Vol. 43, No. 4 May 2006 .pdf version
Tom Shatel: Final Four seating issue is here
Joe Mitch: Second breakfast becoming a staple
Andy Katz: Friday breakfast will get bigger, better
Dick Jerardi: USBWA, NCAA committee listened
Best writing contest deadline is June 15

Tom Shatel

Final Four seating issue is here, and it's serious

By TOM SHATEL / Omaha World-Herald

It's here.

Yes, my presidency. My term, on your terms. I am honored and humbled to be your USBWA president until next April in Atlanta. Or, until Billy Packer does the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, whichever comes first.

But that's not why you hear that fire alarm in the distance. (Then again, maybe it is!)

No, it's here. The day we all knew, in the back of our minds, would come eventually, but hoped we wouldn't be around to see it.

The NCAA/CBS/press row seating issue is upon us.

Is it imminent? Is it a done deal? Are we headed up to the baseball press box?

No. No. No.

Is it on the table? Is the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Committee going to discuss the issue?

Yes. Yes.

So, should we get in the game and have a say in our fate? Or sit on the sidelines and hope and pray?

Easy choice. We're getting in the game.

The good news is, as we learned at the Final Four in Indianapolis, the NCAA wants us in the game.

We invited David Worlock, the new NCAA media coordinator, to join us at our annual Friday morning board meeting with the basketball committee. We were pleasantly surprised by an appearance from Greg Shaheen, the vice president of Division I men's basketball.

I began the meeting by asking Shaheen if he could clarify some rumors that several writers had heard, mainly that the NCAA was considering a move on press row for the 2009 Final Four at Ford Field in Detroit.

Shaheen admitted that the topic has come up with the basketball committee, but mostly because the configuration at Ford Field is different than most domes. For instance, rather than having the court pressed up against one end zone, like most domes, the court may be in the center of Ford Field.

He also noted that CBS has raised concerns about having so many press tables in full view especially when writers leave to go work in the pressroom and they are empty. This is not new. We have heard this for years. Is CBS finally going to get things changed?

Not necessarily. Shaheen said the NCAA staff and the basketball committee are not pushing a change and not even considering it at this point. But they do want to discuss it.

At that point, Shaheen made my day: He invited the USBWA to join the discussion.

We accept.

I have appointed a committee, commission, task force, etc. I call them the "Grumpy Old Men" committee. It will be made up of past presidents, our heaviest hitters, who have relationships with the NCAA and the committee. They still have a great passion for USBWA and all of the issues in our ever-changing world. They still want to get involved.

So they shall. I welcome their passion, and their involvement. This might be the most important thing our organization does. I want our big guns in there, fighting for us, offering their wit and wisdom and suggestions. I feel confident our side will be heard.

I also feel confident a compromise can be reached, if one is needed at all.

I say that nothing is imminent.

But you should know that Shaheen suggested we talk immediately. He said the Basketball Committee is going to discuss this topic at its June 15 meeting. He suggested we get together as a group before then to get the ball rolling, so to speak.
(As a side note: We, as a board, will begin meeting with the Basketball Committee several times a year, not just annually at the Final Four.)

Here's something I didn't know: Worlock told us that there are 65 seats to a row. With five rows, that's over 300 seats on the floor. I've been to the World Series, Super Bowl and BCS championship games. The NBA now has most writers in the end zones or on press rows halfway up.

Thus, I believe the Final Four has the biggest "main" press box of any of those events.

Does that mean we should be thankful and give up spots?

No way.

But, Shaheen did say the committee felt there were spots on the floor given to organizations that did not necessarily cover a team on a regular basis.

I don't know if that's true or not. Frankly, I don't want us to get in the business of deciding who gets a credential, or, how many. That's a dangerous road.

But when it comes to where we sit and do our jobs, that's our business.

We all have a passion for that courtside seat. We know how it translates into better stories, more accuracy, more compelling coverage of the greatest event in sports. We need the NCAA to hear that, too.

They will hear it. That, I can promise.

I can't promise what will happen, whether we'll lose some seats, who will sit where.

But I will promise that you will be heard. And the NCAA will listen. I firmly believe they are telling the truth when they say they want us to have "ownership" in the tournament.

Perfect. And that goes for you, too.

If you have any concerns or questions, please feel free to call me at 402-444-1025 or email at tom.shatel@owh.com.

This is the most important thing our organization will do.

We're going to do it right.

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