Sunday, April 20, 2014

RnR won't "benefit" from incorrect perception

First, I want to say how deeply saddened I am about the deaths of High Point's Jason Schlosser and Raleigh's Derrick Myers. Both collapsed toward the end of the half-marathon associated with the Raleigh Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. My thoughts are with Jason's wife, Derrick's wife and kids and their families.It's truly disheartening to see this happen in a sport that I love and, more significantly, tragic for the families.

Somehow the folks at the for-profit Competitor Group Inc. couldn't find it in their hearts to even mention their deaths on the Raleigh Rock 'n' Roll Marathon's official website. A story about a Biggest Loser star running in one of its races merited a story. But the deaths of two runners at its event is apparently not significant enough.

That's quite an insult to the families of those two men.

After intending to write an aftermath blog post shortly after the race, I waited a few days out of respect for those two runners. The wait has led to even more reasons to write.

What is the source of the money "benefiting" the V Foundation? 

The big banner at the start/finish line proclaimed on the right side that the race is "benefiting The V Foundation." That was only one a few curious parts of the lead paragraph of Competitor Group's official story on the race:

RALEIGH, N.C.—Under clear skies and cool temperatures, dominated the field at the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh Marathon & ½ Marathon presented by WRAL benefiting The V Foundation for Cancer Research.
It's obviously a template that the Competitor Group uses for all of its races. Whoever plugged in the information forgot to place winner Paul Himberger's name before the word dominated. (Gee, if it was a close race, they'd actually have to edit it!) And, no, it wasn't cool. It was a fairly hot day, with temperatures pushing into the 70s. I guess hiring better PR people might cut into profits.

The part that made me skeptical? The end of the sentence that says "benefiting The V Foundation for Cancer Research" made me wonder. I immediately was curious because it didn't say "proceeds benefiting." I was suspicious about whether Competitor Group actually would write a check to the Foundation that would cut into its profits or, more likely, the money that went to the Foundation was entirely from money raised by runners.

After News & Observer writer Colin Campbell wrote this story in Tuesday's paper, I emailed him to urge him to look into that. My argument? It was in the public interest considering all of the tax money the county's tourism agency, the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, gave (and will continue to give) Competitor Group.

Campbell replied that he would look into it. I certainly may not have been the only one who suggested that it was worth checking. But on the front page of Friday's N&O, his reporting confirmed my suspicions: Competitor Group isn't giving a penny to the Foundation. The money the Foundation gets from the race indeed only comes from money raised by runners, who receive free race entry when they raise $500 for the Foundation. Those free entries represent Competitor Group's only sacrifice for the charity. That is a big deal for those runners considering that the Rock 'n' Roll races are overpriced. It's a minor blip to Competitor Group's bottom line.

Among the main points in the story:
In a fundraising model that breaks with the tradition of most local road races, Rock ’n’ Roll runners gathered donations themselves as part of “Team V.” No proceeds from registration fees – which cost up to $150 per runner – went to The V Foundation, which was billed as the event’s official charity.
Some local race organizers think Rock ’n’ Roll’s branding could mislead runners who are accustomed to events where part of their registration fee goes to charity.
“To me, that’s misrepresentation,” said Paula O’Neal, a retired Raleigh police officer who operates RunRaleigh Races.
Most other area races – including the City of Oaks and Tobacco Road marathons – give tens of thousands of dollars annually to local charities using the registration fees they collect.

Read more here:
And I really appreciated how the story contrasted the Rock 'n' Roll model with the one used by other local races:

‘Give the rest away’
The two other marathons that go through Wake County are nonprofit events. Tobacco Road, which raised $100,000 in its most recent marathon event on the American Tobacco Trail, gives money to several charity groups.
Likewise, the City of Oaks Marathon donates about $50,000 to local charities each year, event chairman Jim Micheels, said.
“We pretty much drain the account down to a few thousand dollars and give the rest away,” he said.
Rock ’n’ Roll officials provided the $250,000 charity total this week but did not respond to multiple calls and emails Thursday seeking comment about the fundraising model.
O’Neal, of RunRaleigh, already was upset with Rock ’n’ Roll. Her group’s half marathon was bumped from its usual April weekend when Rock ’n’ Roll came to town.

