Duke's decision to release the news of football coach David Cutcliffe's contract extension on Sunday at about noon provides some insight into how college sports information departments today use timing to maximize impact — and perhaps minimize scrutiny.
At that time of day on a Sunday, Dec. 21, a day after Wake Forest's football team won its bowl game in Washington, D.C., the Duke, UNC and N.C. State men's basketball teams all played (Duke and UNC on the road) and the Carolina Hurricanes lost in Boston, it was a pretty good bet that area reporters were either traveling or Christmas shopping when the Cutcliffe news broke, forcing them to scramble to respond.
Art Chase, Duke's sports information director, says the extension agreement was actually reached during the previous week, but he decided to hold it, in part because he didn't think it would be "played" as prominently with so many games scheduled Saturday.
From his point of view, Chase's tactic worked.
"ESPN News had it. The bottom-line ticker had it on ESPN yesterday, where sometimes it can get lost in the shuffle," he says. "From reading the region papers, I thought it got good play. For Sunday's paper, No. 1 North Carolina had a basketball game, N.C. State had a basketball game, Duke had a basketball game, and those were going to be your three major stories in terms of college athletics just in our region. I think waiting a day proved beneficial.
"Just look at The News & Observer. I don't believe the Cutcliffe extension would have gotten on the front page [of the Sports section] on Sunday, whereas we waited one day and it got on the front page of this morning's paper."
Despite the timing, Chase says, members of the media had the same access to athletic director Kevin White and Cutcliffe that they would have had on any other day. But it's doubtful that most reporters had as much time to report the story as they would have had on a weekday, which is why schools often release news about contracts, firings, suspensions and other potentially delicate topics after 5 p.m. on a weekday or sometime during the weekend.
"Yes, sometimes that is a factor when distributing news that could be perceived as negative," Chase says.