MOBILE, Ala. — Thousands of Arkansas State University football fans followed their team to this city of 200,000 over the weekend in what seemed like an instant replay of the GoDaddy.com Bowl until the result. This time the Red Wolves celebrated on the field with a big trophy.
One of the similarities to last year’s bowl was that the Sun Belt Conference champions were playing again under an interim head coach. This year’s graduating seniors ought to get bonuses for the multi-million-dollar contracts they helped Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn land from bigger schools. In their last two years they went 20-6 overall and lost only one conference game — not altogether due to great coaching.
Again this wasn’t the big game of the week for Alabama football fans. Their Crimson Tide was playing for the national championship Monday night down at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and no doubt many Alabama folks had already hit the road by the time ASU and Kent State fans got here.
Indeed, that Bowl Championship Series finale was the big story on the front page of Sunday’s Mobile Press-Register. However, pre-game coverage of the GoDaddy.com Bowl got a tease at the top of page A1, unfortunately covered up by a Stickie note offering one free dinner with one purchased at the Shrimp Basket.
I can’t complain about the sports section coverage, though. The ASU-Kent State matchup was the lead story and occupied two-thirds of page B1, including a photo with statistical graphics of Red Wolves quarterback Ryan Aplin.
That’s probably because there was a 10-page special section on the Alabama-Notre Dame game.
One thing for sure, though: the GoDaddy.com Bowl results wouldn’t be in Monday’s Press-Register. That’s because there is no such thing.
Starting last fall, the Press-Register is published in paper form only on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Like the Times-Picayune at New Orleans, the Mobile newspaper, part of the Alabama Media Group, became a non-daily as its owners went "digital-first." AMG also includes newspapers at Birmingham and Huntsville. Instead of publishing dailies, they are collaborating on a Web site, al.com, which is really just a list of story links. And the change allowed them to lay off about 400 employees among the three newspapers.
If that’s what we’re coming to in this digital age, it’s a shame for all of us. I love my iPad and iPhone, but a newspaper does so much more for its community when it’s published on paper and distributed immediately.
For one thing, Sunday’s printed Press-Register included 108 pages in 10 sections. Try scanning that much information online. I can get my favorite newspapers’ electronic versions when I’m on the road, but forget the classifieds and agate sports. I find myself skimming headlines and trying to remember stories I want to read later — when I get back to the paper versions.
The Sunday Mobile edition included 20 advertising inserts, which pay many of the bills for both print and online versions. You don’t get those online, and most readers wouldn’t look at them there anyway.
The other issue for Mobile is that al.com isn’t a community newspaper. It’s a shared website so imagine what a challenge it has to represent the interests of three large cities.
Mobile is left then without a newspaper four days a week. That’s going to show up in so many ways, most of them not good. A special paper edition on the BCS championship game was to be published Tuesday. But when a tornado hit Mobile on Christmas Day, a Tuesday, it was too late for Wednesday’s newspaper so the coverage didn’t hit print until Friday.
Back to the game itself, someone cracked that this would be the "no-coach bowl" since both football teams lost their head coaches after successful regular seasons and bowl bids. But really there were lots of head coaches here.
Kent State’s head coach, Kent Hazell, who has been hired to lead Purdue’s team, asked for and received permission to stay with his charges through the bowl game. If Malzahn made a similar offer, ASU opted to name defensive coordinator John Thompson as interim head coach, and even a couple of other assistants Malzahn hired for his Auburn staff stayed on for the Mobile game.
Malzahn was reported to be in attendance, and so was his successor, Bryan Harsin, who was on the sidelines as an interested observer. In fact, another former ASU head coach, Steve Roberts, was invited to join his former team to watch some of the players he recruited enjoy their last hoorahs for A-State. Roberts turned the program around and is still highly regarded by the young men who played for him, even though their greatest successes came later.
Apparently, Hugh Freeze, who followed Roberts, didn’t attend the Go-Daddy.com Bowl. However, he wasn’t far away, his Ole Miss team having won the BBVA Compass Bowl at Birmingham on Saturday.
The official bowl attendance was announced as 37,913. If that’s accurate, two-thirds of the people there were rooting for ASU. From the looks of things, though, not as many locals turned out as last year. Maybe they didn’t see the newspaper coverage.
The author is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.