Columns covering a broad range of weekly happenings in baseball, college football and college basketball have appeared regularly in SI for many years. In that time, national interest in those sports, as well as in pro football, has grown tremendously, and so, too, has SI's responsibility to give readers more incisive, more sharply focused reportage. BASEBALL'S WEEK evolved into INSIDE BASEBALL, and the PRO FOOTBALL column was created to provide an in-depth look at pro football, both departing from the "roundup" format of previous SI service columns. This issue marks the debut of COLLEGE FOOTBALL (page 65), which replaces FOOTBALL'S WEEK and which will report on the players, personalities and issues on that level. "Much of sport, particularly college sport, was regional 25 or 30 years ago," says senior writer Frank Deford, whose first SI byline, in 1962, was for BASEBALL'S WEEK. "People in Alabama didn't know much about a team in Oregon, and so the roundups were much more of a news service. We don't need to perform that role so extensively anymore, not with the growth of sports on television and with more national coverage in newspapers."
During its first college football season, in 1954, SI just listed scores in a SCOREBOARD section, a harbinger of today's FOR THE RECORD. A column called BASEBALL X-RAY, begun in 1957, had statistics and photos but little text, and a short column called PIGSKIN PANORAMA ran that fall. The first FOOTBALL'S WEEK appeared in 1958 and featured the region-by-region reports that lasted for almost three decades.
Senior writer Douglas Looney, who has covered college football from Miami to East Lansing to Seattle to College Station in his 11 years at SI, is tackling the challenge of pulling together COLLEGE FOOTBALL. "We want to provide information the reader hasn't heard before," says Looney.
Much material for the weekly columns has always come from our network of correspondents. They once tended to be generalists who filed via Western Union in those horse-and-buggy days of the electronic age. Now the typical correspondent is an expert on his local teams, and he uses a telecopier or remote computer. There are 54 correspondents, one for each team, feeding fact and anecdote on pro football and baseball, and 35 for college football. "We want a guy who's on the team's charter flight and in the locker room each day," says assistant managing editor Walter Bingham, who also runs our news bureau.
We've discovered that reaction to the columns can get intense. One week in 1977, staff writer Herm Weiskopf neglected to mention that North Carolina State running back Ted Brown had gained 251 yards against Penn State. In protest, the student newspaper in Raleigh printed his address, and he was besieged with letters—one of which arrived six years later.
Looney is excited about the prospect of writing for such passionate fans, though he isn't sure how his column will be received. "The volume of mail and complaints will be unpredictable because I'm unpredictable, and the game's unpredictable," he says. "It should be a nice marriage."