Right Place, Right Time

Every broadcaster wants a special game to call. You can’t control when you will get one, but you have to make the most of it when it falls in your lap. It’s icing on the cake when your stream-of-consciousness final call goes viral and inspires a bunch of online quotes. Once I get the DVD, I will clip this game in the Video section…

A Basketball State

Last night, Butler lost on the road at Indiana State, becoming the first ranked opponent to get beaten by the Sycamores in 10 tries. The last? Notre Dame in 2013, on the home floor of the Irish. Notre Dame and Indiana State haven’t place since. It’s likely now that the same will be true for the Bulldogs.

In a state that claims a sport as one of its most treasured exports, how the institutions that foster much of that love and history  have arrived at not playing each other is both sad and understandable. Butler’s presence in the game last night was almost a lose-lose. By losing, it assures the Bulldogs of a questionable (I won’t call it bad, yet) loss on paper, when analyzed, without much context, by the NCAA Selection Committee. Had they won, it would have been an overlooked W far removed from the “quality win” column the committee salivates over.

Nothing above is a knock on either program. It is a product of the system by which we field a tournament of 68 teams – the ultimate measuring stick of a program’s annual success. For Butler, a team that was clamoring for the power teams of the state to play two decades ago, a power move against such games is likely coming. It’s good business.

But we, as fans, don’t care about that business. We like our basketball homegrown. My fondest memories as a Butler fan (with radio/TV commitments, there are few) are road trips to Muncie, Terre Haute, Evansville and others at the beginning of the season to cheer on my team. Walking into a hostile environment to be that minority roar from the rafters. The talk was certainly trashy, but it ended with a high five after the game. Respect. We were different, but the same.

Aside from Indiana beating North Carolina, the two greatest men’s college basketball games played inside the state’s border this season have been last night in Terre Haute and Fort Wayne’s win over the Hoosiers last month. If Indiana and Butler fans can put on objective glasses for a moment, they could see what those wins did to keep basketball fresh, relevant and attainable at all four corners of the state.

Those games shouldn’t deter schools from playing each other. If anything, it should make them more prevalent. Will it happen? Probably not, but if it does, why not have it look something like this:

Indiana Major Basketball Programs (4) – Butler, Indiana, Notre Dame & Purdue
Indiana Mid-Major Basketball Programs (6) – Ball State, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indiana State, IUPUI, Valparaiso

[Before I get killed by my Crusader & Horizon League fans, let’s be honest – This categorization is fair, especially when it comes to tournament success, budgets, conference affiliation and rational thought]

Major vs. Major Scheduling
Thanks to the forward-thinking folks at the Crossroad Classic, and the fans showing up to produce money too good for the schools to ignore, this is already done, and is awesome.

Mid-Major vs. Mid-Major Scheduling
To a large extent, this already takes place. Valpo has games against both Ball State and Indiana State this year. IUPUI plays Ball State and the Jaguars have had series with others. There are also a couple of conference foes. But, all of it is contingent on staffs securing these deals. Let’s take care of that for them!
Every year, each team on this list plays four games against others, two on the road, two at home, rotated the following year for four true home-and-home series. 

Major vs. Mid-Major Scheduling
This may require legislative intervention or even an act of God, but for the sake of the sport, let’s make it work! To the credit of all the schools, there are games this decade, but not to the level fans would want. Forcing all six mid-major teams may be difficult, so I settled on a random rotation of four games in a four-year span:
Every year, each Major team will play four games against Mid-Major opponents, three at home and one on the road. It’s a four-year agreement that winds up being a 3-for-1 for the Mid-Major.

Keep something in mind before you think the idea is crazy: Other states mandate this happen. Wisconsin plays Green Bay and Milwaukee. The Iowa schools rotate annually.

Given the above hypothetical, we could arrive at the following non-conference schedules:
Indiana – Butler (N), Ball State (H), Evansville (H), IUPUI (H), Valparaiso (A)
Butler – Indiana (N), Indiana State (A), Fort Wayne (H), Ball State (H), IUPUI (H)
IUPUI – Purdue (H), Butler (A), Indiana (A), Notre Dame (A), Ball State (H), Indiana State (H), Valparaiso (A), Evansville (A)
Valparaiso – Indiana (H), Purdue (A), Notre Dame (A), IUPUI (H), Ball State (H), Fort Wayne (A), Evansville (A)
So on, and so on and so on…

To be fair, Valparaiso in 2016-17 may have scheduled better than what this provides. Having an all-everything player and recent run of success gets you more invitations, but would a home game against IUPUI be better than Chicago State? Would a road game to Mackey Arena be better than Oregon at the end of it all?
For the big schools, you’d hope season ticket holders in Bloomington would appreciate Ball State more than Houston Baptist. Wouldn’t Fort Wayne be a better draw at Hinkle than Central Arkansas?

