KINGSTON, RI- When a big event such as the NCAA Basketball Tounemanet comes to town, conventional thinking is that the NCAA has total control over all parts of the operation. But when it comes to managing the local, regional, and national media contingent covering the event, the NCAA is relatively hands off. That responsibility falls upon the educational institution hosting the tournament.
The University of Rhode Island (URI) and its sports information department were given the task to organize the media needs of those attending the NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Regional in Kingston, RI. In only his third month on the job, URI Coordinator of Sports Communications Shane Donaldson was tapped to be the point man for all media needs.
“This event was so big…so keeping it organized was a challenge for me.” said Donaldson.
Even though requests for media credentials for the women’s tournament do not normally rival those of the men’s championship, a regional featuring four teams attracts more media attention than a typical URI men’s or women’s game. Donaldson said more than 160 credentials were issued for the two-day tournament, 96 of which were to reporters and photographers.
“For a typical men’s game total media is around 30-40 on a given night, so you’re talking more than double than what we typically have.” said Donaldson.
Special attention is given to ESPN, which has exculsive television rights to telecast the women’s tournament. Donaldson said the NCAA sets the number of credentials issued for the television production team, while other ESPN personnel, like those writing for ESPN.com or espnW.com, are credentialed along with other journalists. A total of 75 passes were issued to ESPN personnel.
URI’s Ryan Center, which hosted the tournament, was shut down a full two weeks leading up to the opening tip-off. The specially constructed floor needed to be installed and the customized backboard assemblies did not arrive on site until late last week.
Even though URI had control over most media needs, the NCAA required special accomodations for tournament services and staff. Parts of the lower level of the Ryan Center were transformed to handle operations not typically required during the URI basketball season.
A section under the north stands of the Ryan Center, which is typically used as a storage garage, was converted as the media work room. That room had approximately 75 seats for journalists and photographers. The normal media work room was taken over by ESPN for its interview needs, while the regular season URI interview area served staff coordinating NCAA’s statistics and media relations . The URI football locker room, which is also located in the Ryan Center, was transformed as the general interview room.
On the court URI had a total of three media locations totaling 105 seats. Most of the seats were dedicated to media, with just over 20 set aside for representatives of the schools and the leagues they represent. ESPN occupied a total of 10 seats on press row. Photographers were issued spots under the two baskets.
Meeting the technology needs of the press was another challenge for Donaldson and URI. The school installed an extra 60 wireless internet modems just for the tournament. Each reporter was given a spefic username and password to ensure that no more that two or three users would be occupying each modem. Internet speed for me anywhere in the Ryan Center was never a problem. Ample electrical outlets were also made available for all media members.
NCAA Tournament rules played a role on how local and national radio broadcasts were handled. During the regular season, radio outlets covering URI games are located on same side of the arena as the team benches. NCAA regulations stipulate all radio broadcasts must be stationed on the side of the court opposite the benches. URI was required to install or move ISDN lines to accomodate all local and national radio broadcasts. Donaldson said those moves appeared to go off without a hitch.
The interview room was set up in a manner typical of large sporting events. The NCAA controls all aspects to how the interview room is organized and managed. No local video cameras are allowed to record press conferences. Instead video and audio feeds (both analog and HD) are made available to the electronic media wishing to record any press conference. Along with video restrictions there was also a ban on flash photography in the interview room.
As is typical for most NCAA competitions the size of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, there is never a lack of information on the teams participating or the leagues they represent. Printed statistics are made available during each television timeout and all media members have access to a dedicated NCAA statistics website.
The presence of ESPN at this event was undeniable. As is the case when any network comes to town, there appeared to be more than 75 people donning ESPN press credentials. The network implemented at least two cameras high above mid court, three on the floor, and one high near the main Ryan Center scoreboard in the southwest corner of the arena.
The announcing team of Dave O’Brien and Doris Burke were located, as usual, on the floor at mid-court across from the scorer’s table. Dial Global Radio with Dave Ryan and Ann Shatz were along side ESPN while local radio stations were set-up a row behind the national television and radio teams.
ESPN reporter Holly Rowe could be seen roaming the sidelines during the game but had an assigned seat, with a producer, at the very end of the press row behind the team benches.
My expereince at the Regional Tournament was a positive one. I was not issued a seat courtside for the Regional Semifinals but was issued a spot for Tuesday’s Regional Final. I was at the Ryan Center early enough to secure work space in the first-come, first-served media room.
Just by observing the media at the event I did hear a few complaints. Since the UConn campus is a mere 1.5 hour drive to URI the media contingent was domintated by those covering the Lady Huskies. That made the media room cramped at times and some media members did voice concern over the lack of space. Photographers, who routinely are given separate media quarters during an event as big as the NCAA Tournament, were more vocal than others about the working conditions. Photographers were also concerned about the dim lighting conditions at the Ryan Center.
Food for the media was not available at the lower level but in the arena’s Alumni Club located on the main concourse. Restroom accomodations were also restricted in the lower level so many media members were forced to navigate to restrooms located along the main concourse. To me this was not a big deal. It gave me the opportunity to explore the Ryan Center.
Donaldson said the concerns expressed to him from media members were no different than any regular season game. A large majority of the media at the tournament appeared satisfied with the accomodations at the Ryan Center. Myself included.