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Vol. 46, No. 1 November 2008 .pdf version
Cramped and courtside is a tradeoff that works for everyone
By LENOX RAWLINGS / Winston-Salem Journal
A few years back, when covering a game from the end-zone bleachers seemed unusual as well as stupid, the University of Maryland opened its shiny, new center.
Among the amenities: end-zone bleacher seats for the minimally tolerated press.
Any reporter who ever saw the T-shirts demanding certain actions against Duke or heard the bombs dropped on J.J. Redick might consider end-zone bleacher seats a logical extension of the red-carpet treatment.
Or maybe those are just provincial customs.
Anyone who ever tried to cover a Washington Redskins game from the lowdown, tucked-away corner between the upper and lower decks might infer that a certain disdain for journalists permeates the Beltsville sporting culture. I f you want to see punts, passes or kicks in all their dropped-from-the-sky glory, the Redskins' press box isn't the place.
These viewing obstacles flow from different outlets and different attitudes. Maryland's press seats probably have less to do with the state of mutual respect than with reverential respect for money. Sideline seats that enable donors to grind their heels on the painted hardwood generate tremendous revenues. Most reporters don't even want to buy a tepid dog.
Maryland built the arena, which has excellent sight lines and surprising intimacy for a 17,566-seat telescope. (The building can't match Cole Fieldhouse for proximity or raw emotion, but time dribbles on.) Maryland chose its preferred revenue sources, joining many other colleges in premium-seat marketing.
At N.C. State, for instance, the most prominent donor controls several sidecourt seats on what was exclusively press row when the Raleigh arena opened. In addition to the seats at the press table, used mainly by his family, the donor gets a monitor that constantly updates the boxscore. He keeps the monitor under the table, at his feet.
This isn't about Maryland or N.C. State. This isn't about Georgia Tech, North Carolina or Wake Forest, all of which shifted the majority of press seats into elevated end-zone areas. This is about perspectives.
During the first game I covered in Maryland's new place, the reporter on my right elbow had trouble identifying players who committed fouls and got rebounds at the far end. That isn't an extreme rarity among multitasking witnesses, regardless of where schools put the press seats.
The central point: This has nothing to do with reporters' rights to the best seats, because no such rights exist in the U.S. Constitution or NCAA bylaws. This has everything to do with the public's unwritten right to the most accurate information, even at basketball games.
In a reasonable world, the information occasionally involves coaching behavior but more often involves the nuances of players' styles and personalities, the details and expressions and emotions that tell the story. Those kinds of stories engage the reader and increase the sport's appeal. Those stories tend to get lost in the hazy, noisy distance.
Schools benefit financially from selling the sidecourt seats. They also benefit from sharing some of those seats with reporters. Duke does that, still reserving the sideline across from the benches for the media.
The residue: collateral spit, showers of blue glitter and nudges from outraged students, followed by annual odes to the beauty of basketball in cozy Cameron Indoor Stadium. That's a trade-off that benefits all the teams.
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