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Vol. 44, No. 1 • November 2006 • .pdf version
By TOM SHATEL / Omaha World-Herald
It's been over four months since members of the USBWA and the NCAA met at the Renaissance Suites hotel in St. Louis in mid-June. But it seems like yesterday.
For instance, I'm still full.
Current USBWA officers and past presidents traveled to St. Louis, on their own dime, at the invitation of Greg Shaheen, vice president of Division I Men's Basketball, and David Worlock, NCAA media relations chief. We held a six-hour, two-meal meeting. From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., we discussed our favorite issues and topics (including the favorite topic), expressed opinions and concerns, agreed on some and agreed to disagree on others.
There are a number of ways to describe the tone of the meeting. Historic. Significant. Respectful. Informative.
Mainly, the spirit of St. Louis was one of cooperation.
More on that later. First, let's review the highlights.
1. Press seating at the Final Four will not change, at least through 2011 in Houston: There are details here I cannot divulge. In fact, Shaheen gave us information about the seating designs for future Final Fours that he had not even told the NCAA D-I Basketball Committee. Right. He told us first.
There are three things you need to know about this. One, CBS is concerned about atmosphere or, a lackthereof, in their opinion, in the current court layout at a Final Four. They want more noise down by the floor. The NCAA is coming up with a way to accommodate this without shipping us. Two, we serve as a buffer to the court to discourage terrorists, wackos, or anyone who might want some publicity by rushing the court. Some of us suspected this and had it confirmed. Three, our seats down there are not guaranteed forever. Shaheen made that clear, while also making us feel that we aren't getting moved anytime soon.
2. Wireless cost $29.95 in Indy last year. Don't look for that price to go down: Shaheen brought the NCAA's wireless guru to the meeting. He confirmed what many of us know: wireless is a strange, fluid thing that changes by the year, if not by the week. The Final Four venues, domes in particular, are wireless-ready in the football press boxes, but not down on the floor or in the work room areas downstairs. Thus, it costs more to set up. And, it's unpredictable. (See: last year's Saturday night meltdown on press row.) The NCAA spent $25,000 to fix the problem for Monday night. But this is something we are going to have to live with – until the next level of wireless comes around the corner.
3. There will be no post-game concerts or corporate parties next to the media work room (in the open area behind the bleachers) in the Georgia Dome: The corporate types will do their thing somewhere else in the dome, away from us.
4. Signing up for regional credentials on line will be more flexible: That will allow us to wait for the brackets to come out to figure out our travel plans.
Now, for the really good stuff.
5. We have been invited to travel to NCAA headquarters in February and take place in a mock bracket exercise in the actual Basketball Committee "War Room": We will use the actual committee computers, the computer program, the data, RPI, etc., and do our own bracket with the teams currently in the hunt and on the bubble next February. There are 10 computers, and Greg says we can fit two writers on each one. That's 20 doing the brackets with room for 20 more to watch in the room. All of it will be on the record and suitable for print. And all will be expected to pay their own dime to get there and spend the night (it will take most of one day).
Joe Mitch and I will come up with an invitation list. A lot of folks are going to want to do this and, I should add, Shaheen and Worlock want to make sure certain folks are there, too. This won't be easy. If you don't make the cut this time, feel free to pick your bone with me.
6. During one of our breaks, I asked Greg if there was any way we could make this St. Louis meeting an annual shindig, with access also to Committee members and CBS folks: Without hesitation, he said, "I don't see why not." Voila. Next May, we will have an entourage going to San Antonio to meet with Greg, David and assorted committee members at the NCAA's annual spring meeting with the committee (always held at the next year's Final Four site). I'm still pushing for a CBS type or two to join us. I think it would be very important to have CBS get to hear us and get to know us. I also feel the Final Four breakfast we have with the Committee isn't enough. It feels rushed. It feels like all we do is air our complaints. I think we should get some quality time getting to know the committee, too. Greg agrees.
7. Greg offered the NCAA's help and assistance ("anything we can do to help") with USBWA events at the Final Four, including promoting our events to the public: Yes, that includes the Oscar Robertson breakfast. You should have seen the smile on Joe Mitch's face. There you have it.
So what do we think?
Well, certainly, there are going to be skeptics among us. Do we trust the NCAA? Why should we? Aren't they just leading us into a trap, throwing us goodies now so they can take it all away later?
I've heard that line of thinking.
I don't buy it.
Maybe it's from all that fresh air, solitude and corn stalks. Maybe in the Midwest, we are built a little different. Naive? Perhaps. Trusting? Sure. That doesn't mean we are immune to cynicism.
It just means we, or, I, am willing to give someone a chance to prove themselves. When someone looks me in the eye and shakes my hand and tells me something, I'm going to believe it and make them prove otherwise. I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are telling the truth.
I don't know Greg Shaheen. We just met. I know we have two things in common: we both love college basketball and Diet Coke.
From what I heard, there may be a third common bond: an interest in having the media cover the Final Four the right way.
Ladies and germs, I've been covering the NCAA for 25 years.
I got to know Dave Cawood while I was a young mutt feeling my way around the college beat at the KC Star in 1982. Then Jim Marchiony. Alfred White. Bill Hancock. Like many of you, I've watched the Final Four grow up, from the intimate book-store feel tournament we loved in the late '70s and early '80s to the corporate giant it is now. We all know how the NCAA works, what they like, don't like, what they'll give, won't give. I've had a good working relationship with all of them.
I have yet to see anything like this olive branch, however.
The bottom line is, we could worry about where our seats are going to be.
And we will. But we can also look at the big picture here.
The NCAA is opening the door to some places we haven't been.
I say we go in, eyes open and hand extended.
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