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Vol. 46, No. 4 • May 2009 • .pdf version
Women's Final Four offers a full plate of topics to explore
By MEL GREENBERG / Women's Representative
Unlike the perfect finish to Connecticut's drive for a sixth national title in St. Louis, the USBWA women's contingent had a mixed bag of wins and losses during the five-day span of activities in the Gateway City.
The most significant loss, mostly caused by the current economic state of newspapers, involved the few major markets represented at the event.
The Connecticut crowd probably would not have been in the house if the Huskies had lost along the way. St. Louis and area organizations might not have been, either, if the Final Four had been in another city.
A glance at the media seating chart showed representation from New York and Washington D.C. But missing from the list were such longtime market reps from Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Dallas and Richmond, to name a few.
The Bay Area papers departed after the semifinals in the wake of Stanford's loss to Connecticut.
Although many veteran women's basketball reporters in those cities have either retired, taken buyouts or been furloughed, there has been an expression of interest from them to find ways to stay involved with the beat and involvement with USBWA.
However, despite the gloomy beginning of this report, there were events producing positive feelings and the future may not be totally bleak.
The five-day event got off to an exciting start with the third annual women's panel for young writers. The seminar, moderated by the St. Louis Post Dispatch's Dave Dorr, included yours truly, AP national women's writer Doug Feinberg and local writer R.B. Fallstrom, USA Today's Dick Patrick, Joe Ostermeier, who's in charge of S t. L ouis' Belleville online edition; and Steve Tucker of the Chicago Sun Times.
Unlike previous seminars in Cleveland and Tampa, which focused on coverage of the sport, the St. Louis attendees, who came from area colleges and high school, heard discussion of the sportswriting business in general.
ESPN again sponsored the brunch, whose format might change. More about that in a bit.
The USBWA was no different than other organizations handing out women's postseason awards. Connecticut grabbed both the coach of the year honor – with Geno Auriemma, who also won last season – and the player of the year award, with Maya Moore.
Neither could receive their honors personally, with the event falling on the morning of the championship game.
We met with Rick Nixon, the NCAA's media coordinator of the Division I women's tournament.
One of the discussion points involved tweaking tournament procedures in the early rounds. For example, it was noted by our side that with usually only one writer per paper at an event, it is quite difficult in the postgame sessions to be in the media interview room and in the locker rooms at the same time because of the overlap.
There were no such conflicts at the Final Four, with enough time allotted to be in both places.
Nixon and ESPN's Tilea Coleman discussed ways to make the brunch better. An idea was proposed to move it to a late-afternoon session in the arena prior to the title game, to attract more writers at the event.
To add meat to the gathering, the NCAA's session with the committee chair involving the state of the tournament could be moved from its current Monday place on the schedule. It is now held between the interview times with the participating times in the championship.
Another thought is to change the national awards announcement for the women to in advance of the Final Four. In recent years, the winners have come from title participants who were unable to attend personally because of their commitments on the day of the title game.
The honors could get more attention with the trophies sent to the school and then having a USBWA local or national representative make the presentation at the school's postseason dinner.
Two additional awards are being explored, which could become centerpiece honors at the Final Four. One would cite a coach who is media-friendly, in terms of cooperation involving availability and interviews.
The other is not new, but a transformation of the Pioneer Award that has been presented in the past to someone whose efforts gained media attention to the sport.
The new award would be named the Maggie Dixon Award, after the young Army coach who died suddenly in 2006 soon after leading the Cadets to their first NCAA Tournament in her first season as a head coach.
The new qualification would be to give it to someone who has impacted young lives in a positive manner that results in media attention to the sport.
Ideally, it would be nice to have a title sponsor. That search will continue.
Finally, our fearless leader Joe Mitch thinks we need to create a board on our side similar to the men's, consisting of a board member from each of the six regions.
I agree. Nicole Vargas of the San Diego Union-Tribune is willing to help. If any of you have interest or know of anyone at your organizations, feel free to contact me.
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