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Expanding The NCAA Tournament Without Destorying The Current Format

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Apparently expanding the greatest tournament on Earth is almost a done deal. According the Sports by Brooks, sources at ESPN say the NCAA basketball tournament expanding to 96 teams is a “done deal”. Many fans of college basketball, analysts and those in the game feel adding 30 teams to March Madness is a horrible idea. Why mess with something that clearly isn’t broken, especially when the NCAA is catching heat every year regarding the mess that is the college football bowl system.

Normally I’d be getting into the PR ramifications of this decision, but when speaking of the NCAA that could really be an entire series of posts. PR isn’t exactly their forte. So instead, as a lifelong college basketball fan, I simply want to give my idea to expand the tournament without destroying the current format, but while also increasing publicity and revenue for the NCAA.

I’ve always had the following idea about the play-in game, and through discussions with friends, other college basketball fans and on #SportsPRChat on Twitter it has evolved.  I’m not sure if anyone else has proposed this, but I’ve always felt the play-in game was a decent idea, just horribly executed. First, why should two teams that earned automatic bids have to participate in a play-in game? Second, why do I want to watch two of the worst teams in the field play for the right to get trounced by the likes of North Carolina, Kansas or Duke? There’s zero excitement.

I propose we expand the tournament from 64 to 68 teams by adding three additional play-in games. The change is that the now four play-in games would be between the last four at-large teams in the tournament and the last four out of the tournament. The winners of the four games will then be slotted into the four #12 seed positions. This results in far more exposure, publicity and revenue for the play-in games.

This season for example, instead of watching two small conference teams battle it out to get trounced by Kansas or Kentucky, we could see eight BCS or talented mid-major teams fight it out. Going by Joe Lunardi’s most recent bracketology, with this idea, the Tuesday before the official tournament kicks-off we’d potentially see Maryland vs. Wichita St., Old Dominion vs. Marquette, Cincinnati vs. Seton Hall and Connecticut vs. Louisville.

Who wouldn’t want to watch those teams fight it out for a chance to be an upset special in the Big Dance? Almost every year there’s a #12 seed that makes a run in the tournament.

This might not add as much revenue as the NCAA is looking for, but as mentioned it adds more excitement. The four play-in games would be far more interesting. It wouldn’t render the regular season basically irrelevant, like adding 30 more teams would do, and it wouldn’t minimize the anticipation and excitement of the current first round.

This would probably only slow the move to 96 teams, but I think this change to the play-in system would be a good one even if they don’t expand the tournament. Either way, I’d love to hear thoughts on this idea, or any other ideas on how to improve the tournament in the comments below.

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Written by Brian Gleason

February 3, 2010 at 12:25 am

Which Thanksgiving Weekend Sports are you Most Excited to Watch?

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We’ve had a lot of focus lately on the PR side the last few posts, so with Thanksgiving on Thursday, I though we’d swing back to the straight sports side of things. Thanksgiving Day is pretty much strictly turkey and NFL, but the rest of the weekend has plenty of other options to keep you on the couch and out of the malls. To go along with a full slate of NFL games on Turkey Day, we have College Baskeball FeastWeek, big rivalry games in college football and to wrap up the sports weekend a marquee Monday Night Football match-up.

As usual the NFL kicks things off on Thursday afternoon. We have Green Bay at Detroit, Oakland at Dallas and the nightcap with the Giants traveling to Denver on the NFL network. Not the greatest lineup, but hey, its tradition and we love it.

FeastWeek in college basketball is also quickly becoming a tradition. The weekend includes a host of tournaments across the country with some of the top teams in college basketball getting early season tests. The lineup includes the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals and finals featuring Duke and UConn, the 76 Classic featuring Butler, West Virginia and Minnesota and the Old Spice Classic featuring Michigan, Xavier and Marquette.

The weekends slate of college football games includes some of the top teams in the country looking to avoid the late season slip-up against their main rivals. The top games include #1 Florida hosting Florida State, #2 Alabama heading to Auburn, #9 Pittsburgh traveling down Rt.70 to take on West Virginia and a nice mid-major match-up between #19 BYU and #21 Utah.

Last but not least we have a huge Monday Night Football game when the New England Patriots, the last team to undefeated during the regular season, travels to New Orleans to face the Saints, one of two remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL.

Think you can keep up with that schedule while the rest of the suckers fight the crowds at the mall? So all I want to know now is, which Thanksgiving Weekend sports are you most excited to watch?

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Written by Brian Gleason

November 24, 2009 at 11:13 pm

Can Social Media Change the “One and Done” Rule?

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Harrison Barnes announced his college choice via Skype

Professional athletes have entered the realm of social media in full force. The smart ones are joining sites like Twitter, creating Facebook Pages and enhancing their own websites in an effort to build their personal brand and market themselves. But, pro athletes aren’t the only athletes working on their personal brand using this exploding form of personalized communication.