It’s not going to happen, but it feels more attainable than not. Who’s with me?!

Dare to be Great

When I was younger, I wanted to grow up and be Joel Cornette. It is an odd statement considering that Joel was six months younger than me. But, as my life advanced and our paths continued to cross, I realized how true that was. I also realized how wrong I was. I couldn’t be Joel Cornette. Not even close.

I stopped growing when I was 13, stuck in a six-foot frame that I felt was destined for greater heights. I was the post player at so many Butler Basketball camps that kept improving, kept scrapping, kept fighting and kept falling in love with Hinkle Fieldhouse. While I was raised an IU fan, the Hoosiers had a roll-call list of legends. I wanted to be the one who transformed a hometown school. Never shy of a microphone or conversation, I wanted to be the brash, outspoken big who changed a program. Sound familiar? Instead, I got to be witness to (and document) the one who did it far better than I ever dreamed I could.

Last Tuesday, my daughter was home sick with a fever. She threw up all over my polo shirt during breakfast. Frustrated and somewhat frantic, I headed upstairs to change, grabbing the first navy blue shirt I could find. It was emblazoned with the Butler logo. Within minutes of putting it on, my phone rang. It was as if the Butler fabric that connects us all just knew.

Joel Cornette was a person who you couldn’t avoid. He wouldn’t let it happen. Higher powers, it seems, wouldn’t let it happen. Through all the radio interviews, games, newspaper articles and ways basketball united us as classmates on parallel paths, there was a humanness to Joel’s relationships with people that made him the most approachable 6-10 superstar in college. Today, the Butler Way has become a brand almost bigger than the school itself. The principals that guide the philosophy adorn walls, are mailed in campaign brochures and have crept their way into every department and class of the university. Over a decade ago, it didn’t need to be in lights, or even written, it was just done. The inherent belief in a higher standard of action and expectations was a mutually shared way of life. Whether it was basketball players or broadcasters, we just knew. Stay humble, show passion, uplift those around you and be grateful for that opportunity. It took losing Joel to realize how much we lived in his example. Beyond the speeches, his leadership was as much non-verbal as it was the opposite.

Even as peers, I looked up to Joel, but didn’t realize it until we got to work together. When his time at Iowa came to an end and he dipped his toe in the broadcasting water, being able to be a true teammate of his was a dream come true. He made you want to be better than you thought you could be. I’ll always remember our first game together. It was at Valparaiso. In walks Joel to the bathroom while I am putting makeup on my face.
“Are you serious, bro?” he asked, to open our first interaction in five years or so.
“Welcome to a new ballgame,” I fired back.
He was just uncomfortable enough that I felt equal to a guy who had always been unflappable. After we taped our first opening segment, he gave me a look that was equal parts terror about his performance and admiration on what I did for a living. I was finally a teammate of Joel Cornette. The little kid in me was satisfied.

Joel

We spent a few years on the Horizon League road together. We became competitive about dropping information into broadcasts, making the other laugh or finding ways to bust each others’ chops (me on his free-throw shooting, him on my affinity for hair product) on air without earning the ire of our producers. As a Butler guy, I could be message-board fodder for fans around the league. With Joel as my analyst, nobody cared what school I was from.
I knew his heart wasn’t totally into broadcasting (and landing at Priority Sports was the absolute best thing), but we had fun. I learned a ton about basketball from him, and worked more games with him than anybody in my career. But, getting to know him more as a person will, ultimately, be the best thing that ever happened.

When my wife and I got married 12 years ago, we attended premarital counseling sessions. Among the many lessons we learned was the concept of the Circles in your life. At the core, you and your spouse are the inner circle, which should demand the most focus. Just beyond that, the circle with your children. Family next, and so forth.  As we get older, the focus continues to shift more inward, towards those center circles because time is so valuable.
Joel Cornette was the rare person who could permeate all of his circles. It didn’t matter who you were, where you lived or how you met, it was one giant circle for him. That’s not a learned skill, or the product of intense dedication. That’s an inherent trait of a remarkable person. In the wake of his passing, the overwhelming lesson has been to not take your relationships for granted, but I don’t think any of us are truly capable of bridging every gap. Joel was.

