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Friday, February 26, 1988

Woodling: How do you make an All-American?

Multitude of mailings not the answer

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Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor dark of night prevents college sports information directors from complicating a mailman's appointed rounds.

All-America selection time is approaching.

Newspaper sports departments all over the country are currently deluged with flashy folders, peacockish pamphlets, Byzantine brochures and gaudy gimmicks in this annual rite of homestretch basketball promotions.

For example, a massive foldout featuring Iowa State's Jeff Grayer has arrived. So has a letter-size full-color acclamation for Oregon guard Anthony Taylor. Meanwhile, Wyoming has opted for a playing-card motive with seniors Eric Leckner and Fennis Dembo featured on slick king-of-diamonds pasteboards.

Why they continue to send this expensive junk mail year after year I don't know. And neither does Doug Vance, Kansas' sports information director.

"Personally, I don't believe in it," said Vance. "From my experience, in 15 years in this business, I've never had a writer tell me a colorful brochure had an impact on him deciding who to select as an All-American. In fact, 99.9 percent tell me it has a negative impact. Most people just ditch 'em."

Actually, not all the stuff goes into my wastebasket. For instance, I have retained the Wyoming playing cards on the assumption that you never know when you'll be using a deck that's short the king of diamonds.

What Vance's philosophy means, of course, is that his office won't be sending out any tub-thumping fodder on Danny Manning. Not that Vance would need to, even if he believed in doing so.

"I think I'd be laughed at if I sent out a brochure touting Danny Manning for All-American," Vance said. "He's been on national TV and on the cover of practically every pre-season magazine. I don't think we have to package Danny and turn him into a sales gimmick."

It would be easy for Vance to sit back and let Manning's deeds speak for themselves, but Vance and his staff don't operate that way, either. Vance and top aide Jeff Bollig, as a matter of fact, maintain a constant vigil over Manning's statistics.

An example occurred on Thursday morning when Bollig did some quick figuring that prompted Vance to make phone calls to various media outlets.

What Bollig had learned by checking statistics was that Manning, who had broken Wayman Tisdale's Big Eight career scoring record the night before, had done it by attempting 25 fewer shots and 135 fewer free throws than the former Oklahoma standout.

After Manning broke Tisdale's record, some folks suggested Manning's name should bear an asterisk because he needed four seasons to accomplish what Tisdale had done in three.

Enter Bollig and Vance with their low-key counterattack involving shot attempts. They also passed the information on to head coach Larry Brown who did his part to insert it into the public domain by mentioning the Manning-Tisdale shot comparison at his weekly press conference on Thursday afternoon.

"Bollig discovered it," Vance reported. "It's an interesting fact that helps everyone understand that Danny achieved the record in a way that doesn't take any luster off of it."

It's also a classic example of a sports information department working behind the scenes instead of trying to hit the media over the head with a gee-whiz mailer.

"I don't think that's a good way to spend money," Vance said. "I might feel different if I was at a small school and had an athlete who wasn't getting much recognition. But I didn't do it when I was at Austin Peay and Murray State."

When it comes to promoting an athlete, the sports information director isn't really any different than a coach. He can't make chicken salad out of chicken feathers.

Or as Vance stressed: "Too much credit and too much blame goes to SIDs when a guy does or doesn't make All-America."

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