Stony Brook Athletics tackles challenges of academics

460,000 NCAA student-athletes have to fit their sports and social lives along with school work into their daily schedules. The problem is, there are only 24 hours in a day.

“It’s very hard. It’s very hard,” Courtney Rickard, Stony Brook’s Assistant Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development, said. “I tell every recruit and their families when they come, I would have failed out of school if I had been a Division I student-athlete.”

There are some programs that help their pupils take the easy way out to squeeze sports and school work in, while still getting through the rigors of a college course load.

The University of North Carolina used “fake paper classes” for 18 years, according to multiple media outlets. Student-athletes never had to meet, and they only wrote one paper per semester. Stony Brook Athletics does not want to go down that road.

“We’re not the North Carolina scandal, we’re going to do it right,” Rickard said. “If we’re going to have athletics at Stony Brook, we’re going to do it right.”

That has not always been the case for the Seawolves. Way before Stony Brook’s baseball team went to the 2012 College World Series, the men’s basketball team beat the No. 13-ranked squad in the nation at the end of 2014 and the women’s lacrosse team earned a top-five national ranking this year, the Athletics Department found itself in trouble.

According to The New York Times, the school lost 12 and a half athletic scholarships for two seasons based on violations. The report states that, “some academically ineligible students were allowed to compete, some did not have satisfactory grade-point averages, and others did not have enough credit hours for graduation.”

Ever since, Stony Brook Athletics’ administration has worked with its student-athletes to make their two jobs—one as a student and another as an athlete— as successful as possible.

Student-athletes do not only have the pressure of performing in their respective sporting venue, but in the classroom as well. (Andrew Eichenholz)
Student-athletes do not only have the pressure of performing for their respective team, but in the classroom as well. (Andrew Eichenholz)

“You’ve got the athletics piece and you’ve got the academics piece and heaven forbid they want to join a club, they want to be involved in something, that’s a drain on their time,” Rickard said. “Our job really is to try to help alleviate any of that stress and really organize their day.”

Ever since Rickard started as an advisor at Stony Brook in 2003, Seawolves student-athletes have improved in the classroom. The department’s overall grade-point average has risen from a 2.86 in the 2003-2004 academic year to its current number of 3.08.

Stony Brook’s Director of Athletics, Shawn Heilbron, will soon unveil that the department seeks to bring the overall GPA to a 3.15 as part of a larger five year plan, per Rickard.

According to Dr. Richard Laskowski, who was the Dean of Physical Education and Athletics at Stony Brook over a decade ago, departments looking to increase performance both on and off of the field, as Stony Brook is attempting to do, face a challenge.

“You’ve got to bring in good students. But history shows, unfortunately, that generally the higher the level of athletic performance that’s asked for in a university, the more difficult it is to get those students who have high grades,” Laskowski said. “They’re more likely to focus on their athletic ability.”

An example is the University of Notre Dame, where according to Laskowski, who was also a high-ranking administrator at St. John’s University, the Fighting Irish have slightly lowered their standards for the sake of securing students who can help them the most on the playing field.

According to CNN, the academic fraud bug bit them in 2014. “Several University of Notre Dame students, including four football players, are being investigated over academic fraud allegations, the university said.”

Stony Brook's teams win conference championships, send student-athletes to the pros, and more recently, have increased their GPAs. (Andrew Eichenholz)
Stony Brook’s teams win conference championships, send student-athletes to the pros, and more recently, have increased their GPAs. (Andrew Eichenholz)

Stony Brook does not want to sacrifice its academics for anything.

“Because of the high standards we have here at Stony Brook, we always wanted to do that, that was always one of our goals when we were doing a strategic plan or a five-year plan, increase the GPAs,” Laskowski said. “But to do that, it’s hard to also increase the level of your athletic program, it’s not that easy. It’s very challenging.”

That is a struggle that Rickard and company deal with every day.

