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Who is Steve Barr? And what is an assistant sports information director? "Nobody knows," said Barr, 27, after his job at Bowling Green State University was annnounced last week. "I tell people what I do and I get funny looks. Even after I tell them, they still don't know. Like people from my hometown. They don't have any idea what a sports information director is. I try to explain, but they just shake their heads. They hear the words, but I guess they don't see the picture. It's a helping business. We are here to help the media do the job."
Actually, the qualifications of an S.I.D.—and an assistant—aren't all that much. All you have to be is a cross between a writer, a public relations expert, a statistician, an idea man and a researcher, with an absence of ego, the patience of a saint and the willingness to work 12 hour days, six—and often seven—days a week. The S.I.D.'s main function is to generate as much publicity as he can for his school, but he works in anonymity, and not for any extraordinary amount of money. The average salary for an S.I.D. at a Division I school is between $25,000 and $35,000, although a few major schools, e.g., Alabama, have begun calling S.I.D.'s assistant athletic directors for media relations, which has bumped them into the $50,000 range. An assistant S.I.D. can figure on pulling down $16,000 to $25,000.
"First of all, you have to love sports to do this," says Barr, who was a two-year starter in football, basketball and baseball at Clyde ( Ohio) High, near Toledo. "There is too much involved, and you are never going to be a millionaire. You just have to love doing what you do, and I really do."
After he was graduated from Bowling Green in 1983, Barr took his first S.I.D. job at Cal State-Dominguez Hills in Carson, Calif. "It was four years of frustration," he says. "We couldn't get anything in the papers." There were two local papers. The Daily Breeze in Torrance, which was 10 minutes from the school, and the Long Beach Press-Telegram, just 20 minutes away. During Barr's stay, The Daily Breeze seldom sent a sportswriter to Carson; the Press-Telegram never came, he said.
The low point came in Barr's last year at Dominguez Hills. The basketball team needed a win in its final regular-season game against UC Riverside to tie for the California Collegiate Athletic Association championship. Dominguez Hills won, but without media witnesses. The next day it was just another three paragraph story.
"When you go in on Saturday and Sunday and you know what you are writing is going to wind up in a trash basket, it is pretty discouraging," says Barr. "I'd ask myself, Why am I doing this? I'm just wasting my time. Nobody cares. Nobody is going to print it, or read it."
When he left Dominguez Hills he was making $26,000. He took the S.I.D. job at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.—for $22,000. Now, 15 months later, he has moved to Bowling Green to work as S.I.D. Chris Sherk's assistant, for $18,300. "I guess you can say I'm going backward financially," he says, grinning. "I told my wife, Cindy, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news was I was taking another pay cut. The good news was we were going home. She just said, 'Great. I'll start packing.' "
Careerwise, it was a move he had to make, even though Cindy is expecting the couple's second child in February and will not go back to work (she had been working in the graphics department at Lake Superior State). His first two jobs were with Division II schools—Lake Superior, the defending NCAA champion, however, plays a Division I men's hockey schedule; Bowling Green is Division I. "Sure, I'd like to wind up at an Oklahoma or an Ohio State someday," he says. "But right now I'm just happy being in Bowling Green. It's home. Cindy's family lives in Findlay, which is just 20 minutes away. And I'm learning. I've got a lot to learn. For the first time I'm with a school that has a football program. I never had that. I need that experience. And I need the experience of working in Division I. I could tell another school that I didn't have any football experience or Division I experience, but I know I can handle it—and they might think I'm lying."
There's another pleasant side benefit: The telephones in the Bowling Green S.I.D. office ring constantly. "I love the sound," says Barr. "Sometimes at Lake Superior I would go whole weeks without the telephone ringing. I really enjoy having people call up asking for help. That's what I do; I help people."
When it was learned that the position at Bowling Green had opened, there were about 20 candidates, although most were unqualified. "That was kind of par for the course," says Sherk. "You get all kinds of people. You get those who have been in the field, students who are about to graduate and want to get started, a lot of whom are just sports fans and the title of sports information director just appeals to them. In hiring Steve, I felt like I was not only getting someone who was experienced, but someone who would fit in very well. That's important because we spend so much time together. It's a seven-day-a-week job, and it can wear you down. You need someone who has a pleasant personality."