IUPUI students cover College Football Playoff and national championship games

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Four IUPUI students got real-life experience in the sports journalism industry when they traveled to cover two high-profile college football games.

by Tyler Fenwick January 19, 2018

UPDATE: This article has been altered at 6:15 p.m. 1/19/18 to reflect that the teams covered by each reporter were originally published in error. 

Four IUPUI students in the Sports Capital Journalism program traveled to cover the College Football Playoff over winter break. Seniors Alaa Abdeldaiem and Sarah Bahr went to the Rose Bowl, one of the playoff semifinal games, in Pasadena, California. Graduate students Joe Spears and Jon Sauber went to the National Championship in Atlanta.

All four students were accompanied by program director Malcolm Moran, who in a past life wrote for The New York Times and USA Today.

While there, they were put under the same pressures as any other sports journalist covering such high profile events, all the while working alongside media companies like ESPN, Sports Illustrated and The New York Times.

Spears and Sauber got an especially close experience with national media when they got the opportunity to write for Newsday while in Atlanta.

“Finding out that we got to write for Newsday was incredible,” said Spears, who did a game advance and recap for the publication.

With two students at each game, one was assigned to cover one team at their game, acting as that team’s beat reporter. Bahr got Georgia and Abdeldaiem got Oklahoma at the Rose Bowl. Spears got Georgia and Sauber got Alabama at the national championship.

Being assigned beat coverage meant taking an in-depth dive into their teams: attending press conferences for players and coaches, tuning into teleconferences, participating in media day and doing plenty of outside research.

As with any experience like covering a major college football game, challenges, both expected and unexpected, are bound to pop up.

Outside of the normal nerves surrounding enormous sporting events for Bahr was the added element of the Rose Bowl being the first football game she had ever covered.

“My experiences covering Fever, Pacers, and Fuel games alongside professional media in Indianapolis had prepared me well,” said Bahr.

Spears said his biggest trial was learning how to leave some details out of a story.

“Some of these stories had so many elements that I wanted to incorporate more, said Spears, “but especially with the Newsday stories, we had a word count that I had to abide by.”

Sauber said he was tested by having to strike a balance between enjoying the moment but also not getting caught up in it. After all, he was there to work.

“I didn’t want to get so wrapped up that it made it difficult on doing the job I was there to do,” said Sauber. “But at the same time, embracing it made it easier to describe it when I was writing. It’s a difficult balance to maintain.”

Sometimes, though, the challenge has nothing to do with the game itself. Sauber, for example, spent a few days sick after eating seafood, adding to an already stressful week.

Then there was Abdeldaiem, who had to defend herself on Twitter after a user replied to a tweet that had a picture of Abdeldaiem and Bahr standing outside the Rose Bowl Stadium.

“Why does she have that towel on her head?” it read. “This is America.”

Abdeldaiem was wearing her hijab, something she’s done since the fifth grade.

“It wasn't the first time I've gotten tweets like that from people,” she said. “…But for this particular case, it was the first time someone directed something like that at me in relation to my work, my dream of being a sports journalist, so it took me aback, and I just stared at my phone for like an hour trying to think of how to respond.”

Abdeldaiem didn’t respond directly to the person, but she did post a message of her own on Twitter: “He’s right,” she wrote. “This is America, where people of any race, gender, ethnicity, background should be able to do whatever it is they’re passionate about. I’m blessed.”

While working tirelessly to grow their skills as sports journalists on one of the highest stages offered in the U.S., these four students also continued a legacy. This marked the sixth consecutive year students from IUPUI have traveled to cover these games.

“This was by far the biggest event that I’ve covered,” said Sauber. “It was the kind of experience I hoped to get when I came to IUPUI.”


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