At his Celebration of Life yesterday, Jordan Cornette told the remarkable story of Joel’s seemingly divine reach from Heaven during a dinner on Sunday. I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle with faith in such acts, but the emotion of the day always has you longing that the smile is, indeed, shining down on us.
Trying to escape my own emotions, and terrified by the passing of a fellow 35-year-old, I hit the road to go for my first run in over six months. Lumpy and out of shape, I took my aging Golden Retriever, Grace, with me, knowing she couldn’t do more than a mile anyway with her bad hips. After over a mile of running, and with Jordan’s story on my mind, neither of us was breaking down. I smiled, looked down at my dog and said ‘Grace, are you okay?’ She looked right up at me, stared for 2 seconds, turned and sprinted ahead faster. Two miles. Three miles. I looked up to the sky and shook my head.
Dare to be Great.

When my kids grow up, I want them to be Joel Cornette.

Team Golf > Individual Golf

Last weekend, I won my club championship. It was an honor. It was validating. It was exciting. It had drama. It felt empty?

A week before, I competed in a Member-Guest at my friend’s home club. We grinded, ended up in a winner-take-all match to win our flight and lipped out a putt on the last green that would’ve clinched the points needed for victory. For two middle-aged men clinging to the limited moments of competition, it was gut wrenching. Eight days later, I got my own individual glory. It didn’t come close to filling the void.

While I sought redemption individually, the best women golfers in the world were putting on, arguably, one of the best shows of golf all year. The International Crown was sensational. It featured the best performance in a losing role (Mel Reid’s 1-on-2 near miss against Japan), tremendous action and a USA victory that felt cathartic for a country needing a confidence boost to its roster. In a golfing summer where every golf schedule is crammed with tournaments, the LPGA provided something different, yet awesome: Team Golf.

“I think it’s pretty cool that we can be a part of a team that it’s the top four golfers for your country,” Gerina Piller said afterwards. “To be one of those four is pretty special for me, and obviously always playing for your country is just — just gives me chills to think about.”

Watching Team USA win, coupled with my inability to find full satisfaction in an individual triumph brought me back to the Olympics. Golf will have a seat at the biggest sports table in the world in two weeks. Will anybody care?

The defection of the game’s best male players has cast a dark shadow over the future of the sport at the games, and the viability of the competition in Rio. I contend that the fears of crime, mosquitos and bacteria have merit in small doses, but are a mere smokescreen to the larger issue: players don’t see the value and aren’t inspired to play. You can’t blame them. I only wonder if a true team format could fix it.

Outside of the four major championships in golf, the overwhelming favorite event for fans to watch is the Ryder Cup. For me, the most exciting golf I ever witnessed outside of a major was the NCAA Men’s Golf Championships. What do both have in common? Team.

Playing for one’s self is good theatre. Relying on one’s self for the result of a team is a psychological thriller. My hope is that we see more aspects of team golf, perhaps even in 2020 at the Tokyo Olympics.

“I think the Olympics are bigger than any golf tournament on the planet,” Stacy Lewis recently said. “It’s bigger than the Masters. It’s bigger than the U.S. Open. It’s bigger than the Women’s Open. It’s the biggest thing out there, and I want to be a part of that. I want to be around the other athletes and see what makes them great and go cheer on the other U.S. Olympic athletes.”

It may not be bigger, but it could be. Give them partners. Give them something even greater to play for. Watch how much fun that becomes.

 

The First Step

A casual visit to Kent Sterling’s radio show today to talk about the Masters quickly detoured into a broader conversation on the broadcasting business and my path in it. I commented about how I find more young broadcasters seeking out advice from an ‘old sage’ like me these days. I find it funny because when they ask ‘how can I do what you do?’, I find myself responding, “I still don’t think I’m doing what I set out to do.”

It often boils down to the first step. Not the first big break. The first step. And that I can answer, because I didn’t do it. So, if you want to know the key to making it as an aspiring broadcaster, here it is: Do everything you can. Broadcast whatever you can. Move to a place where that opportunity exists the most. Learn to love improving. Get reps. Lots of reps. And never lose sight of enjoying the art of broadcasting. 

I waited for opportunities to come to me. They had when I was an “amateur,” why wouldn’t they when I was working in it? Don’t get me wrong, I gained marriage, family, children and a greater appreciation for work ethic by forging a non-traditional path as a young freelancer in a big market, but I know it cost me professionally.

I wouldn’t change a thing. But, if I am being honest when a 21-year-old asks me how to make it, that’s what I’ve come to realize. Go! Don’t look back. Seize any opportunity, because it won’t be looking to seize you.

