ALBANY — Last spring, David Alexander was swapping notes with a colleague of his who works in the same position at the University of Michigan.
You know the place.
Tom Brady played football there, in the largest stadium in the Western Hemisphere.
University endowment: $17 billion.
On a gorgeous, sunny fall morning Thursday, a few orange and red leaves whispering around, Alexander invited me to a single picnic table just outside his campus office, because why stay inside?
Even if you diligently follow the Daily Gazette sports section, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Alexander, but he’s one of the people in the Capital Region who has served as an important conduit between the media and the college athletic programs we cover.
As the assistant athletic director of communications at The College of Saint Rose, a Division II school that plays in the Northeast-10 conference, Alexander hasn’t experienced some of the challenges you’d see at a big-time school like Michigan, like pushing a Heisman Trophy campaign or managing the media landscape of a national scandal or the firing of a high-profile coach.
But, in essence, the job is the same, as he discussed with his friend from Ann Arbor.
After 30-plus years at Saint Rose, Alexander is leaving midtown for downtown to take a similar position with the New York State Bar Association, and while there’s no doubt that Saint Rose, where athletics is an integral component of the school identity, will ably replace him, he will be missed by us in the media.
His last day was Friday, so I took the opportunity to ask somebody who has worked in sports information at one school for just over 30 years how much the job has changed, and how much it hasn’t changed.
One thing that hasn’t is the long hours. On Saturday, for example, the Golden Knights had volleyball matches at noon and 4 p.m., soccer games at noon and 4, cross country teams at invitationals on the road, and the men’s and women’s golf teams hosted the Saint Rose Invitational at Pinehaven Country Club.
These days, the sports information staff is not only responsible for cranking out recaps for all of these events for their website, but livestreaming them and maintaining a social media presence.
So the 60-year-old Alexander, a native of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, won’t miss that part. The hours.
“We had a volleyball match here at 7 o’clock last Friday, and I walked out of here a little after 9, then we had probably the busiest Saturday of the fall, and I was back in at 9:30 [a.m.], and it was almost midnight by the time I was done. So it can get intense.”
“My girlfriend deals with it,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll say this, when we decided to move in together, she was like, ‘Now, David, I’ll be honest with you. You told me you work long hours. So this is on me.
‘However, I never imagined it was this.’”
When Alexander was hired at Saint Rose in the summer of 1992, he was one of just four full-time people in the entire athletic department.
Men’s basketball, headed by Brian Beaury, who was hired in 1986 and would go on to win over 600 games, and baseball were firmly established.
Since then, Saint Rose has grown to 19 intercollegiate sports at the Division II level, won a national championship in women’s soccer in 2011 and almost repeated that last year, when the Golden Knights lost the title game in double overtime.
Alexander hasn’t just been along for the entire ride, he’s been an integral part of it.
“When I started, it was the AD [athletic director], myself, Brian, and there was a trainer, and that was it,” Alexander said. “And we played all over the place. We didn’t have the Plumeri Sports Complex yet, and we have played soccer in Guilderland. We played soccer up the street here. We played in Clifton Park.”
Because everything is livestreamed to video and stats are kept digitally in real time these days, it’s easy for a sports information staff to keep track of teams remotely, no matter where they are.
And Alexander said Saint Rose has been committed to make sure all the teams are afforded the same treatment, although there are times, like when the women’s soccer team is making a national championship run, when extra measures are necessary.
“The job is the same now in the way you’re really just trying to tell stories about student-athletes and coaches and the institution,” he said. “So that, from the macro, is the same.
“The model on how you do it couldn’t be any more different. When I first started in the business, before I even got here, I remember we’d work a basketball game, keep statistics by hand, we were filling a box score by hand and we’d call up papers and the TV stations and literally dictate a box score over the phone. You remember that, right?”
Yes. Yes, I do.
And although the scope may be vastly different at a school like Saint Rose, with fewer than 2,500 undergraduates and three people on the sports information staff, compared to Michigan (over 31,000 and 17, respectively), there are similarities in the content and how it’s produced.
“We use the same stat program, we use the same content management system for our website, we’re producing the same types of material,” Alexander said. “But at Michigan, it’s just so much broader and wider.
“We can have a press conference and maybe have half a dozen reporters show up. He’ll have one, and there’ll be a hundred reporters show up.”
Alexander closed out his long tenure at Saint Rose on Friday having been honored by the school with the Service Excellence Award in 2007, and in 2019 the Eastern Athletic Communications Association gave him the prestigious Irving T. Marsh Award for excellence in the athletics communications field.
During his time, the Golden Knights have won six NCAA Division II regional basketball championships, nine regional women’s soccer championships, the 1997 Northeast Regional Baseball Championship and the 1995 East Regional Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Championships.
He has also managed the public information end of four basketball NCAA Tournament Elite Eight appearances, eight women’s soccer national semifinal appearances and the baseball team’s 2000 World Series berth.
Besides Beaury and his assistant Don Bassett, among the most memorable coaches and administrators for him over the years are AD Cathy Haker, baseball’s Bob Bellizzi and women’s soccer coach Laurie Darling Gutheil.
The players are too numerous to single out, except for Garth Joseph, the 7-foot-2 center who drew attention from NBA teams before the 1997 draft. Joseph went undrafted and ultimately played in just four NBA games with two teams.
But still …
“How many Division II SIDs get to deal with the NBA?” Alexander said.
He said leaving will be bittersweet, but it was time for a new chapter.
“I never started out my career wanting to work in sports, never mind on a college campus,” he said. “But once I started to do it, I knew that’s what I wanted to do, and Saint Rose gave me a chance to do something I love. I’ll be indebted forever for that.
“Just being on a college campus day to day. There’s not a better environment to be around. Really, to be around young kids and the professors and the administrators here and with everything going on … I mean, look at this. This is beautiful.
“And this is where I work.”