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SBD/Issue 126/Sports Industrialists
THE DAILY Goes One-On-One With NCAA Senior VP Greg Shaheen
Published March 20, 2008
|NCAA Senior VP Greg Shaheen|
Favorite vacation spots: Hilton Head and Kauai.
Favorite piece of music: "In the Air Tonight" by PHIL COLLINS. The live version, released in 1991, is considerably better. This is why I'm a geek.
Favorite book/author: Anything by TOM PETERS.
Favorite movie: "Nothing in Common."
Best sports movie: "Hoosiers."
Favorite comedians: STEVE MARTIN and JERRY SEINFELD.
Fantasy job: Head of an Olympic Games.
Basic management philosophy: Keep your nose to the grindstone and be prepared to outwork everyone else.
Biggest challenge: Balance, not only achieving it but fundamentally determining exactly what that is.
Q: I read that you wanted to be the Director of Homeland Security. Were you serious?
Shaheen: Yeah. I get to work with those folks in my job. I really enjoy crisis management and always think it would be a fascinating challenge.
Q: Talk about challenges. The NCAA men's basketball tournament takes place over little more than three weeks. What percentage of your time during the year does the preparation for the tournament take up?
Shaheen: A substantial portion of every day. Probably 50-60% of my time.
Q: About selecting at-large teams for the tournament, you said, "The fact is, there are more good teams than ever before, and distinguishing one team from another is more difficult than it has ever been."
Shaheen: Prior to this job, I was a fan of the event. I always watched with great interest how the selections would turn out, and then was fascinated by the media's significant and continuous parsing of the decisions of the committee. When I became a staff member, I was fortunate enough to be one of the people inside the room. It became clear to me that there was a gap of understanding between what happened in the room and what was perceived to happen in the room. A lot of that had to do with just not understanding the policies and procedures of how it all worked.
Q: So you invited members of the media to go through a mock selection process for the tournament.
Shaheen: We've worked hard to enhance our relationship with the media to help them better understand how we operate. The idea of doing a mock selection came up and our committee encouraged it. We tried it as a pilot program last February with really interesting and exciting results.
Q: It must seem funny to you to hear some media members speak about one team being definitely in or definitely out when they have no inside knowledge of the selections.
Shaheen: Yeah, the committee members are at times amused by the definitive prognostications that they see on TV, recognizing that not a single team has yet been selected (or not selected), and the media pundits report something else. But that's also part of what makes the event so special. It's the discussion, the deliberation, the debate. The bottom line is, there are so many qualities that the committee must analyze that there are always going to be different perspectives on teams.
Q: You have one play-in game. A suggestion was made that there be a play-in game for each of the four regions. Is that a possibility?
Shaheen: Just a side note from a semantics perspective: That is an opening-round game because it actually is part of the tournament; it's not a play-in. I think the committee continues to be aware of and study any one of a number of options.
Q: There have been calls to open up the tournament to more teams. How do you stand on expansion?
Shaheen: The committee has continued to examine it: what the options are and how it could be done. To this point, they have determined that the timing isn't necessarily right. But they are committed, just like anything else strategic in the best interests of the game, to revisiting it often to assure that we stay on top of that perspective.
Wooden Would Like To Open NCAA
Tournament To All Division I Teams
Shaheen: I had the pleasure several years ago of spending an afternoon with JOHN WOODEN, and I listened to him describe his perspective on an all-comers tournament, if you will. He is a brilliant and insightful legend of the game and it does give you pause to think. At the same time, you have to recognize that most of our teams do have an opportunity to make it into the postseason in the final week in their conference tournaments. Those tournaments, quite honestly, are the beginning of the NCAA championship because a winning team from every conference makes it to the championship.
Q: What was John Wooden's take on an all-inclusive tournament?
Shaheen: He just thought it was a fair and appropriate way to go at it. He was very eloquent, as he is with all things, and he described his perspective in supporting [the idea that] no one should be left out.
Q: Tell me something about the tournament that would surprise people?
Shaheen: Given the growth and variety of components to the championship (150 million viewers, nearly one million attendees), we've got a relatively small full-time staff (less than 10). We rely on a "family" of volunteers in every city who enjoy being a major part making the championship happen. I was involved as a volunteer before I joined the staff and even I was surprised at the important role these selfless people play.
Q: About the NCAA's four-year hospitality deal with RazorGator, you said, "One component of what we're trying to do is get better control of our own event." What did you mean by that?
Shaheen: As our event has grown, the use -- or misuse -- of tickets for the event has become a greater and greater concern for the committee. We studied it for many years before determining that this was a way to start making sure that as the underwriter of the event -- in essence, the ones putting it all together -- first of all, that there was a legitimate way to get tickets at all times and that buyers could confidently know they were getting a legitimate ticket. And, second, that the proceeds from that program would be going to the NCAA's mission: to education, to various athletic and scholarship programs that our 1,000-plus members put on every day.