“Coaches don’t like surprises at the end of the semester,” she said. “but we don’t like surprises during the semester.”

Academic coaches meeting individually with students and teams holding study halls at the Stuart Goldstein Student-Athlete Development Center are some of the efforts made to keep students on track.

“It’s everybody at the table,” Rickard said. “Everyone involved with student athlete welfare coming to the table and working so that the calendar of things they have to do somehow fits in those 24 hours.”

To faculty, it is not about merely helping student-athletes skate by and just earn their degrees, either. Since Heilbron took the job a year ago, much time has been spent focusing on what comes next for the Seawolves.

“That hundred percent placement in something after graduation is going to fall on our shoulders here in student-athlete development and it really always has, but now it’s put into place, it’s written out,” Rickard said. “I think that’s a challenge because that’s a hard task to fill, but at the same time, that’s what our mission is. I always tell people on their recruiting visit, ‘if you come here for four years and you leave and you have no idea what to do after that, I have failed you.’”

Despite the obstacles, Stony Brook Athletics is not failing, but only building upwards.

Social media panel addresses important trends

Writing an article is something that a journalist does all the time, but that is not where the story ends. In recent years, social media has changed the media world, and made reporting go past the pad and pen.

On Saturday, April 18 at Hofstra University, the Society of Professional Journalists Region 1 Conference held a panel to discuss not only how social media has effected change in the world of journalism, but how it will continue to do just that.

Speaking to an auditorium full of professionals along with students in the Student Center Theatre were social media savants from different areas of the business. Shawn Brown of News12, who graduated from Stony Brook University, works for News12.

Brittany VanBibber is the associate social media editor for AOL.com, recently coming out of the New York University Journalism program.

In the broadcast realm, Jenny Earl represented CBS News, as she is a social media producer for the company.

Now, as interesting as names and titles may or may not be, the key to the panel, mediated by Professor Carl Corry of Stony Brook University, formerly of Newsday.com and News12 Interactive, was that everyone had a different opinion.

Questions from the crowd ranged from a wide variety of topics, without necessarily one school of thought. How many posts should a person make in a day? How should somebody deal with the privacy issue associated with social media? All of those do have answers, but depending on the field, the answer may not always be the same, so that is my takeaway.

Brown’s focus was getting his material up on Facebook. Working for a television station. His reasoning behind that was to add more than just a written component. For breaking news, words have to out out as quickly as possible on Twitter, but that goes away, and fast.

The advantage of Facebook is that it can provide a text box and visual to support the overall telling of a story. While it may be interesting to hear that Alex Rodriguez hit that monstrous walk-off home run to win the New York Yankees the World Series in front of a boisterous crowd, people want to see that.

On the other hand, for groups like AOL.com, tweets are not always going to be that way. They are mostly going to be the soft news, or the niche stories that catch somebody’s eye as being different. In that manner, every word counts as when something does not drastically affect the world, the headline of the story is all there is to make a reader click a link.

One thing I was surprised by was how important leaving a link in or not is. Who would have known that could effect the viewership by that much?

Tennis data reveals earnings deficit in the sport

FiveThirtyEight, a website started by Nate Silver, known for his statistical work during elections, produces data journalism galore for the public to take in. Carl Bialik, the website’s lead writer for news, took a look at the world of tennis and what exactly the landscape of prize money looks like in a piece he wrote back in December.

His findings in short were that even though there are thousands of professional tennis players, only a small fraction break even, with even fewer making a nice living for themselves.

How did he find that out? He used data.

One of his first pieces of information was a press release from the International Tennis Federation, which broke down the number of players who played a professional tournament along with average expenses and relevant statistics.

The bottom line, as Bialik pointed out, is that only 589 men and women made enough on tour to break even in 2013. Considering 13,336 players competed during the season, it is shocking that only four percent of them finish with the same or more money than when they first started.

Keep in mind, that is not making money, merely getting back to even.

