GLENDALE, ARIZ. – When I covered the Final Four for the first time 25 years ago in Minneapolis, concepts like the Internet and even having a cell phone seemed like the stuff of science fiction.
Not that those weren't pioneering times in the business: I believe I wrote on the newfangled flip-top Tandy Radio Shack, on which you could finally see more than a few lines of type and could magically transmit your stories in less than 10 minutes – unless somebody, say, kicked out the power cord in mid-send and you had to start over.
Even back in the day, though, there was one force we could all count on: the USBWA and its heart and soul, executive director Joe Mitch.
The USBWA was formed in 1956 at the urging of then-NCAA executive director Walter Byers, and it's perhaps never had a more meaningful purpose than it does now.
Then, as now, the USBWA might represent different things to different people.
But to someone awed and anxious about covering a Final Four, there was enormous comfort in being introduced to the organization that year.
Dave Dorr, the USBWA Hall of Famer who was then my colleague at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, coaxed me to attend what was then an awards breakfast and business meeting. It opened up a world to me.
Here were giants of the profession, welcoming in as peers those of us who had little to no sense of where we were.
Here was a group whose existence was based on helping all of us do our jobs to the best of our abilities.
The USBWA ever since has been a source of sustenance for me, and, of course, it has been just that for hundreds of others over the years.
The camaraderie and sense of shared purpose within our own distinct missions makes all of our work easier, better and more fulfilling.
If you didn't already know that, it was affirmed one way or another during what now is our annual luncheon (thanks, again, to the wisdom of past president Dana O'Neil) and the moving and appreciative speeches of our 2017 Hall of Fame inductees: Tom Archdeacon, Steve Carp, Frank Deford and David Teel.
Much has changed all around us over the years, but that has only made the resource of the USBWA more vital.
As the incoming president, I'm taking the baton from immediate past president Ed Graney and all Ed's predecessors and will try to build on the terrific work they've done.
We'll continue to fight for seats and access and transparency and seek to find more and better ways to recognize all that's good in college basketball and those who honor and distinguish us with their work.
As ever, we will strive to add to the strength in our numbers – with a particular aim of recruiting more females and minorities.
Our membership now sits at right around 900 or so. So if each of us just tries to think of two people to ask to join, it's hard to imagine we can't soon get over 1,000 for the first time.
If nothing else, I bet everyone can think of young colleagues covering the game who might not know about the USBWA.
Remember your own days of uncertainty and what it meant to you to have the USBWA and its members to lean on, and it's easy to see how meaningful membership could be for those seeking a foundation at a time of such uncertainty in our business.
You also might find that if you look through our directory, there will be several people on your staff who cover the game that aren't currently involved. It could well be worth asking them about joining.
Some news outlets might consider paying your dues for you – maybe especially so if supervisors either are in the USBWA or can be persuaded to try it for a year.
The USBWA offers much more than a source of support and a comprehensive directory of everything and everyone you need to know in the game and esteemed writing awards and prizes.
It offers more than eligibility for the NCAA Mock Tournament Selection exercise that takes place each year, more than further benefits such as Tipoff and Basketball Times subscriptions and discounts with major airlines, hotels and rental car companies – and even Brooks Brothers' clothiers. See usbwa.com for the latest update on those specifics.
It also offers you a voice and seat at the table in ways that you might not even imagine.
Case in point:
At our annual meeting at the Final Four with the NCAA's David Worlock and Dan Gavitt and representatives of the Division I Men's Basketball Committee, Ed and board member Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union Tribune broached an issue that affects all of us: the diminishing quality of regular-season seating at nearly every arena in the country.
Technically speaking, this wasn't really a matter for the committee itself (beyond the fact that as courtside seats become more scarce in the postseason, that trend might be considered an influence on how administrators around the country justify their decisions to move us into the rafters or behind baskets or to odd sightlines where you can't see half the court when fans stand in front of you).
But here's what happened as discussion continued: Dan Gavitt, like David Worlock a friend to us all, took the concerns seriously.
And he kept thinking about what might be able to be done about it.
Then he offered to be our liaison for a meeting with the Division I Men's Basketball Oversight Committee, suggesting, too, that it might be possible to discuss with that committee recommendations for best practices and minimal standards.
We're expecting to meet with them later this year about that. While nothing can be promised, it's exciting to know we have a chance to engage about this frustrating issue.
Also by Ed's request, we made intriguing progress on another front that we've been bring up for years:
Sometime this fall, the Division I Men's Basketball Committee will entertain a presentation from us about having a pool reporter in the room during its bracketing and seeding.
There are many reasons why that might not come to fruition, but it's enormous progress that the committee welcomed us to make the pitch.
We will keep you posted about how all this goes. Meanwhile, please let us know about any other concerns you have that you feel we might be able to help with. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and Joe can be reached at email@example.com.
Because the USBWA is here for you … as ever.
Gregorian named USBWA president
Vahé Gregorian, columnist for the Kansas City Star, moved into the USBWA's presidency position for 2017-18 at the association's annual board of directors' meeting during this year's men's Final Four in Phoenix.
Gregorian succeeds Ed Graney, Las Vegas Review-Journal, as president of the USBWA. Seth Davis, CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated, was named third vice president. Moving up in the rotation of officers were David Teel, Newport News Daily Press, first vice president, and Mike Waters, Syracuse Post-Standard, second vice president.
Named to the board as district reps for three-year terms were Shannon Ryan, Chicago Tribune, District V; Lee Barfnecht, Omaha World-Herald, District VI; and George Schroeder, USA Today, at-large. Brian Morrison, Atlantic Coast Conference, was chosen as SID representative for a one-year term.