Q: In next year's tournament, there will be a new opportunity for students to purchase affordable courtside seats?
Shaheen: Right, starting in 2009, we will move to a 50-yard line/in-the-round configuration for the Final Four, placing the court at the center of the domed stadium with a customized seating system that will be built up and transition into the permanent seating of the venue. This will improve the overall quality of seating and create four dedicated student sections in the end zones, which will allow students from each of the Final Four schools to attend for approximately $15.
Q: How many seats?
Shaheen: It will be upwards of 1,000 seats for every school, depending on the specific facility.
Q: DAVID LORD, CEO of RazorGator Experiences, called the NCAA Final Four the No. 2 corporate event, just behind the Super Bowl. What NCAA sport do you think has the greatest potential for growth and revenue as a corporate event?
Shaheen: I think it's in almost every direction I look. The women's Final Four has sold out for nearly two decades. The men's College World Series has developed a legacy in Omaha, Nebraska, that is remarkable and continues to grow. But it's sports like lacrosse when you have 50,000 people for the lacrosse championship. Just up and down the board you see a variety of championships that are doing better and better in terms of crowd and broadcast attention. You have lacrosse, softball and the NCAA football championship. You look at sellouts in volleyball and wrestling and you realize that a lot of these sports are coming into their own, which is a well-deserved experience for our student athletes.
Q: At this year's NCAA board meeting, a decision was made to have a four-year moratorium on adding Division I schools. Why?
Shaheen: The membership has decided that it really needs to study the growth trends among all of its divisions. There's a similar moratorium in Division III. Studying the place and position and membership requirements for schools in each division is something that has required a great deal of attention. And so as a result it's certainly prudent for the membership to take time to look at it.
Shaheen Says NCAA Has Been Taking Anti-
Gambling Measures With Refs For Years
Shaheen: I think it's fair to say that we are all keenly aware of this. We were in close contact with the NBA as the DONAGHY investigation proceeded. But for years we have done background checks on tournament officials. We do gambling-awareness sessions with our tournament officials and have confidential reporting phone lines for anything that anyone wishes to report as it relates to any concern or impropriety. It's something that our committee and our organization take quite seriously.
Q: What's on your to-do list this year?
Shaheen: I'm staring at a task list of 914 items. So, I'm not really sure where I start. I'd say primary among the tasks is to assist with the continued study of the youth basketball environment. To continue working with our broadcast and corporate partners and my colleagues to continue to build awareness and value in NCAA properties and to focus on the growth of the Division I men's basketball sport and championship in ways that continue to captivate the attention of the American public.
Q: Any news or developments in other sports: women's sports, Division II and III?
Shaheen: I think there are great story lines going on with all of them. Division II has a new broadcast platform where it is doing games of the week in football and men's and women's basketball, among other sports, for the first time in its history. Division III is increasing its broadcast and webcast reach across its various sports. In some cases, our NCAA sports and championships are getting more broadcast time, more exposure than they ever have in the history of the organization. That's a tribute to the great people who work here and our membership that encourages us to continue growing these properties.
Q: Football and baseball are concerned with the flow and the length of their games. Is that a consideration in college basketball in particular, or in college sports in general?
Shaheen: There's been a great deal of coverage. Just, for example, football and clock management and clock policies and procedures over the last few years that demonstrate that it is something we're continuing to think about.
Q: What's the best new idea in college sports?
Shaheen: The overall model of intercollegiate athletics will benefit as the current academic reform models settle into place. It is an important reality check for what we do -- all about the student-athletes. And while there is certain to be difficult discussion and research to assure we have the best possible approach in place, the fact that there is energy, attention and interest in having a dialogue on the topic is fantastic.
Q: An NCAA TV network: Is that a possibility?
Shaheen: I think anything's a possibility. If there is a way to for us to maximize exposure and effectiveness for our membership and the sports we oversee and the mission of higher education, then there's nothing that's off the board.
Q: What's been your most memorable NCAA moment?
Shaheen: My most powerful one predates my working here. I went to the Final Four in 1980 with my dad. At the time, I told him that I had decided, after attending the semifinal games, that my career decision was that I was going to run the Final Four one day.
Q: How old were you?
Shaheen: I was 12.
Q: What about since you've been here?
Shaheen: There are a few. Managing the tournament simultaneous to the start of the Iraq war in 2003 was a really powerful, poignant moment. And wrapping up every year with "One Shining Moment" while I get to stand quietly on the court.
Q: Most unusual request you've heard relating to the NCAA tournament?
Shaheen: Any e-mail I receive in the 60 days before the tournament that starts, "I'm not writing asking for tickets."