The piece used a graphic that showed just how large the disparity in the sport’s funding between the top-tier and everyone else is.

The data shows that the top levels in the sport may make money to survive, but the lower tiers make next to nothing. (Credit to FiveThirtyEight)
The data shows that the top levels in the sport may make money to survive, but the lower tiers make next to nothing. (Credit to FiveThirtyEight)

This season, as the chart shows, there will be about $100 million worth of prize money on the ATP World Tour, where only the top-100 or so, usually more exclusive than that, are able to compete. On the ITF and Challenger circuits, the minor leagues in the tennis world, there is only about $10 million up for grabs.

Someone out there very well could have taken all of the same numbers and put together an entirely-written piece hitting on the same point’s Bialik did, but it would not be as effective. Millions of dollars is millions of dollars so the difference between the levels of professional tennis may have seemed big, but not huge. That is where the graphic really hits home.

Bialik did the same thing when taking a closer look at the funding for lower-level tournaments specifically. “Futures” tournaments, the lowest of the low-level events, provide the least reward for performance. But, those held in Europe have more money to give the players. Now, look at the graph:

ITF Events in Europe have a far higher prize fund than the same level event anywhere else. (Credit to FiveThirtyEight)
ITF Events in Europe have a far higher prize fund than the same level event anywhere else. (Credit to FiveThirtyEight)

Describing it is one thing, but numbers put into graph form makes the information used in data journalism that much more appealing.

More posting leads to more exposure

At the beginning of the semester, I followed whoever I followed and tweeted whatever I tweeted. There was no rhyme or reason to the social media madness.

A few months later, it is safe to say that whoever logs onto my Twitter account today will know exactly its purpose is: bringing my followers everything they need to know not just in the general world of sports, but tennis.

Something that has helped to spread my social media presence is both replying to tweets, sending messages to others and quote tweeting.

When news broke that a tennis player named Wayne Odesnik had been suspended for an extended amount of time, I knew from his history that one person would be very happy, and that is Andy Roddick. Roddick is not afraid of controversy whatsoever, as the outspoken American has shown throughout his playing and now broadcasting career.

So, I sent him a message, figuring he would be interested in the news of this suspension.

I guess that reaching out to people on the platform has worked out. The reply Roddick sent me nearly a month ago still has my phone buzzing to this day, as it has gotten hundreds of likes and retweets. Every time somebody saw that, they saw my twitter name, which is only a good thing.

It did not hurt that various publications wrote about the exchange as well.

Tennis.com’s Matt Cronin discussed Roddick’s reaction here, where not only did my Twitter handle get published, but my name and face as well.

From that, I would estimate I received give-or-take another 40 followers after about 200 more followed me only to unfollow me when I did not return the favor.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 2.17.20 PM

Something that I have noticed is that on my end, it is best to keep who I am following in categories. A major part of my freelancing career revolves around tennis, so I follow and have added more tennis writers and players with personality. It has enabled me to better keep track of the game, and even given me ledes on articles I have worked on.

So as I have all semester long, I will continue to tweet, tweet and tweet some more to continue to build a reputation in the tennis community.

Multiple Sclerosis does not stop 28-year-old Stony Brook student from being free

When a veil was lifted from 28-year-old Mathew Ryerson’s eyes, it had nothing to do with a wedding. Instead, the Stony Brook University political science student got a fresh start in life. He was free to live again.

Ryerson graduated high school in 2005, but suffered from what at the time seemed like typical fatigue as his weight ballooned over 300 pounds. Little did he know that the fatigue was the least of his worries.

In the early days of 2009, he made a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night that led to a cycle of worrying, researching and fear. Ryerson’s right side went numb. He had no clue what was happening to him.

With no steady job and a last-second effort to enroll full-time at Suffolk County Community College in order to obtain health coverage shut down because of an outstanding bill, Ryerson had no choice.

He had to go to the hospital without health insurance.

