There seems to be a small but vocal band of members in Division III that are unhappy with the competitive landscape in DIII. Why do you think these schools want to see a 4th division? Even though the GREAT majority of the DIII members killed this first attempt to get the Division IV ball discussion rolling. Do you see this topic coming back to life further down the road? Overall, what do you think about the current competitive landscape of DIII? Do we have a good balance between the “student” and the “athlete”?
(PC) I suspect there will always be some sort of movement for a more restrictive group, whether that's within the three-division structure or outside of it. I feel that Division III schools have done a lot in the past six years to get closer together and find common ground on issues: redshirting is a great example, financial aid is another. Although football is somewhat imbalanced around a pair of schools in recent years, Division III in general has a fairly diverse group of champions, in my opinion.
While there are certainly schools and probably entire conferences that will likely never be in the national title picture, the same can be said for conferences in Division I. But I hope that Division III schools continue to focus on what we all have in common and continue to work toward finding more common ground.
(WC11) Personally, I would like to see Redshirting come back but I won’t hold my breath.
Let’s talk about the posting board community on D3sports.com Along with the great coverage, stories, broadcasts of the main sites, a great story of the D3sports.com is how the posting boards have helped the fans that follow division III connect with each other and help restart and grow new rivalries. Over the past 10 years those posting boards have evolved and grown into a large community. Can you talk about the early days of "Posting up/Post Patterns" and how you now have D3boards.com that covers a wide range of Division III sports? Have these boards been a positive for the Division III community and why are these boards different than the typical Division I board that are usually out of control? Can you speak about the role the boards play in how you cover Division III and what kind of resource it is?
(PC) I'd seen message boards on other sites, and knew that would be a good way to get people more involved. Remember, too, this is 1998, so there wasn't a lot of information out there either. I would say most schools didn't have any information on the Web, or at least not anything updated like a schedule and results. So this started as a way to get information from a lot of sources. It wasn't something we could publish without confirmation, but it was a good feeder system, and it still is.
I think the community on our boards is high-quality because we have trained them right, so to speak. We started out as a pretty much no-holds barred discussion board -- you didn't have to register, didn't have to provide an email address, and people could just post what they wanted without fear of being discovered. The board was always moderated, and we always had a Terms of Service, but players and fans (and yes, even coaches) could get on the board, claim to be fans of other schools, and often not be called on it. Slowly but surely we reined that in. First, you had to register. Later, we made the registration information appear on your profile, so people could see the email address. Then we displayed the IP address, so people could see what network you were posting from. (We don't currently do that because it hasn't been an issue for a while.) Currently you have to have a valid email address to post, and I have to approve each poster, which helps keep the spammers out. Spammers are amazingly easy to sniff out in the registration process.
Sometimes the free email services (AOL, gmail, Yahoo) don't deliver the messages required to get through the verification process, but in exchange, we have a nice, clean board, that is spam-free and mostly on-topic. And it's self-policing, as well. I rarely have to suspend a poster anymore -- usually the community will let a person know when they've crossed the line.
(WC11) Well along with the good of the posting board there is the bad. One of the funniest themes that seem to pop up every football, basketball season is how some posters accuse you of hating or having a bias of team/college/university "X" because of some slight you or your team made. People can get really crazy on you because they felt their team isn’t ranked high enough or a player didn’t get on an All-American team. So let’s get it on the record right now; are there any teams or schools that you “hate” and use d3sports.com as a tool to try to slight and keep down (Wildcat11 is asking this question with a heavy dose of sarcasm). Can you share your craziest story of a poster or fan of a school that went after you?
(PC) Couple good examples here, though they are going on a decade old now: Lycoming football fans and Western Connecticut football fans. The first couple years of the site, Lycoming was still playing a nine-game schedule, all of them conference games. And their fans couldn't understand why that was an issue, or why they couldn't get into the playoffs at 8-1, or why they weren't a higher seed, etc., and they liked to blame the messenger, aka me. Western Connecticut fans, if I remember correctly, couldn't understand why I picked against them in the 1999 playoffs, and ... let's say threatened to meet me on the field after the Stagg Bowl to show me how wrong I was. I'm on the field at the end of every Stagg Bowl, doing the postgame show and have yet to see these people.
I used to cite this phrase a lot more often: As a fan of your team, you're so far off to one side that we look like we're on the other side, even though we're in the middle.
Never really been accosted by a fan, though, that I can remember. In fact, a couple of Lyco students came up to me at a Catholic-Franklin & Marshall basketball game a couple years later and apologized for their fan base being so abusive. And we never had any problems with the Lycoming athletic department. We get grief from some schools, but out of 425, odds are it would have to happen sometime.
