Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, November 03, 2006

NCAA and Print Reporters Play "Meet the Press"

By Mel Greenberg

In a 17-hour period of food and food for thought, members of the print media who cover women’s collegiate basketball and officials of the NCAA who administer the sport met at NCAA headquarters in a free-wheeling exchange of ideas.

Besides your Guru, others in the room from our side of the fence included Dick Patrick of USA Today, JoAnne Harrop of the Pittsburgh Tribune, Mechelle Voepel of the Kansas City Star and ESPN.Com, Lori Shontz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Indianapolis Star sports editor Jim Lefko and reporter Steve Ballard, Mike Carmin of the Lafayette Journal & Courier who covers Purdue, and Chuck Schoffner of the Associated Press former women’s writer who is now retired but still administers the poll.

Additionally, serving as AP’s official representative was Jim O’Connell, who is the wire service’s men’s national basketball writer and brought some comparisons to the discussion as to how similar activities and procedures involving the tournament operate from the men’s side. Milt Kent of the Baltimore Sun joined the room via conference phone from back East.

The NCAA officials included Rick Nixon and his assistant Amanda Storck, who are the media coordinators for the sport, Sue Donohoe and her staff who handle administration, and Judy Southard, the new chair of the selection committee who is also the primary women’s administrator at LSU.

Mechelle in her coverage of the event in Indy will offer some analysis. JoAnne will probably be writing out of her newspaper’s site. The Guru, to avoid duplication, will offer some highlights and point of discussion.

We all began the visit by joining the staff for dinner at a local restaurant on Wednesday that in the spirit of the tournament’s growth included pre-determined steak and other similar items on the menu. NCAA president Myles Brand joined us and gave a talk about how much he enjoyed last year’s title game between Maryland and ACC-rival Duke, won by the Terrapins in overtime. He also spoke of the organization’s commitment to grow the game.

During the morning session, it was revealed that some thinking, “only in the incubation” stage, is returning over the concept involving what benefits might occur if the women’s season were to change somewhat and go deeper into April.

We also discussed the effects of the televised Selection Show shifting to Monday night and how that impacted coverage in our papers. Dick Patrick noted there was less of a ride in USA Today than had occurred when the bracket had been announced the same day as the men.

We went over history of the tournament – ticket prices at the first one in Norfolk, Va., in 1982, were $5 and $7 at the Final Four. This year in Cleveland the package is $142.

We also talked about how the internet has affected our coverage – obviously the Guru offered how his blog helps overcome space constraints in the printed edition of the Inquirer. For example, you have to come here to read this account.

Mechelle Voepel gave a pitch for many of your sites as places the committee might want to visit to enhance knowledge.

The RPI was discussed and, based on Thursday’s NCAA explanation that was quite frank, it was pointed out that the Strength of Schedule component does not address “quality” of opponents. It only shows on the positive side that a particular team got a high RPI because it won a lot of games over teams that won a lot of games.

Judy Southard, incidentallty, offered her accessibility to us throughout the season. We suggested adding a third teleconference sometime in late January or early February, perhaps with additional committee members, so we might got an early look from their side as to how the season is shaking out prior to the stretch drive into conference tournaments.

The controversy over the Cleveland Regional of last year was discussed per the placement of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Rutgers all at the same location. Someone else might chronicle that portion of the meeting with a little more depth.

The Guru will say that one thing was clarified was the “S” curve puts teams into the field is different than bracket placement and not the same. Thus, although North Carolina, the overall No. 1 team and Tennessee met in Cleveland, the Vols’ placement was more so over the procedures concerning the bracket and it didn’t mean they were the lowest No. 2 seed.

It was pointed out to the NCAA from our side that, based on gaffes that have occurred on conference calls after the bracket’s announcement in the past, that the NCAA folks need to be on top of their game explaining their actions in determining the draw.

We also had a little education over how people get selected to the tournament committee.

Some ways to make covering the tournament better were also offered. We suggested it would be helpful to have the championship team at a press conference the following morning, considering how late the title game ends and how quickly the winner is whisked away to the WBCA Sears Trophy presentation.

We also suggested moving some things around on the calendar during the championship to avoid conflicts and help produce stories during dead periods that week.

Throughout the day Sue Donohoe noted that things didn’t have to be in stone for all time. If the Selection Show, for example, is not producing the perceived advantages on a Monday, then after a few years of giving that arrangement a try, it might be more helpful to move back to a Sunday.

The important thing about this meeting, which was Mechelle’s idea last spring, was that the NCAA wanted our input and wanted to know ways to avoid us being at a disadvantage in our coverage. Of course, both sides discussed ways to grow coverage in the future.

For example, if the season started later, I’m not saying that’s in the works tomorrow, but what would be avoided is the ebb and flow through December.

Now, we have all the energy over the start of another season. Then things will quickly die down because of finals. Then there will be another short spurt before teams break for holiday vacations. So one almost has to wait for the conference schedule to kick in to have things happening on a daily basis through the end of the season.

So that’s the quick off the top of the Guru’s head report. If there were some mistakes, we’ll correct them. Otherwise, we’ll be back in the next 24 hours with other discussions and more Guru’s Time Machine stories.

-- Mel


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