After the neurologist on-call went over the Long Islander’s situation, the doctor’s initial evaluation would later turn into a confirmed reality: Ryerson had Multiple Sclerosis, a disease that affects the covering of nerves, which yields symptoms that include problems with muscle control, vision and balance.

Yet, after his first attempt at helping himself with self-injections caused more harm than good, Ryerson eventually found Tysabri, an infusion done once a month, which has changed his life for the better.

Ryerson still has moments where he has to sit in his car to wait for tremors in his hands to calm down. Every day may not be his best. But, the positive-minded Seawolf, who can often be seen and heard at Stony Brook athletic events, does not let it get to him.

Every time he steps into a classroom, all that is there is a professor and his goal of learning. Ryerson would say he was let out of a cage. He stepped out, turned around and locked the disease in it.

Podcasts provide context

Listening to NPR’s 10-million play podcast, Invisibilia, there is one thing that stands out as to what plays one of the biggest roles in making an audio piece great or subpar.

It took just a few minutes to see that podcasts are not like a typical radio show, where one person could theoretically go on forever, boring the audience with their own voice. On the Feb. 13 episode, host Lulu Miller does not do that, but she helps move along a story.

http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=3&islist=true&id=64&d=02-13-2015

In fact, Miller acted as wheels that kept a car, being the story, running. Whenever the clips from the interviewee were unrecognizable or did not completely make sense to someone unfamiliar with anything involved, the host jumped in with what seemed like a voiceover, in order to provide context for the situation.

Something that seems obvious now, but was not beforehand, was how similar in different ways a podcast is to a written story. In “How to Grow a Bully + Lullaby,” the hosts of Invisibilia introduce their discussion with a quick and attention-grabbing summary of what was to come.

A lede is a lede, no matter the medium that the material is published. It helped me to better understand that even though a podcast is not controlled by the boundaries of sentences and grafs, there is still structure involved.

The most intriguing podcast in terms of natural sound was without a doubt “Where We Are” from StartUp. The first thing that the host mentions is where the audio is being recorded– on the couch in front of a playing television. Indeed, within moments, random voices came spewing from what sounded like a few feet away. That gives the listeners a relaxed tone.

http://gimletmedia.com/episode/14-where-we-are/

Would it be more enjoyable to listen to a host who is dead serious or relaxed, and more so having a conversation with anybody who is tuning in? The easy answer to that is that it is best to connect with the audience in someway, and believe it or not, listening to the podcast while on the couch as they do the same thing makes for a more comfortable atmosphere.

At the end of the day, a story is a story, from text to web, video to photos and in this case, audio. If it is all talk with no meaning or purpose, it will not succeed.

Following family

There are many people out there who grow up watching what their family does for a living, and cannot wait to go in a different direction. I am not one of those people.

Whether I have liked it or not, I always followed the career path that my brother paved. We are not similar in many ways: he is a Yankees fan, I love the Mets. My life revolves around sports, his athletic intake is limited to what he sees at work. Yet, we have found ourselves strolling down identical roads.

My brother attended one school, and was always intent on becoming a lawyer. Seven years younger, so was I. If it is hard to tell, my life revolves around arguing with others about why I am right about sports and they are wrong. In their roots, the job of a lawyer is really to argue.

Next thing I know, he transferred schools and majors. I do not remember much of his day-to-day college life and course schedule, but my brother ended up going into the journalism field. An internship at CBS here, another at ABC there, and he was building his connections in the real world.

I, however, was stuck in my fantasy land of still becoming a professional athlete. I figured I would be the next Mike Piazza when I was a kid, but when I was not even the best in my Little League I came to the realization that maybe baseball was not for me.

So, tennis became my life. I had always played as a kid, taken classes at the home of the U.S. Open, and to be frank, I was far better at it. Going into high school, the team looked at me as a savior of sorts, thinking I was better than I actually was because they took classes at the same center in a lower level than I did. Sorry guys, I am no Roger Federer.

