Tracy Wolfson is a fixture on the sidelines during SEC football games on CBS, and she’ll be in the Georgia Dome Saturday night for College Football semifinal game between Alabama and Georgia. We asked her nine questions.
Q: I saw in your bio that you were a “runner” for CBS early in your career. What were some of the things you did as a “runner?”
WOLFSON: It was when I was a senior at Michigan. I had previously interned at HBO Sports, and during that time, I met a bunch of people at CBS Sports. So in my senior year, I was a runner for CBS Sports doing everything. Helping answer phones, put up signs around the stadium, get Verne notes – when he called basketball games at Michigan – coffee, water, whatever. I picked up Coach K at the airport during the Final 4. Being a runner got my foot in the door at CBS, and then I became a researcher at CBS.
Q: Were there any rules about talking to Coach K when you … were essentially his chauffeur?
WOLFSON: You don’t engage much, maybe a ‘how are you.’ But since over the years at CBS, I’ve become friends with his wife. Sometimes, now, she’ll say, “I remember when you picked us up from the airport!”
Q: Now that you’ve been on the SEC football beat for eight years, what level of the comfort do you have with the coaches? Since you see their wives all the time, are they giving you grief if you ask their husbands tough questions before, during or after the game?
WOLFSON: Well you’re covering the same people for eight years, so you do become friendly, have an interaction, say hello … it really depends on the coach as well. I know Les Miles’s wife, and Mark Richt’s wife … you get to know them. I don’t call them on the phone or anything, but I always look forward to seeing them and saying hello. You cover one conference for eight years, you really gain the trust of these coaches. They understand your job and your role, and their role [with the media]. You talk to them prior to the game off-air, and in meetings, or conference calls … you you really just want that trust factor before you stick a microphone in their face.
Q: Any tense moments on the sideline? Any coaches completely ignore you?
WOLFSON: I had to tackle Houston Nutt one time. He just didn’t want to talk to me. I literally tackled him in the end zone. He was upset, he didn’t want to talk, but my job is to get them. I put my best move on him. We joked about it the next time I saw him. I think the only coach who has completely blown me off is Lane Kiffin. It was his first big game with Tennessee, against Florida. Some coaches understand their role – the more they’re on camera, the better it is for recruiting.
I went up to Derek Dooley, I think it was during his first year at Tennessee, and talked to him about an interview and he said, “Really? Is that something I have to do?” I told him no, but if he did do it, the first face TV viewers would see before the game on TV would be his. And if not, we’ll just go to the other sideline and interview Urban Meyer.
Q: Is there a camaraderie among sideline reporters? Are you friendly with many of them?
WOLFSON: It’s very hard because you’re on such different schedules. I spent one year at ESPN, and that was the only time I met the other reporters. Alex Flanagan (NFL Network/CBS Sports), was in that meeting … and I just saw her again this week for the first time since and we were talking about how it had been so long. I always introduce myself to whoever is out there, but it’s extremely difficult to hang out because of schedules. I have a great relationship with Lesley Visser, she’s a big mentor of mine.
Q: How difficult is the juggling act of three kids and the constant travel? I know a few women in the industry who say that having children is a difficult decision. Was it for you?
WOLFSON: It wasn’t a difficult decision. I always wanted to be a reporter, but I also always wanted to be a mother. Before we got married I told my fiance, ‘we’re not getting married until I get on the air. This is going to be my life.’ The support of him taking care of my kids when I’m on the road has been great. And yes, it is difficult and it gets hard at times. Just recently, the hurricane … we had no power, were moving from house to house and trying to find a place to live, and I have to pick up and get to the LSU/Alabama game. I’m getting on a plane and I am worried about leaving my kids and husband in a hotel somewhere.
Or missing the first flag football game your kid is going to play in, or soccer games, or birthdays, or anniversaries or whatever it might be – that’s all difficult. But when you enjoy the job as much as I do, when this has been your goal and dream, it makes it a little easier to get on the plane and leave them because you’re doing what you want to do.
Q: Charles Barkley recently said women who are ugly have “no chance” of getting a TV job. Agree? Disagree?
WOLFSON: No, I don’t want to think that he’s right. I happen to love Charles, having worked with him at the [NCAA] tournament, but I think that’s just the perception out there. It’s unfortunate people think that, and I don’t believe it and I don’t want to believe it. If you’re good at what you do, and know your stuff and present it well, you should be successful, no matter what you look like.
WOLFSON: We were just trying to have fun! People don’t realize what the context was, since nobody had heard from Cam Newton for so long because he wasn’t allowed to speak to the media. They were having fun on the sideline, and we tried to show the fun side of things. You run out of things to say when it’s a blowout. They were laughing and drinking the “Cammy Cam juice” bottle, and I asked what was in there, and they said ‘you should try it!’
No, I didn’t realize how people would take it out of context or that it’d go viral. I’m still blocking people on twitter over it.
Q: Now that we’re getting a college football playoff, the next biggest issue is paying college football players. They generate millions for the University. Are you in the pay-the-players camp – as in, more than they get from the scholarship?
WOLFSON: I would like to see that in some form – whether it’s extra money in their scholarship, extra per diem, or put aside in a bank so they can’t use it until later or something. I do think they should get some form of extra benefits. It’s so tough for them as it is to go out for a meal and not get scrutnized because someone else is paying for it, while the schools are selling their jerseys and making [money].