Bill Connelly is a college football fan. In fact, he is a Missouri Tigers football fan.
The Mizzou grad and current data analysis employee of the university's medical school goes to and tailgates at all the home games. He has spent countless hours posting on Tigers message boards. He traveled to Nebraska in 1998 to see his beloved team lose - just as they have in every trip to Lincoln since 1978 - and went to St. Louis a month ago to see the Tigers open the 2008 campaign with a neutral site victory over Illinois. He looked me in the eye last week and used the term "we" to refer to the Tigers.
Bill Connelly is also a member of the media.
He doesn't sit in press boxes. Doesn't go to media days. Or press conferences. But in an expanding industry, he is still part of the media.
Along with current MU student Ross Taylor, Connelly manages the Tigers-centric blog , which is one in a growing stable of blogs owned by SportsBlogs Nation.
"I'm old enough to have been around towards the beginning of TigerBoard [an online message board for Tigers fans]," said Connelly. "So I made some friends there. It seems like there's a life cycle with message boardsThe people I enjoyed talking with didn't really post anymore, so I stopped posting there but didn't want to stop talking about Mizzou."
In February 2007, Connelly founded using Google's free blogging platform. He posted links to other Tigers-centric media, original roundtable discussions, video clips, statistical analyses and fan perspective on the team.
By autumn, he was in the thick of discussions to bring his work to SB Nation, a company with its own blogging platform, a steady traffic stream and a long-term plan of making some money in the blogging industry. In fact, it was the week of the 2007 Mizzou-Nebraska game that Connelly merged Mizzou Sanity with Taylor's blog to form Rock M Nation.
The site took on a sleeker look and attained a jump in traffic, but Connelly just kept plugging along, filling his niche in the Tiger world.
"It's about uniqueness as much as anything," said Connelly. "I've got my little stat nerd thing that I do a couple of times per week. Ross has been pretty successful with throwing some humor into the site."
Connelly's "little stat nerd thing" is a feature known more officially as " ," in which he breaks down upcoming match-ups for Missouri using newer football stats that aren't contained in traditional box scores or stat sheets. When he says that one isn't likely to find this sort of analysis in too many other places, he isn't kidding around. The feature earned him a spot writing a regular column titled "Varsity Numbers" at , a site devoted to advanced football stats.
Beyond his fun with numbers, Connelly said a big part of building the site's now-in-four-digits daily readership has been fostering a feeling of community.
"Part of it is just having a welcome atmosphere. Anytime anybody comments, we try to jump in and have a conversation and be receptive to those comments. Once you get started on it, you kind of get hooked doing it. That's the goal: to get more people hooked on participating. We value other opinions, and that's something you can't get from a news outlet."
Connelly estimates his time commitment to his site at 20 hours each week, none of which are spent in what some would call a traditional media setting. That is fine with him.
"I've spoken many times with [MU Director of Media Relations and Assistant Athletic Director] Chad Moller," said Connelly. "We have a good working relationship. We just haven't tried to get any specific access. It's not principled; we just haven't really wanted to bother them. We like having a pleasant relationship with them and haven't gone down that road yet."
It isn't that Connelly doesn't believe in the value of having access. But several more traditionally mainstream media sources cover the Tigers up close, including but not limited to the Columbia Missourian, Columbia Daily Tribune, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kansas City Star , KMOV, several other local television and radio stations and .com. The blogger has no qualms with accepting their roles as the access-granted media and utilizing their work when needed before jumping into his own content.
"I think I would enjoy [having access], and I would get something from it, but especially with Mizzou, there's a lot of good coverage of media day and things like that," said Connelly. "We know who to look [at] for a specific kind of analysis of the interviews or whatever. We get a good amount of information without going there ourselves."
Connelly spends 30 minutes each morning linking to those mediums and directing his readers to places where they can find the sort of information those sources provide. But being in the stands suits him just fine.
"You get a good perspective from the box that you wouldn't get from the stands," Connelly said, "But most of our good ideas - the perspective we have just chatting with each other at the game - offer me as good an outlet as anything else. So we haven't pursued that. It would be a lot of fun. We just haven't pursued it."
In the blogosphere, arguments rage daily about the merits of having access and the troubles between bloggers and the mainstream media. Connelly accepts his role with a cool head and no sign of being perturbed.
"Blogging got a very specific stereotype very, very quickly, and if people aren't going to be receptivethis is a good chance for people's true personalities to come out, really," Connelly reasoned. "If you like the sport more because of these people, then these people should be treated pretty seriously. There are good beat writers and good bloggers and good everything, and bad everything. Generalizing won't get you anywhere. Anybody can blog. It's the way you go about it and how open you are with learning new media and how to connect with people."
He likes what he does. He likes being a fan and a writer. But as Bill Connelly and I sat across the table from each other at Brady Commons in the heart of the MU campus, there remained an elephant lounging sleepily in the corner of the room, looking rather green.
"There is a plan in place for profit-sharing depending on the percentage of hits that you bring to SB Nation," he said. "That's just come about in the last couple of months. It's not going to be a steady source of major income unless we're going to start getting ten to twenty thousand hits a day, which we're not."
And you're okay with that?
"I'm happy with my job at the school of med. I would love to get paid to write a column, but I'd never expect to make a living off of it. If we can get some tailgating supplies with the money, that's fine."
Bill Connelly - or as his fans know him, The Boy - is in his own way a symbol of a changing media world. He is an unabashed fan. He is without the access once considered all-important. But just as he promises, he's got plenty of original content and insight on his blog, and he works to maintain his site as professionally as possible.
That some still disparage his medium doesn't bother him. Those that take the time to read his work in said medium aren't likely to do so, and that makes it easy for him to answer what might be the most important question of all.
Is it worth it?
"So far, but you'd have to ask my wife if it's totally worth it. It's nice getting the good feedback. It's nice having a chance to be interviewed and stuff like that. As long as there's positive feedback with it, it feels like it's worth it."
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Coming this week at KMOV: Rock M Nation's Bill Connelly chats about the 2008 football Tigers.
Steve Weinman is a Mizzou J-student