Nevertheless, tennis enveloped me, and it still surrounds me to this very day. I did decently in high school, and perhaps if I did not give up on the “dream,” I would not be at Stony Brook right now and I would be at another low-level Division I program working a full-time job as a player on the tennis team while completing my studies.

I had no interest in that.

Since my junior year of high school, I have worked as a coach for the USTA. Considering only my grandparents followed tennis, it seemed odd that I would have a mind for the game. That is my passion: teaching others the sport that I love. If I could, I would do it for the rest of my life.

But, it is not financially reasonable. I found the next best way to stay in touch with the sport while still being close to it, and that is journalism. Years later, I had found my way back to where my brother was, following in his footsteps.

He now works as a coordinating producer at Good Morning America, while I strive to write for a magazine covering tennis, eventually working my way onto ESPN.

Stony Brook was a far quicker decision. Close. Growing. Affordable. It was simple as that. That is where I have come from, where have you?

LIRR commuters show their faces

The claim that, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is true. Looking at any image, there is always a story to tell. How did that person or people end up where they are in the photograph?

In the photo story, “Faces of the Long Island Railroad,” there are definitely some stories to tell. Many times that a person takes public transportation, they see people who they will never encounter again in their life. In other situations, it becomes a familiar crowd.

So, who are those people? That was what Julio and Carlos were trying to convey.

More so with the photos than the words, they were able to illustrate a trend about the train passengers. Just looking at the story, it seems as if the crowd is extremely diverse, from every gender, ethnic group and age.

However, if a visitor to the blog scrolled through it quickly, they might not have noticed because of the size of the pictures. It would have been more effective to blow up the pictures and take up more space on the blog, as a large majority of the story being told comes from the image.

On that topic, it was interesting to see some of the stories that the duo were able to find out. Even though most were students, they each had different academic backgrounds, with differing opinions on the fare hike.

That being said, I think that telling their respective stories could have even been a bit better than focusing on the increased rate of traveling on the LIRR. A lot of the text in between images is attempting to give context about each of the subject’s feelings on the increase in the price of commuting, but that in a way could be a given.

Would anybody be happy about paying more money for anything?

It would have been interesting to see if the theater professor got on the train and worked on grading assignments or writing scripts. Did the students catch up on studying while they waited to get to Stony Brook or head for home?

Letting the pictures tell the story rather than in a way writing an article or blog post supplemented by images may have been more effective than it was. When the videographer, Brink, was featured, there is mention that, “the wind picked up.” It is a nice picture, but it does not necessarily show the wind, so the writing was a bit confusing.

Not that it was a bad story, it just raises questions that the viewer may want to see. That is the benefit of having a solid story idea.

A good story idea it was, as it raises curiosity. Just the whole concept of profiling strangers is engaging, as it is impossible to visualize a “stranger,” so one has to take a look at the story.

An interesting preface to the project was the duo’s social media use prior to putting together the photo story. As daily commuters themselves, Julio and Carlos have tweeted their experiences and difficulty with delays in the past.

Baring that in mind, it helped better understand that riders of the LIRR do not only have issues with paying fares and a pending increase, but that the service itself that they pay for is not perfect. In fact, it is far from it.

 

Stony Brook baseball players look to earn another chance while seeking success as a team

When any college sports team takes the field, it is not about a group of athletes stepping onto a playing field to try to win. Instead, those young adults are students as well.

Some student-athletes have given up more than just their free time to join their respective teams.

The Stony Brook Seawolves have three alum who currently hold a roster spot on a Major League Baseball team. Joe Nathan, Tom Koehler and Nick Tropeano all put on a baseball jersey in front of thousands of people every day and night.

Kevin Krause was picked in the MLB Draft last season after playing in front of nearly nobody at Joe Nathan Field. (NINA LIN/ THE STATESMAN)
Kevin Krause was picked in the MLB Draft last season after playing in front of nearly nobody at Joe Nathan Field. (NINA LIN/ THE STATESMAN)

On this season’s Seawolves squad, there are players who gave up that chance in order to pursue an education and enhance their abilities at the same time.

