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Volume 24 No. 159

Events and Attractions

College basketball has seen its preeminent status wane in recent years for reasons ranging from a perception that the regular season is unimportant to the dominance of college football, according to a panel discussing “Headlines of the Day” at the '13 IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in N.Y. IMG College President Ben Sutton pointed to how even unglamorous college football matchups often out-rate college basketball. He said, "College football and college basketball are at odds in that crossroads in November and December. I think the first bowl game last year was the New Mexico Bowl, and the ratings on ESPN for that bowl just dwarfed anything in college basketball. You could argue whether if they didn't go head to head, (that would make a difference, but) I like the single-semester-sport idea: Let basketball start when the fall semester ends, have your preseason tournaments after exams and before the first of the year and then jump into the conference schedule, and make it a second-semester sport.” But considering that such a move would push basketball’s championship tournaments deep into April, NCAA Exec VP/Championships & Alliances Mark Lewis said, "I don't see any pressure to do that. March Madness is ingrained in our sports landscape and I don't know what you would pair it with in April that'd be comparable just from a naming standpoint, but also from a calendar standpoint. ... The context of making the regular season more relevant is where you focus, and that doesn't seem to be as time specific." Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman added, "I wouldn't mess with March because there's so much equity in the ending of the season. But I think if you go into it, you have to think about what you're trying to accomplish before you can decide what the outcome should be." From a programmer's perspective, ESPN Senior VP/College Sports Programming Burke Magnus said, "It could potentially be organized in a different way, or, frankly, structured in a way that could be a little bit more compelling. We have a great challenge every year launching college basketball -- and it's not because of college basketball or because people aren't interested in the sport. It's because they’re still (focusing on) football."

* Georgia Tech AD Mike Bobinski, on driving student attendance at events: "How do we get the athletes more involved in the general student population? It's an issue everywhere. We don't help ourselves, from an athletic perspective, as we demand more of their time and focus and give them less opportunity to be integrated with the student population. This is one of the answers: Students are much more likely to come out and support somebody that lives down the hall from them; that they have a relationship with; that's having a shared experience with them. I don't know how we fix that, but we've gone the other way from that."

* Magnus, on the growing tendency to blame attendance issues on TV: "The time to do that is during negotiations for rights. These start-time issues didn't just pop out of thin air. Those are very heavily negotiated during the rights-agreement process, and, frankly, the current generation of rights agreements anticipate and delineate start-time issues very specifically, so conferences go into these negotiations eyes wide open to that. They sign up for it. There's a value tradeoff, obviously. But nobody's just winging it on start times, I can assure you of that."

* Lewis, on possibly moving Final Fours out of stadiums and back into arenas: "I don't think you're going to see the Final Four leave the dome venues for one reason: Nobody is willing to turn back in their tickets. The reality of it is that our membership has access to tickets and it's become a convening point for college athletics at that point of the year, so it just means we can't play in a smaller venue from a standpoint of fulfilling the needs we have right now."

CBS Sports' Tracy Wolfson opened up about being a sideline reporter, from the increased scrutiny those in her profession face to the unique opportunities she is presented with by being so close to the action. Wolfson, during a one-on-one interview at the '13 IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, said, "I've always said from the first time I joined my crew, my job is to get what Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson can't get from the booth. Verne is the best storyteller in the business; I don't have to do that. My job is to get what they can't get -- whether it's an injury report, whether it's something being talked about in the huddle, the interviews on the field, the interviews postgame, something as small or funny or bizarre as a sewing machine being on the sideline during that Auburn game. So that's my role, and I respect that. Whether you're on two times a game or 10 times a game, it doesn't matter. I think we saw the role of the sideline reporter and how it's so important and how it's used this year specifically, starting with the Super Bowl and the lights go out -- that's when the sideline reporter earns their money; that's when they really need to be on."

CONTINUITY OF COVERAGE: Wolfson has been part of CBS' SEC broadcast crew for the better part of a decade, and she said the continuity has helped her. "It's huge," she said. "Having covered one conference for 10 years -- same coaches basically, same SIDs, the players stick around, you know the venues, how they work, you know the trainers, doctors. ... There's a trust and respect factor there." Wolfson also spoke about her idols in the industry, saying, "Lesley Visser has actually helped me the most; she's an icon in this industry. I didn't grow up, really, with any female role models. I grew up watching ‘NBA Inside Stuff,’ I had no cable and that was the first show I remember watching -- I remember watching Willow Bay and I said, 'I want to be Willow Bay; I want to be on ‘NBA Inside Stuff,’ and that was it. That's when I decided being a sideline reporter was what I want to do."

SOCIAL MEDIA'S DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD: Wolfson said that while social media is enlightening and refreshing, it can be difficult to deal with when it comes to some of the vitriol spewed her way. She said, "Tweeting during games, it's something that CBS came up with this year, which I think is great. It's a way for us to get involved with social media a little bit more and show a view from the sidelines on Twitter that we might not get into a broadcast. It's worked well this year. I enjoy it and I try to interact with the fans as much as possible, because they want to feel like they know you. They ask you questions and I try to respond back as much as I can.” But she said she has rules that she tries to follow regarding social media: “Never Google yourself or search yourself on Twitter; those are two rules for anyone in this business."

* Wolfson's favorite venue to cover games: "Alabama. I love the tradition; I love the history; I love the stadium, the noise factor. But my favorite campus is Athens."

* Favorite fan base: (With a laugh) “Not LSU at night. But, actually, everybody's really great; the fans down in the South, you can't beat them."

* Sport she has not covered that she wishes to do: "I want to do the Olympics; I think that would be a really fun thing to do. I worked at Nagano -- I researched ice skating -- but I think to be involved in the Olympics one time would be a big one on my bucket list.”

* On work/life balance: "It's difficult. I have an amazing husband ... who I would not be able to do it without. I have three kids under the age of seven and a babysitter that helps us out as well, but without all that support, I wouldn't be able to do my job right now. So it's difficult but when you love what you do, it does make it easier."

For more from the Intercollegiate Athletic Forum, please see our On The Ground blog.