The top high school athletes in the country are popping up all over Twitter, Facebook and more. Kyrie Irving, the 9th ranked basketball player in the class of 2010 according, played out much of his recruitment on Twitter, and he’s not the only one. It’s also common place for the top high school basketball and football players to announce their college of choice on ESPNU.

So, it wasn’t a surprise when the #1 ranked basketball player in the country used an innovative online tool to announce his college of choice Friday evening. Harrison Barnes wanted to do something nobody had done before.

In the middle of his press conference on ESPNU, Barnes said he would be attending the school “of the coach I’m about to Skype”, then dramatically stood up from the podium and walked over to a laptop to  use the video messaging service Skype, to video conference North Carolina Coach Roy Williams.

The result of this new movement? The “Social Media Athlete”.

The “Social Media Athlete” is communicating with fans on a personal, sometimes one-on-one level. Social media isn’t solely responsible for more polished 18 year-old athletes. This movement began years ago, but direct communication tools like Twitter, Facebook and Skype have young athletes not only crafting their message, but developing entire recruitment campaigns, thus beginning to build their personal brand as early as high school.

Seriously, watch the video of the Barnes news conference. Before he “Skyped” Coach Williams, Barnes individually thanked the media outlets that covered his recruitment in a carefully crafted speech.  That’s right, he thanked the media individually. PR folks and media can attest, that’s virtually unheard of. Barnes seemed closer to what we’ll expect out of LeBron James when he announces his destination next summer, than a high school kid announcing a college. Not that LeBron will thank the media!

This focus on personal branding by athletes at much earlier ages makes sense though. The top high school players and their handlers see the potential and realize they’ll be in the NBA after just one year of college. But, what will the effect be?

Can the “Social Media Athlete” be a catalyst for eliminating the NBA rule that mandates players be one year out of high school before they can enter the draft?

It’s a possibility. Let’s be real, that rule isn’t about academics or physical development, it’s about marketing. Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant were fine, but when 5-6 high school players a year began going straight to the NBA, fans didn’t know who they were, so they weren’t marketable. Now, with the “Social Media Athlete” these players are becoming household names at earlier ages.

The question though, is this focus on personal branding at such a young age a good thing? Probably not. But, I’m sure one person out there is loving it. I’m looking at you David Stern!

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Written by Brian Gleason

November 16, 2009 at 12:03 am

Pitino Owning Extortion Story

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Rick Pitino's PR risk is paying off in exortion story

Rick Pitino's PR risk is paying off in exortion story

Saturday night University of Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino issued a press release through the schools athletic office indicating that the FBI is currently investigating attempted extortion against him. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Pitino is accusing the estranged wife of Louisville’s equipment manager, Karen Sypher, as threatening him as part of a scheme to extort money.

Extortion is a serious criminal matter, and hopefully the issue gets resolved quickly. But from a PR perspective, did Rick Pitino and his team make the correct move by issuing their statement out in front of this story hitting the media?

According to reports Sypher did an interview with Candyce Clifft of WDRB-Fox 41 in Louisville, but the Fox affiliate chose not to air the story because they could not corroborate Sypher’s claims. I’m going to assume that Pitino and his team found out about the interview and made the decision to beat Sypher to the media. They most likely were not aware that the story had been held by WDRB.

In most situations this strategy has the potential to make an issue public that might have never seen the light of day, but let’s face it, Rick Pitino is one of the most famous coaches in basketball today. This story would have gotten to the media at some point.

But, by beating Sypher to the punch, Pitino’s risk has paid off. He has shaped and framed this story in his favor. Nearly every media outlet in the country has covered this in some way, and in nearly every story it frames Pitino as being the victim targeted by an “estranged” wife. Granted something must have gone down in order for Sypher to attempt to extort Pitino, but few outlets have even reported on that aspect.

In Pitino’s original statement he declined to name Sypher as the woman who is attempting to extort him, most likely in order to protect Karen Sypher’s husband Tim and their children. Sunday Karen Sypher’s name did become public, but once again the Pitino team made a smart move. They issued another statement from the Louisville Athletic Department, this time from Tim Sypher defending Rick Pitino.

In the end the risk was making a potentially damaging story public that might not have reached the public. That really is a huge risk for someone whose profession is not only to coach basketball games, but to go into the living room of high school kids and convince their parents that he can be responsible for their children at the next level.

But, by beating Sypher to the media, Pitino has managed to take control of the story with his message from his point of view. Pitino secured backing from his school’s President and Athletic Director, as well as the husband of the woman attempting to extort him. He has also framed Karen Sypher as a crazy “estranged” wife and mother.

It was certainly a risky move by the Pitino camp, but to this point Pitino has owned this story.

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Written by Brian Gleason

April 20, 2009 at 10:39 pm

Favorite One Shining Moment?

