The Tipoff, USBWA can be counted upon in tough times

Gazing out from the city that has hosted more Final Fours (10) than anywhere else, anticipation of the NCAA Tournament is as fevered as ever – especially considering the range of teams that appear capable of winning it.

Just the same, the season is ending much the way it began: under the specter of an FBI investigation of corruption and fraud in the game.

As a source told USBWA member Pete Thamel of Yahoo in mid-February, "Hall of Fame coaches should be scared, lottery picks won't be eligible to play and almost half of the 16 teams the NCAA showed on its initial NCAA tournament show (in February) should worry about their appearance being vacated."

So, as a journalist covering college basketball, exactly what can you count on amid this bubbling chaos?

Answer: The USBWA, in your corner since 1956 and always striving to adapt and respond to member needs for representation.

It has been a privilege to serve as USBWA president the last year and help advance initiatives made possible by the hard work of so many.

People like immediate past president Ed Graney and board member Mark Zeigler, whose words about access and seating issues at last year's Final Four in Phoenix resonated with the NCAA's Dan Gavitt and David Worlock.

That led to a meeting with the NCAA basketball oversight committee in Indianapolis last summer, at which the estimable John Akers of Basketball Times and I presented research and suggested best practices for schools – information developed by the chairmen of USBWA ad hoc committees for access (Kirk Wessler of the Peoria Journal Star) and seating (Luke DeCock of the Raleigh News & Observer).

That in turn led to the unprecedented step of the Oversight Committee following up with a "best practices" memo sent to every Division I school before the season.

The memo provided recommendations to schools, not mandates, which is a little bit like the distinction Bill Murray makes between rules and guidelines in "Ghostbusters."

But it made for a fine start to a dialogue, a beginning we are making efforts to accelerate by surveying members about the degree to which the "best practices" are being adhered to in terms of seating, access and security. And we have every reason to believe the Oversight Committee will continue to work with us to try to improve these conditions.

Also in the embryonic stage: discussions with the Division I men's basketball committee to make the case for a pool reporter in the room during bracketing and seeding to lend more transparency to the process.

In November, past president Malcolm Moran and I went to San Antonio to meet with the committee.

We left with the jarring knowledge of how far we have to go to get the committee to lower the bridge and let us in, information that in some ways was frustrating but nonetheless vital in itself.

Six of the 10 committee members were clearly against the idea, and no one advocated for it. The biggest obstacle as we understood it: Our presence in the room would "modify behavior" by suppressing candor.

Still, in follow-up conversations with Worlock, it's evident that this was the start of a process – truly – with potential to come to fruition one day.

It has been an honor to try to help facilitate these and other initiatives in the last year – and to get to work with relentless executive director Joe Mitch, who has been the heart of this organization since 1983.

It also will be a pleasure to make way in April for incoming president David Teel, a USBWA Hall of Famer who will lead us with grace and passion.

That's more that you can count on from the USBWA at a time of so much uncertainty in what we cover.