Poughkeepsie, N.Y. – For the past decade, one of the main selling points that Marist College had for prospective communications majors has been the Center for Sports Communication. The Center for Sports Communication was set up by Dr. Keith Strudler as a place for sports communications majors to get some real-world experience in their field. The center offered positions in almost every sport related field, from producing, editing, or even co-hosting its weekly radio show, to more public relations and advertising jobs, most of which revolving around the center’s popular speaker series. Everything was done through Strudler, who acted as a figurehead for the entire operation. However, the departure of Dr. Strudler to Montclair State University in August put the future of the center in jeopardy.
Enter Leander Schaerlaeckens. Schaerlaeckens is currently a soccer writer for Yahoo Sports. As a part of his work with Yahoo, he is one of the hosts of its weekly soccer podcast. He has previously worked in the same role as a soccer writer for both ESPNFC and Fox Sports. In addition to Yahoo, ESPN, and Fox, he has been published by the Guardian, New York Times, and VICE. He has worked numerous high-profile sporting events over the past decade, including three World Cups: 2006 in Germany, 2010 in South Africa, and 2014 in Brazil. Along the way, he has made connections in some of the highest positions in sports, including United States Men’s National Soccer team legend Alexi Lalas, NBC’s Men in Blazers host Roger Bennett, and New York Times Sports Editor Jason Stallman.
Schaerlaeckens’s newest endeavor, along with teaching at Marist, is working on continuing the Marist Center for Sports Communication, and he does not reckon it will be an easy task. “I don’t think that it’s a secret that the center was, in a way, a one-man show and that Dr. Keith Strudler oversaw everything” said Schaerlaeckens. “It just means I’m trying to fill an enormous, Keith-shaped hole.” Strudler took most of his ideas for the Center for Sports Communication with him, leaving Schaerlaeckens with a shell for him to do whatever he wants with it. According to Schaerlaeckens, the center will remain largely the same, just with some minor adjustments. “I’m not Keith, just as Keith isn’t me,” stated Schaerlaeckens. “So I might think about something in a slightly different way than he does. So [the center] will be a combination of both [Keith and my ideas].”
One of the main proponents of the Center for Sports Communication under Dr. Strudler was his weekly radio show, broadcasted locally and available for streaming. Most of the center’s energy went towards this show, which would often be a mix of sports, pop culture, and whatever was on Dr. Strudler’s mind that day. Dr. Strudler took his show with him to Montclair State, leaving the center with no massive multimedia projects. In place of the radio show, Schaerlaeckens has turned to his area of expertise. He currently hosts a Yahoo soccer podcast, and has decided to make a podcast for the Center for Sports Communication. “The podcast won’t be a sports talk radio show, like [Strudler’s show] The Classroom was.” Schaerlaeckens explained. “I’d like it to be a regular rumination on the state of the sports communication industry.” Students will have a very hands-on role with the podcast, with student interns getting the opportunity to edit, produce, co-host and do research for the podcast. This contrasts to the way the radio show was run in the past, where the same interns would do the same tasks every week, with only one or two ever getting the chance to co-host when one of the hosts was unavailable to record. Students were given roles on the show, and they barely had any rotation in those roles.
Another selling point for the Marist Center for Sports Communication was its speaker series. In previous years, the center has attracted the likes of Linda Cohn, John Frankel, and Jeremy Schaap to Marist College for hour-long conversations hosted by Dr. Keith Strudler. These events would fill the smaller venues on campus, with journalism and sports reporting classes in attendance to cover. In previous years, this part of the center seemed to fall a bit onto the backburner to the radio show. With Schaerlaeckens, this does not look to be the case. Schaerlaeckens is looking for the speaker series and podcast to intertwine, recording a podcast episode as a supplement to the actual speaking event that will be open to the public. For the first year, the speakers will be chosen from Schaerlaeckens’s list of contacts that he has made over the years working in soccer. Schaerlaeckens says that the first year may have a partial theme of soccer, but that will be phased out over the course of the next few years. “It won’t be the Marist Center for Soccer Com”, stated Schaerlaeckens to a group of interns during a meeting regarding events.
As for speakers, Schaerlaeckens has a few in mind. The first event in the 2017-18 iteration of the speaker series is already set for November 9th. The speaker at this event will be Pablo Torre, best known for his appearances on the ESPN show Around the Horn. He will also be co-hosting an upcoming show on ESPN with Bomani Jones, and will be recording a podcast episode in studio. Also coming in November is Mike Foss, the head of social media at ESPN. Thanks to Schaerlaeckens’ work in soccer, another potential speaker will be Dennis Crowley. Crowley is best known for being one of the founders of the app Foursquare, but is important in the sporting world for being the founder and owner of Kingston Stockade, a lower tier soccer team based in Kingston, New York. Kingston Stockade made headlines in the summer of 2017 when Crowley petitioned FIFA, the world soccer governing body, and CONCACAF, the soccer confederation that the United States belongs to, to force United States soccer to implement a system of promotion and relegation throughout the tiers of American soccer, similar to what is done in Europe.
While this all seems like lofty ambitions for the Center for Sports Communication, Schaerlaeckens believes that he has the team of interns to execute the job. Of the fifteen interns who are currently working for the Center for Sports Communication, half have worked under Dr. Strudler in the past, and the others have all had experiences working on podcasts or social media. “Personally, I spent last summer working on Bronx Pinstripes, one of the top New York Yankees podcasts,” said intern Dom Muccilo. “Me, along with a couple of the others this year, will allow Leander to have a full staff of people who have experience working on podcasts, designing logos, and everything.” Under Leander Schaerlaeckens, the Center for Sports Communication will be entering a transitional period. While the center is under new direction, much of its work will be similar to the center of old.