4th&Fail: You went to Northwestern's famed school of journalism. I'm currently a journalism student at the University of Florida, and in my reporting class, we heard a lot about the "Medill F." Do you have any horror stories from your days at Northwestern?
Mandel: I do, in fact. One time, I suffered the roller-coaster experience of having my newswriting teacher read one of my assignments to the class, presumably as a model of what he was looking for, only to have him notice a misspelling he'd failed to detect the first time and thus change the grade right there in front of everyone.
4th&Fail: I enjoyed your book, "Bowls, Polls & Tattered Souls," and it's my favorite book on sports. Can you tell me some about the entire process you went through with the book, and what the most difficult part of writing the book was?
Mandel: It was a very long process due in large part to the fact that the football/basketball schedules meant I had to work on it almost entirely during the spring/summer downtime. So the spring/summer of 2005 was spent on the proposal that gets pitched to publishers; the spring/summer of '06 is when I wrote 8 of the 10 chapters, then finished it up after the '06 season. Writing it wasn't as difficult as I feared, probably because the subject matter was so familiar, it was just a matter of time management and staying on course to meet deadlines.
4th&Fail: You've been in the business for over a decade now. Do you ever say to yourself, "Wow, I'm actually getting paid to write about sports?"
4th&Fail: What has been your favorite moment in your 10+ years in journalism?
4th&Fail: In February, SI.com announced you would be going on sabbatical "to work on other projects." At least part of that is your Web site, stewartmandel.com. What made you decide to compile non-sports related essays?
If so, what would you want to write about this time around?
4th&Fail: Any clues or insider information on who this season's Mailbag Crush might be?
4th&Fail: Do you think we'll see a playoff system implemented in college football in, let's say, the next decade or two?
4th&Fail: Your take on Sam Keller's lawsuit against EA Sports?
One advantage aspiring journalists have today that they didn't 10 years ago is the ability to build an audience before they ever step foot in a traditional newsroom. But I do believe the traditional standards for reporting and writing will continue to be what distinguishes those who ultimately succeed in making this their livelihood. Get as much experience as possible covering stories first-hand, be it for a college newspaper, a Rivals.com site or through internships. And keep working hard.