March Madness was good to Patrick Stevens.
The local sportswriter – working part-time for USA Today – correctly predicted all 68 teams in the NCAA tournament this week, 30 with the exact seed and 30 within one line. He did radio segments with stations across the country, from Birmingham and Knoxville to Des Moines and Canton; from Louisiana to Richmond to Baltimore – “maybe more than I’ve done in my entire life,” he said. He increased his Twitter following by almost 40 percent over the past few months, was the rare sportswriter memorialized by a fan sign at the Comcast Center, and continued to hold the honor of asking Terps Coach Mark Turgeon the first question at every press availability.
And yet, with his own at-large profile higher than it’s ever been, Stevens faces an odd future. Let go from the Washington Times when that paper eliminated its sports section, the 32-year old was rehired in February of 2011, then cut loose again this winter amid more staff reductions. Much of his college basketball travel had already been paid for, so he covered Maryland’s road games on his blog while also breaking down bracket prospects for USA Today. He attended 97 Division I men’s games, saw 75 teams in person, and doesn’t know exactly what he’ll be doing a month from now.
“It’s probably fair to say that nobody is hiring a college basketball blogger or writer full-time in April,” said Stevens, who – full disclosure – worked as a part-time copy editor at The Post between his Times stints. “If something happens, great, but I’m certainly not expecting to have a full-time gig when the tournament ends. Believe me, I would love to have this problem solved. I’d love to have an answer. But I’ll figure something out one way or the other.”
In the meantime, not having a full-time job covering college basketball didn’t stop Stevens from covering college basketball full-time. He took road trips to Miami, Boston College and Georgia Tech with the Terps, handling much of the costs with funds he raised from loyal readers the first time the Times let him go. He created his own double-headers, going to watch UMBC’s last-second win over Maine last month a few hours after covering Maryland’s home defeat of Wake Forest.
Although he was consumed by bubble watches and bracket modifications last week, he still went to the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, believing the visibility couldn’t hurt.
“In some ways, that was just a little gift to myself,” he said. “Some people would probably not consider that the best use of money, spending $500 or so for a hotel room for four nights, but when do I ever take a vacation?”
Turgeon had turned to Stevens to open his press conferences for more than a year. That continued even when Stevens was writing for his own, independent, site.
“That wasn’t anything we thought twice about,” Maryland spokesman Zack Bolno told me. “Coaches have a lot of respect for the amount of time and energy Patrick put into this beat. We were more than happy to do whatever we could on our end to assist in making sure he could continue covering the team. His dedication is second to none.”
GW Coach Mike Lonergan, a former Maryland assistant, agreed.
“He does so much for the best sport in the world and the game I love, especially in the area,” Lonergan wrote in an e-mail.
“We wanted to show people that he wasn’t just another writer,” Eric Garment, one of the group’s leaders, wrote to me. “He had been great to us, so we returned the favor.”
As for his bracket expertise, Stevens wasn’t having it, saying “it wasn’t very hard to get 67 teams” correct this season, while lamenting some of his seeding misses.
He plans to attend first-and-second round tournament games in Philadelphia this week, while also covering the NIT, the CIT and college lacrosse. And beyond that?
“Look, would I like a full time job as quickly as possible? Who wouldn’t?” he said. “I think there’s a market for [local college coverage]. I don’t know if that market’s vibrant or huge, but it does exist.”