Read more here:
It would be nice if the News & Observer actually covering the Tobacco Road Marathon, which it hasn't done the past 2 years. It will cover City of Oaks since the newspaper is a race sponsor. It took the Rock 'n' Roll folks kicking up controversy for The N&O finally to report about TRM donating $100,000 for charity. But at least it was reported.

Prize money also cuts into profits! When I won the Grandmasters (50+) division at last September's Asheville Citizen-Times City Marathon, the award came with a $300 check. Considering how much money the Competitor Group makes from races, you would expect nice prize money for its races. But you'd be wrong.

The overall male and female winners in the Raleigh Rock 'n' Roll Marathon only got $500. Second-place finishers earned $250 and third-place finishers earned $100. I was nowhere near the top 10 in Asheville, but I earned more than the second-place overall finishers in Competitor's marathon.

It's all about profits.

If any are runners still are interested in running one of the Raleigh Rock 'n' Roll Marathon races next April, more power to you. I'll stay away just like I did this year and instead support good, locally run races.

I'm glad that, thanks to The N&O's reporting, Competitor won't get away with creating the perception that it is donating some of its money to The V Foundation.

Yes, there is a difference between a "half-marathon" and a "marathon"

The worst part of the reporting after the race obviously was that two runners sadly died during the half-marathon. But also very irritating was how most of the Triangle media didn't seem to know the difference between a half-marathon and a marathon.

WRAL, the race sponsor, repeatedly got this wrong. The first screen image is from WRAL's news on Fox 50, the second is from one of WRAL's 6 o'clock newscasts and the third is from a WTVD newscast. They were "half-marathon deaths," not:

I fully realize that there are a lot of non-runners who may not know the difference. A few months ago, I had a co-worker tell me his wife had run a marathon. I asked which race it was and he said it was a 5K. I understand that people can easily confuse a half-marathon with a marathon. But these are journalist and this is a basic reporting error.

A much-less egregious error? Some in the media alternated between getting the AP style of "half-marathon" correct and incorrectly spelling it "half marathon." It's not that difficult.

Enough about this Rock 'n' Roll race! I'm off to Fayetteville on May 4 to run the inaugural All-American Marathon, which is run by local folks.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Pack hasn't backed its preseason hype

Coach Elliott Avent should get a Wolfpack Unlimited Award.

With his cocky preseason comments, he convinced the Triangle media that N.C. State was a contender for the national title. The reality is that the Pack may barely make one of the 10 spots in the ACC Tournament.

If you are a fan of a Triangle college baseball, you're all too familiar with the pattern of media coverage that has been repeated for years.

Student newspapers are the only media outlets that actually staff games until the area's college basketball season ends. It's understandable given the high interest in college basketball and the increasingly limited resources of the area newspapers.

That pattern changed this season. But only for the overhyped N.C. State team.

Despite the fact that Duke's program was on the upswing and Carolina was coming off a College World Series appearance just like the Wolfpack, only State got coverage in February. The News & Observer's Carolina Hurricanes beat writer, Chip Alexander, wrote an overall preview (image of the article is below) that had a few paragraphs on other schools. But it was clear that it was mostly about the Wolfpack.

Yes, the Wolfpack had more key players returning than the Tar Heels, who ended N.C. State's 2013 season. The gap between the two teams on the field isn't that great. The gap on early-season hype was incredible wide.

How early did it start? Try the Feb. 7 edition of The News & Observer with this story:

That story came out of N.C. State's preseason press conference. The Tar Heels also had a preseason press conference. But, as in most years, no reporter from The N&O filed a story from that press conference.