(WC11) In shifting gears, one think that I’ve noticed is that you seem to love the new technology and trends when it comes to media and networking. Not only do you have the main D3sports.com sites, but you also run a blog, broadcast multiple football and basketball games a year, pod cast during seasons, run a twitter feed, have facebook pages, etc. You really seem to embrace using the “new” media tools that become available as a resource to reach more people. Just how vital are these newer forms of networking to the reach of D3sports.com? Are these other forms of networking driving more people to the D3sports web sites? How are these tools changing the way that you and your team are covering Division III?
(PC) Well, it's a lot of things to maintain, to be sure, and our use of is so new that it's hard to really quantify how it's working for us in terms of driving new people to the sites. That's the goal, to be sure, but also Twitter gives us the ability to push out information that maybe we don't have a whole new story to build around it. That's how we broke the news on Colorado College dropping football, for example, when all we had was a confirmed fact but no details yet to build a front-page story around it. I am not sure it's bringing a lot of new people in, but we can't afford to be on the sidelines with Twitter. It does enable us to be faster on certain stories, and it helps us promote stories that we would cover in the more traditional way.
(WC11) OK Pat, one last question before I we wrap up with the lighting round. So far you have dedicated Division III sites for football, basketball, baseball, and soccer. Are there any talks right now of adding a 5th sport to the family? Also, we previously talked about new technology; do you have any new surprises or new features that you’ll be adding to d3football.com for the upcoming season?
(PC) I would say there isn't much likelihood of expanding to another sport in the immediate future. D3soccer.com needs more of our attention and we need to get Jim Matson the team he needs to cover soccer the way we cover baseball and football and basketball. If Linfield has a Wildcat11 for soccer who can help out updating the front page every once in a while or can write feature stories (on our budget, sadly), then we would love to hear from him or her. People who want to cover softball and ice hockey have approached us, but we don't have the development resources it would take to build another site, no matter how talented and dedicated the news team might be. (My brother, Ryan Coleman, is our sole developer, and he has a full-time job, like the rest of us. I have a long list on his plate already.) Our main goal right now for D3football.com is to do Kickoff better than last year, improve our Around the Region columns and pump up the Daily Dose for 2009 a little. Keith McMillan and I would always like to do a radio show akin to the Hoopsville show on D3hoops.com, and we may well get there this season, depending on Keith's work schedule and mine. I think if there's a major addition that might come for 2009, that would be it.
(WC11) A couple of football stadiums every fan of Division III should put on their bucket list?
(PC) I think St. John's is the jewel right now and I would be hard-pressed to name a better game-day atmosphere. I took my best friend up there for a game this past fall after they'd heard me talking about the D3 thing for years, just to show what it's like, and they were impressed. Nice natural bowl setting, chock full of fans, and if you go when the leaves are changing color you might never want to leave. Oh, also good football. The Coast Guard Academy is a nice game-day atmosphere, overlooking the water. I haven't been to Hampden-Sydney's new stadium but it looks fantastic. And I've only been to a little more than 60 of the 240 schools, so I have some venues yet to see. That wasn't a very lightning answer, sorry!
(WC11) Is Salem, Va. the right location and city to host the Stagg Bowl?
(PC) Yeah, the city really cares about the event and while it's not in Florida or someplace warm, it's within a day's drive for more than half of Division III.
(WC11) Your daily must visit web site (non-sports)?
(PC) Uhm, does Facebook count? Other than that and the sites I surf for work, there isn't much I do non-sports every day. Not enough hours in the day.
(WC11) Be honest, your favorite football board (D3boards.com) to follow?
(PC) From an entertainment standpoint, the Liberty League. From an information and content standpoint, probably the ASC.
(WC11) Best Division III tailgating you've attended?
(PC) Stagg Bowl, any year in the past five. Hands-down. But I want to get out to a Franklin game after reading Keith's column from last year.
(WC11) Rate on a 1-10 scale, ESPN's presentations of the Stagg Bowl?
(PC) 4. Wait, a 4 without Pam Ward, 2 with her on PBP. She doesn't do nearly enough homework. In other news, the network forces an abnormally early start time on one of the title games, and half the time it's us. They don't do any other games all year, unlike even in D-II where semifinals are available somewhere in the ESPN mega-network. I'm glad for the kids' sake that the game is on the network, but the presentation itself leaves a lot to be desired.
(WC11) Which do you like covering better? Football or Basketball
(PC) Ehh, you're going to think I'm pandering to the football audience but I like the weekly cycle of football, how it builds up to culmination each Saturday. However, I like the NCAA Tournament more in basketball than in football. There's just something about surfing from game to game on those first three rounds of the tournament and getting great finishes all over the place, scores coming in left and right.