The Tipoff, USBWA makes progress amid game's setbacks

KANSAS CITY – As we type this, basketball practice has commenced and optimism is running rampant on most campuses across the nation.

Maybe nothing illustrates that more than the scene at the University of Missouri: The Tigers went 8-24 last season but have made their fan base euphoric and are talking about being "the last team standing" because new coach Cuonzo Martin put together a top-notch recruiting class highlighted by the No. 1 prospect in the nation, Michael Porter Jr.

But the upbeat feeling that typically is pretty universal this time of year has to be tempered on campuses that might ultimately become embroiled in the FBI investigation of corruption and fraud that already led to the ouster of Rick Pitino at Louisville and has implicated assistant coaches at Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and USC.

This already represents a seismic change in the game, because it makes more tangible and sinks teeth into the shadowy nonsense that was long ago exposed ("Sole Influence" by Dan Wetzel and Don Yeager was released in 2000) but unable to be properly addressed because of limitations in the NCAA's enforcement reach.

It's impossible to know now where this will all lead down the road, or even what immediate impact it could have. Best of luck with that first Top 25 and preseason NCAA Tournament picks.

The after-shocks no doubt will make for steep challenges for USBWA members in months to come, and part of that in turn will test our relationships with those we cover.

As always, the USBWA is here for you to lend support in any way we can as we seek to deliver all the news about the game – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Toward that end, some updates about initiatives that we hope are moving closer to meaningful changes.

In the spring Tipoff, we told you about a fascinating development during our annual Final Four meeting with the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee:

Thanks to the words of outgoing president Ed Graney and board member Mark Zeigler and information gathered through the ad hoc committees on seating and access steered by John Akers, the NCAA's Dan Gavitt and David Worlock extended a special invitation.

To address ever-shrinking access and diminishing quality of regular-season media seating around the country, John and I had an audience with the Division I Men's Basketball Oversight Committee over the summer.

We left encouraged it was the start of a conversation and being taken seriously.

In mid-October, we learned how true that was:

Derived from its review of our presentation, the committee sent best practices recommendations to every Division I athletic director, media relations contact and commissioner.

It's important to note these are recommendations, not a mandate, but this is a breakthrough. We look forward to working with them to refine and further shape these policies that you'll find elsewhere in Tipoff.

Speaking of best practices, special thanks to board member Shannon Ryan for her work through our diversity committee: She conducted webinars with author and reporter Jessica Luther about reporting on domestic violence and sexual assault in sports and with award-winning Washington Post columnist Kevin Blackistone and Missouri School of Journalism professor Cynthia Frisby on racial bias in sports reporting.

And now this: In November, past president Malcolm Moran and I will be in San Antonio to meet with the Division I Men's Basketball Committee to present the case for a pool reporter in the room during its bracketing and seeding.

While there are reasons that this might not come to happen now, it's major progress that the committee welcomes us to make the case for more transparency to the process – one that is sure to have unforeseen wrinkles at the end of a season that's beginning with a tremor.