State ace Carlos Rodon, who is 2-5 after losing to Clemson on Saturday, declared during that press conference that the Wolfpack was a baseball school. Avent suggested that if the Wolfpack made it back to Omaha, "there could be a parade in Raleigh sometime in July."

I doubt that they give parades for teams that put together 10-game ACC losing streaks.

Here are some highlights from that press conference:

The N&O's N.C. State beat writer, Joe Giglio, covered the Wolfpack's home opener, a 3-0 loss to Canisius, even though he had covered the Pack's basketball loss at Syracuse the day before. That was the first time I can remember a February college baseball game being covered by a non-student paper.

The Tar Heels got no such coverage and neither did Duke. Both have better league records than the Wolfpack by a wide margin. After Saturday's play, Duke is 7-7, UNC is 6-8 and N.C. State is 3-10, last winning an ACC game March 9 against 1-12 Notre Dame.

Avent clearly seems to be hungry for coverage and has done all that he can do to get it. It's my understanding that it was Avent who wanted that press conference on Jan. 14 at the DBAP "announcing" the April 15 UNC-N.C. State baseball game in Durham. This press conference came nearly a month after the game originally was announced Dec. 20.

All of this prompts a few questions. Did Avent overvalue his team and did the media overvalue his opinion and the team? Was Avent right in his preseason assessment of his talent and he's just done a poor job of coaching?

This much is clear: If you do that much talking before the season, you look silly when you don't back it up.

Let's end this walk-off home run game

For years, “game-ending home run” or “game-ending hit” accurately and strongly described the feat that ends a baseball game with an at-bat rather than an out.

It still does.

But you rarely hear a game-winning hit described with that phrase. Every year, the irritating phrases “walk-off home run” or “walk-off hit” have become a more popular and hip way to describe how a last-at-bat victory ended.

Hip often is more popular than using a clear, accurate phrase.

In basketball, you might hear about a player getting the ball “in the paint to score the ball” rather than the more logical “in the lane to score.” You can’t find the word “paint” in the basketball rulebook that describes the 3-second rule. It’s also doubtful that you’ve ever seen anybody cut ridges or lines into a basketball.

If you never had heard either phrase, you’d have no idea what was meant by a “walk-off home run.” But you’d have no trouble understanding if you are told that it was a “game-ending hit.”

It also is a game-winning hit, which can occur in the first inning if gives a team a lead that it never relinquishes. There was a time when people correctly called a game-ending hit a game-winning hit often. While it’s correct, game-ending hit is a much more impressive way to describe it.

As much as I hated the growing popularity of “walk-off home run” in the late 1990s and early 2000s, at least the usage had some level of logic. The phrase is derived from when then-Oakland A’s pitcher Dennis Eckersley first called home runs in the last at-bat of a game “walk off pieces” in 1988.

He gave up one of the more famous such homers to Dodgers slugger Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series.

The phrase refers to what the pitcher does after giving up a game-ending hit: He walks off. It has nothing to do with what the winning team does in reaction to the hit.

This is where journalists are twisting the knife even more on a phrase that I hate. Already this season, I’ve heard and read about a team “walking off” with a win. If you insist on using this phrase, then it is accurate to say a team earned a “walk-off victory.”

To say that they “walked off” with a win is taking the silly phrase to another level of illogic. When a team gets a game-ending hit, I see a lot of players running up to the plate to greet the player who scores the game-winning run. I see a lot of celebrating. But you see very little, if any, walking.

The walking is being done by the poor pitcher who just got tagged with the loss and his teammates, who are walking from their fielding positions to their dugout.

ESPN clearly is the media outlet that really accelerated the popularity of the phrase “walk-off home run.” Most baseball journalists use it as if the phrase has been around as long as Babe Ruth.

There is an occasional glimmer of hope. I heard an ESPN announcer on SportsCenter the other day use the term “game-ending home run” during a highlight.

Could that be the start of a trend in the other direction? Probably not.

At least I can take comfort in the fact that nobody will say or write that a player “scores the baseball.”