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Vol. 50, No. 1 November 2012 .pdf version
Saving courtside seats a summerlong endeavor
By JOHN AKERS / Basketball Times
Looking back on the column that I wrote for The Tipoff last May, I'm not sure if my words were a little bit prescient or just plain naοve.
That's when I wrote that we were entering an uncertain time, given the NCAA's new leadership of its basketball tournaments. So true.
Then I also wrote this: "Writers once worried about losing their places on press row of NCAA tournaments to the influence of CBS executives who preferred that our seats be filled by fans. We worry still, though now whether our own employers will continue to spend the money to send us to Final Fours."
May the Cameron Crazies taunt me with chants of "Air-ball!" for that last one.
Our seats actually were in danger in an effort by the NCAA to create a greater tournament atmosphere rather than as a result of CBS threats which we fortunately figured out by early summer. While it went against our reporters' nature, the USBWA officers kept that fact a secret until only recently because of our determination that the best way to save these seats was to respond to the NCAA with potential solutions rather than a flurry of pointed tweets.
We'd also like to tell you all about what was said in our meeting with the NCAA at their offices on Sept. 13, but we entered into that meeting with a promise of confidentiality that would allow for free conversation. But that doesn't prevent me from telling you in this limited space at least some of what we brought to that discussion.
First and foremost, we tried to convince the NCAA of the value that we all know that we bring to their tournament. For example, we reminded them of an independent study that determined that print and online stories of Butler's 2010 championship game were worth $465 to the school.
We explained to them that the beauty of basketball unlike in football and baseball is in the intimacy that allows us to see and hear those things that even CBS' cameras can't catch. We are able to leave our seats after the games and find the parents, siblings and girlfriends who help distinguish our stories from the impersonal pieces that one might expect from NBA coverage.
In later conversations, we reminded them of a Michigan State-Kentucky game that was played at Detroit's Ford Field five years ago. The media was going to be sent toward the dome's rafters. Tom Izzo discovered a situation that needed to be corrected and moved the media to courtside.
We also warned the NCAA of the potential dangers that would come with moving the majority of media from courtside, not the least of which would be where to put us as each arena varies from one to the next in size and structure. As one of our officers put it so well in a follow-up letter to the NCAA: "The answer will be rife with uncertainty, from venue to venue, round to round, season to season."
We have done what we can to prevent such a calamity from occurring even by showing restraint when that was our best, and most difficult, course of action.
This letter was sent by e-mail to USBWA members on Sept. 21, 2012.
To our Membership,
It's been a difficult and frustrating month.
NCAA leadership has informed us that an undetermined number of media could be relocated from courtside seating, beginning with the 2013 tournament. NCAA officials said no decision has been made among a spectrum of seating options being considered to present to the selection committee and that no timetable has been set for when a seating policy will be determined.
The NCAA's stated reason for considering the move is to create a more fan-friendly atmosphere.
The USBWA has been fighting on your behalf since first being informed of this possibility during a May 31 introductory meeting that Executive Director Joe Mitch and USBWA President John Akers had with new Executive Vice-President of Championships and Alliances Mark Lewis at NCAA headquarters.
As you are likely aware, over the past several years, the USBWA has developed an ongoing, constructive dialogue with the NCAA basketball committee and staff that allowed both sides to raise concerns and issues. The USBWA has strongly believed and still do that our best course of action was to take the high road and offer collaboration and solutions to the NCAA rather than to engage the NCAA in a war through Twitter or other social media. Certainly, that option will still be available to us in the future, but in the interest of reaching the best possible resolution for all of our current and future members, we strongly urge you to refrain from taking that course of action right now. We already are aware of misinformation being spread among our members that is more likely to hurt rather than to help our cause. Instead, please direct questions, concerns, suggestions and your much-needed support to firstname.lastname@example.org.
After collecting research on this issue, Joe Mitch and the four USBWA officers held two of the half-dozen hourlong conference calls (and counting) that we have participated in over the summer, determining our strategy.
In response, at the invitation of the NCAA, the USBWA sent seven members to NCAA Headquarters in Indianapolis on Sept. 13 to meet with NCAA officials and Committee Chairman Mike Bobinski to address the issue.
The USBWA was represented by Mitch, President John Akers, Vice Presidents Kirk Wessler, Dana O'Neil and Frank Burlison and Board members Pat Forde and Mike Lopresti. The NCAA was represented by Bobinski; Mark Lewis, the new Executive Vice President for Championships and Alliances; Dan Gavitt, the new Vice President of Men's Basketball Championships; Jeanne Boyd, Director of Division I Men's Basketball Championships; Dave Worlock, the Associate Director of Men's Basketball; Greg Weitekamp, Director of Broadcasting; and Cameron Schuh, Associate Director of Public and Media Relations. According to Joe Mitch, it was one of the largest contingents the USBWA has ever sent to the NCAA for a single meeting. The dialogue since that meeting has been ongoing.
The USBWA felt it was our duty to inform you of these possible changes before any decisions are made. We still hold out hope that the NCAA will recognize the value that we bring to the tournament and will continue to provide the seats that you need and that the USBWA has been working diligently to preserve.
John Akers, USBWA President
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