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SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Forty Under 40
Published February 28, 2005
GREG SHAHEEN, NCAA
BY ROSS NETHERY
On the front of the Forty Under 40 nomination form is a list of five segments of the sports industry. The idea is for the person doing the nominating to circle the part of the industry in which a nominee works.
|• Age: 37|
|• Title: Vice president, Division I men's basketball and championship strategies|
|• Organization: NCAA|
|• Education: B.S., business, Indiana University, 1990|
|• Family: Single|
|• Career: Before joining NCAA in 2000, worked for Indiana Sports Corp., for which he organized the NCAA's move from Kansas City to Indianapolis; was director of operations for the Indianapolis Local Organizing Committee during the 1996, '97, '99 and 2000 NCAA Division I men's basketball championships|
|• Last vacation: In November, 13 days in Hawaii on first vacation in four years|
|• Last book read: "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell|
|• Last movie seen: "Ray"|
|• Greatest achievement: The diverse relationships, friendships and experiences that I've been fortunate enough to have|
|• Fantasy job: To be involved in an even larger logistical operation, such as the Olympics|
|• Executive most admired: My father, an extraordinary success who overcame many barriers and odds in the business world|
|• Business advice: Don't worry about getting credit. Don't worry about being known. Focus on creating the best possible product and outworking everybody else, and everything will take care of itself.|
That is no exaggeration.
Shaheen carries the title “NCAA Vice President, Division I Men’s Basketball and Championship Strategies,” but it’s not a title that’s particularly enlightening about what he really does.
Here’s the nutshell version: He oversees the day-to-day operations of what we know as “March Madness” — 65 teams, 14 sites and nearly a million ticket buyers. He works with the media partners who carry and cover the event across a variety of platforms. And he works on operations and promotions for the other NCAA championships. There are 88 of them.
Now for the hard stuff. Shaheen also oversees the NCAA’s 11-year, $6 billion rights agreements with CBS and ESPN. He works with the NCAA’s biggest sponsors (Coke, GM, Cingular, etc.) to make sure their money is well-spent for both sides, including helping with promotions and fan interactive programs. He’s involved with licensing, as well, and with media efforts ranging from televised broadcasts of all NCAA championships to radio, Internet activities and publishing.
Perhaps the nomination form provides a hint for a better title: “Vice President, Responsible for All.”
Shaheen relishes both the volume and the variety, despite the all-consuming nature of the job.
“I believe that sleep is overrated as a use of time,” he said.
NCAA executive vice president Tom Jernstedt said Shaheen’s vision, leadership abilities and work ethic “are beyond description.”
“He does a remarkable job,” Jernstedt said, “particularly in the relationships that he builds and enhances.”
Never were those relationships, and Shaheen’s stamina, tested more than they were two years ago, when U.S. armed forces invaded Iraq on the eve of the men’s basketball tournament. The Department of Homeland Security was practically on a hotline as the NCAA and television partner CBS tried to decide whether to delay the games.
“That was a crucible for us,” said Mike Aresco, senior vice president of CBS Sports. “It was nothing in comparison to what was going on over there, but in terms of television, we had a significant challenge to overcome.”
Shaheen “showed tremendous poise and a sense of cooperation,” said Aresco, adding that he helped everyone get through the crisis with relationships intact.
In hindsight, carrying on with the tournament was certainly the right decision, but it wasn’t so obvious at the time.
One of Shaheen’s most poignant memories is of getting NCAA President Myles Brand connected with then-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.
Said Shaheen, “I’ll never forget Secretary Ridge saying, ‘Our young men and women are fighting abroad to protect the rights of all young men and women at home. The games must go on. I’m a true fan of March Madness.’”
Brand said Shaheen’s work is critical to the mission of the NCAA, particularly with regard to the basketball tournament and managing the relationship with the organization’s media partners.
“He does an extraordinary job,” Brand said, “and for those efforts alone, he stands out among his peers in the world of sports.”