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I thought we’d take a break from analyzing sports from the PR/Marketing angle, and discuss one of my favorite sports moments of the year. Other than the first two days, Championship Monday is probably my favorite part of the NCAA Tournament. That’s right, I’m not ashamed to say it, I’m a sucker for One Shining Moment, always have been!

It doesn’t matter if the game is a blowout or if a team I can’t stand is winning, I’m staying up Monday night through One Shining Moment. So, what I thought we’d do is share our favorite One Shining Moments. Click this YouTube link for a list of each seasons One Shining Moment videos, and leave a link to your favorite in the comments below.

To kick things off, below is my favorite, the 1987 Indiana Hoosiers. I’m biased because I’m and Indiana fan, but I think it’s perfect with Keith Smart’s game-winning shot at the end. I also find it odd that Syracuse stayed out on the floor to watch the Hoosiers cut down the nets. I’m not sure if that was the norm back then, but it’s definitely odd.

Enjoy Monday night, and I’m looking forward to finding out your favorite One Shining Moment.

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Written by Brian Gleason

April 5, 2009 at 11:23 pm

POTW – Dee Rowe

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Time for the 2nd installment of “Piece of the Week”. Since this is still a new feature, just a quick reminder. POTW is a weekly Friday feature where we share an interesting, well-written, compelling sports article from the week. Not necessarily a piece that got the most publicity, just something that you or I enjoyed reading.

So, click the Submit “Piece of the Week” link on the right and send me your favorite article throughout the week. It could get chosen as the “Piece of the Week”. Of course, if the article or blog post you send in gets chosen you’ll get a shout-out, so include your name, location and Twitter handle (if you have one).

On to this week’s POTW. This one actually comes from my dad! He sent me an excellent article by Bob Ryan from the Boston Globe chronicling the basketball coaching career of Dee Rowe. Coach Rowe might not be a household name across the country, but in New England’s coaching circles he is a basketball legend.

Bob’s article covers Coach Rowe’s early days learning/playing the game in Worcester, Ma., coaching at Worcester Academy and his days at UConn where he helped build the program. The article dives into a few of the people Coach Rowe has mentored including, Bob Cousy, Dave Gavitt, Jim Calhoun and the late Jimmy V. Although, the best endorsements of Coach Rowe I’ve ever received come from my dad and uncle who both played for him at Worcester Academy.

If you’re a basketball historian or coaching junkie then this article is definitely for you.

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Written by Brian Gleason

April 3, 2009 at 12:00 am

Should NCAA Athletes Play for Pay?

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Ah yes, March Madness is upon us! One of my favorite times of the year, but along with exciting college basketball, we can certainly expect a heavy dose of ‘should college athletes get paid’ commentary. This is always a hot topic with strong opinions from those in sports and academics, and I came across an interesting article in the Indianapolis Star from long-time columnist Bob Kravitz on this exact topic.

His basic premise is ‘lets make college sports a real minor league.’ His theory is that a scholarship athlete should have a choice, accept the scholarship and become a student-athlete, or turn down the scholarship and get paid $25,000 per year by the college, with no academic obligations. He argues that most likely only 3-4 athletes a year, between football and basketball, would accept the pay.

Kravitz does raise some interesting questions, and his is one of the more creative ideas that I’ve heard on this topic, but also one of the most unrealistic. It would be a PR disaster for the NCAA to announce they’re going to pay college athletes, but those athletes wouldn’t have to remain eligible or attend a single class for that matter. This would especially be an issue for public universities funded by the tax-payer.

I honestly can’t think of a single way that the NCAA could justify this to the public, and I’m unsure how Kravitz can pass this as a plausible solution. There’s no doubt that the NCAA and their member institutions are making millions, even billions, from football and basketball, but turning them into a quasi minor league is not the solution.

Basketball is really the sport with the issue, since football players can’t leave for the NFL until they’re three years removed from high school. I’m not for college athletes getting paid, I’ve always thought the scholarship was payment enough, but the NBA and NCAA need to figure something out. The 1 and done system has some serious flaws. The 1 and done basketball player literally has no incentive to attend class, especially not in the second semester.

I think the road we’re headed down is the NBA turning the NBDL into a true minor league, with each team having the their own affiliate. The NBA would then go back to allowing players to jump directly from high school, but any athlete choosing the NCAA would be required to stay somewhere between 2-3 years.

According to “point 3” of the Weekend Dime on last weekend, the NBA is already in the process of moving the NBDL to a more baseball-style minor league system. The issue is that some NBA teams are willing to absorb the cost of basketball operations for their affiliate, but not the business costs. This may have to wait for the economy to turn before becoming a viable solution.

But, I think that is the best solution for the NBA, NCAA and preserving the term “student-athlete”, but I’m interested to hear others opinions/ideas on this. Do you think Kravitz has a plan here? Do you have another solution?

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Written by Brian Gleason

March 9, 2009 at 1:53 am

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