In fact, Johnny Caputo, who is a junior infielder from Ontario, was drafted in the 12th round of the 2012 MLB Draft. That is a relatively high selection, as there are 40 rounds, full of college and high school players. Caputo passed on the dream to come to Stony Brook.

The same goes for left-handed pitcher Daniel Zamora, a sophomore. He went in the 27th round, but also chose to pursue his studies while looking to enhance his stock as a prospect in the college game.

When the Seawolves take on NYIT at their own Joe Nathan Field on Tuesday at 3 p.m., each of these stories will take the field, looking to pave their paths to success as a team. As individuals, they push to achieve their professional dreams of playing in front of thousands, even though the game Tuesday may only have a handful of fans in the crowd.

Then, there are those like left-handed pitcher Tyler Honahan who are coming into their own while donning their Seawolves attire. The youngster has taken the America East Conference by storm since he came to Long Island, becoming a draft prospect himself to one day join the ranks of the professionals.

So, shooting photographs of this otherwise meaningless baseball game will not be about documenting one player throwing a ball and another one hitting it. Instead, it will show where a bunch of what still are kids are working everyday towards achieving their goals. Whether that is fighting to earn another chance, or clawing for a first shot, the Seawolves are made up of an interesting groups of individuals in interesting situations.

When looking at Caputo in the batter’s box, with only a couple of diehard fans distantly in the background, imagine what could have been. A couple could be a sold-out crowd.

As Zamora and company hurl pitches off the mound with grimaces on their faces, does that only show the strain of throwing that one pitch, or a hard-fought journey to achieve a dream?

For Head Coach Matt Senk, he has seen it all. He was with this team when they were in NCAA’s Division III with no scholarships on a field fitting for a high school squad. Now, he huddles his team up on a recently-completed multi-million dollar project. That is more than the ordinary baseball coach has seen.

Again, this game is more than just watching to see who scored more runs.
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ORIGINAL PITCH- CHANGED TO BASEBALL

One would think that the spring sports season would be accompanied by heat and sunshine. Instead, as Stony Brook’s men’s lacrosse team continues their season, they still contend with a chilly, snow-dwarfed Kenneth P. Lavalle Stadium.

Ironically enough, it is of the utmost importance for the Seawolves to warm up, as America East Conference play starts just two weeks following their contest against the Stags.

Junior Challen Rogers looks to lead the Seawolves to victory. (NINA LIN/ THE STATESMAN)
Junior Challen Rogers looks to lead the Seawolves to victory. (NINA LIN/ THE STATESMAN)

Although the stands do not fill up quite as quickly for a game of lacrosse compared to a basketball match up in the new Island Federal Credit Union Arena, there are just as many if not more opportunities for a story.

The yellow rubber ball, if not many of them, are bound to fly off of an erroneous shot or pass into the mounds of snow coating the sidelines and most of the seating areas.

What better way to show a reader that a spring sport is being played in the winter than by snapping a shot of a ball lodged in the snow?

In fact, the Seawolves were supposed to take on defending National Champion today, Feb. 22, but the team from North Carolina was not able to flight out because of winter weather.

Furthermore, every aspect of a game can be told through a camera lens. Catching a coach with their hands in the air or on their heads shows more than just a physical action. As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and someone taking a look at a lacrosse photo story could tell how the coach is feeling about the game by looking at one image.

In a way, a camera could capture the action itself better than words.

Even for avid lacrosse fans, it is hard to envision exactly what this refers to. Was Schultz right by the goalie, or was he merely off balance further away? A picture is able to answer this, and contribute to tell the story of a lacrosse game.

Michael Evans, a lacrosse player for Team USA, although he did not mean it that way, once summed up sports photography best.

“It’s all about the little things.”