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Happy 12th Birthday, Hustle Belt!

HB is starting to hit adolescence, which is a weird thing to consider when your whole life has been online for millions of strangers to see.

An adolescent “Hustle Belt” stands in the hallway of their local middle school, listening to its favorite tunes. Illustration: James H. Jimenez | Photo credit: “Hitane Elementary School 1F hallway A” by Douglas P Perkins, under CC 3.0 unported license

Do you remember your 12th birthday?

I can't say I do, personally; being a December baby, the month goes by like a breeze with Christmas and the rest of the end-of-year holidays swallowing up my mid-month birthday like a slice of cake hurriedly consumed so you could beat the incoming snowstorm.

Much in the same way, remembering to celebrate this blog's birthday is similarly hard; August is the ramp-up month for football coverage at both the professional level and the collegiate levels, where fellow College Sports Enjoyers(tm) who have been starved for content all summer can finally roost at the collective table of takes, eagerly pouring over depth charts and refreshing social media feeds to see the latest one-handed snags in shorts and shirts.

I admit to missing the birthday post last year, an error which is something I still feel guilty of as I sit here to write this. Oddly enough, it's basically parallel with what I do remember about my own 12th birthday, which is that it was the first time where acknowledging it felt... scary? Maybe that isn't the right word, but then, many concepts are new and scary to you when you're 12 years old.

Middle school can be brutal; your elementary-era optimism can be wiped away by a suddenly rigorous and dangerously unpredictable social landscape. There's a reason those ages between 12 and 18 can be called our "formative years"; our experiences of growth as a child turning into an adolescent can shape a lot of who we end up becoming.

Hustle Belt's childhood was beautifully curated by everyone who came before our current staff, playing around with the idea of the cross between fandom and reporting with a relentless optimism which can be hard to replicate in this day and age.

Now, as Hustle Belt reaches its adolescence, we've lived through some unbelievably seismic shifts in both the blogging world and the NCAA world, and it has significantly adjusted the idea of how fandom informs our reporting; and what the idea of being "relentlessly optimistic" means.

My first address to the HB community as a deputy editor was in a time in blogging where talking about things like expansion and the playoff were wonderful thought experiments, something which could be kept to the realm of make-believe because it was simply too fantastic to be true.

What was once a thoughtless experiment for #clicks is now an existential crisis. Ways in which communities discuss things on the internet has changed too; comment sections are basically faux-pas, remnants of an Internet culture the kids call cringe, boomer or not based nowadays.

I couldn’t imagine that when I first came on to the blog in 2014, exchanging e-mails with the 22 other members of the blog in a thousands-of-pages-long thread, or endlessly replying to total strangers in the comments on a gamer recap of a random non-conference piece.

Our coverage shift over the years has focused on more serious news pieces and profiles of coaches and players, a bit of a departure from the heady days of the more 2010’s bloggy-type posts about which Mario Kart character your school would be— though we do love doing those on occasion.

This was in part due to the shifting dynamics of the staff itself; smaller staffs means having less opportunity to branch out and do more obscure posts. But it was also due in part to a shift in sports media culture as well; as local news media experienced cuts to smaller college coverage across the country, it became incumbent on fan blogs themselves to take up the mantle in order to see their teams represented.

Change is scary, but that does not mean we will relent in being a continuous advocate of the Best Little Conference That Could. And well, what 12-year-old doesn't want to show they can handle bigger responsibilities whenever possible?

We are currently in the process of finding alternate pathways to informing our readers about their favorite #MACtion teams, opting for team-by-team positional unit previews and the non-conference game primers to help inform our preseason coverage, as opposed to the longer full team previews, while also using our podcast (which, holy crap, is two years old!) as a resource for longer-form content. Steve Helwick and Zachary vanNieuwehnzee (as well as some occasional guests) will provide excellent commentary about the games on that platform when the season kicks off, and we hope you will tune in and give them a listen.

We're also bringing back some golden oldies for the season itself, including the Power Rankings and Ye OIde Roundtable, while finding opportunities where some potentially new content could fit in.

The fact we have made it to 12 years on Al Gore's Internet is a testament to all of our dedicated readers, whether you've had us bookmarked on your browser since Day 1, or found us only recently and read us exclusively via the AMP feature on Twitter.

The more things change, someone once said, the more they remain the same. Even despite the MAC going relatively unchanged since UMass' departure in 2015, the MAC has stayed strong at 12 members as every other FBS conference has changed over.

Much like the MAC itself, Hustle Belt has also striven to be a stable and vocal presence in the blogging sphere, loudly and proudly advocating on behalf of our collective fanbase. Whether you're having a plate of Buffalo wings in northern New York, walking the bricks in Oxford or Athens, or harvesting the bronze stalks in Muncie and DeKalb, we hope we have given your schools and fanbases proper respect and coverage and will continue to do so as long as we are able.

We are eternally proud of the MAC, and eternally thankful to have a voice with which to proclaim that love, and your support has gone a long way in helping that. We cannot thank you enough for that.

2020 and 2021 were trials, as COVID-19 really affected our ability to provide the coverage the MAC deserved, but 2022 is a year full of possibilities, and much like any starry-eyed teenager our age, we’re eager to experience what will lie ahead with an open mind.

If you would like to be one of those voices to help us cover the MAC, please apply at the link included.


P.S.: Because we’re 12 years old now, we can’t just leave without referencing a song that just... gets us.

XO, y’all.

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