Why We Work

The debate that is raging about the NCAA and its treatment of college athletes is becoming as polarized as our nation’s run towards electing a new leader. On one side, athletes are victimized, exploited and spit out by a money-hungry system that uses them to advance their own brand. On the other side, athletes should be more thankful for a free education and just be quiet. Like most polarizing issues, I (and the rest of America) reside somewhere in the middle. I lean closer to the NCAA on most issues, but believe no athlete should have his/her likeness or name used to make money he/she doesn’t receive. I believe there is an imbalance in the system, but determining who benefits and who doesn’t would only make it worse. And, most notably, I don’t think people have any clue what the NCAA is doing with “all that money…”

I’ve had the pleasure of broadcasting NCAA championships since they decided to start putting them on the Internet. Next fall will mark the 10-year anniversary of that endeavor. I’ve been witness to dozens of championships at all levels and in all sports, where athletes no different than the star QB at Alabama give everything they have to compete. How are those sports and championships supported? It all trickles down so that other athletes have a chance.

That chance even includes selection shows. I can’t remember my first, but I can’t wait to host my next! What? you didn’t know that Division II Women’s Volleyball had a selection show?! Well, they do, and the teams react in a way you may find familiar. This is why I work:

The Keyboard is Mightier

Last week was depressing for me. It marked the too-soon end of an entity that I felt represented everything that was right about journalism in the Internet age. ESPN elected to pull the plug on Grantland, shelving a cutting-edge site that embraced long-form journalism alongside opinion, discussion and multimedia. I’ve been fortunate to cross a number of milestones off of my professional bucket list, but one will never be realized now. I wanted to write for Grantland one day, and fully regret never taking the time to send along some stuff.

Instead, I’ll continue being too wordy for my friends over at Golf News Net, and spreading the great stories of work being done by folks here in Indianapolis.

The 2015 NBA-Tour Draft

Today is my favorite non-sport event, sports-related activity of the year. The NBA Draft is intoxicating. It is the one day a year when 30 fanbases expect immediate impact. Unlike any other professional sports league, the NBA draft offers instant gratification. The first round is over quickly (no second or third day, i.e. NFL) and provides top picking teams with immediate starters (see you in 5-6 years, i.e. MLB). It also regularly delivers the most movement during the night, when trades abound.

It’s a night when New York Knick fans will ‘boo,’ San Antonio fans will nod in intellectually arrogant unison and Minnesota will position itself for another lottery run in 2016. To sum it all up: Emotions run the gambit, and I live off its exhaust.

Silly season activities like these in sports are the one thing lacking in golf. While fantasy has allowed us to create our own rooting interest from week to week, we don’t identify loyalties beyond unknown personality connections with players. What if professional golf was a team sport? How would golfers get drafted?

The rules: Only golfers under the age of 30 were considered. I tried to take the traits of the player to match with a particular golfer, so this is not a perfect exercise in who the top 14 young golfers would be should we hold an actual draft.

1. Karl-Anthony Towns is Jordan Spieth – In October of last year, it was hard to imagine a scenario where Jahlil Okafor wasn’t the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. He had every established tool that would translate to a phenomenal career as a pro. At the same time, in golf, Rory McIlroy was unbeatable, holder of the last 2 majors played, annihilator of every tee shot with a reckless abandon. What has happened since then? Our ability to think, that’s what. The next two majors have been won by Spieth, who, like Towns, appears loaded with an arsenal of tools and potential (anybody notice the bulges under those Under Armour shirts? Once doughy, now defined). Okafor-Ilroy has done nothing to diminish his spot at the top, but the newer kid on the block is the freight train running downhill.
Spieth’s Tremendous Upside Potential (T.U.P.) – 19 Majors and the greatest American golfer of all time

2. D’Angelo Russell is Rickie Fowler – Wait a second? Did Rory just drop to #3 in our ridiculous exercise? Yes, but only to keep the hypothetical going. Many scouts pegged Russell as having more star potential than Okafor. After winning the Players, Rickie was absurdly inserted into a number of “big three” conversations with Jordan and Rory. We want Rickie to be a superstar as much as the Lakers want D’Angelo to do the same. And, if there was a town that would draft Rickie ahead of Rory, it would be Hollywood. The similarities don’t end there. Both are significantly more polished than their age would suggest. (Rickie is only 5 months older than Rory; easy to forget that)
Fowler’s T.U.P. – Hall of Famer, 3+ majors, 1 billion flat-billed hats sold and a litter of tan-skinned children who invent a new extreme sport involving skateboards and 2-irons.

3. Jahlil Okafor is Rory McIlroy – Jahlil Okafor was the best player in college entering his freshman season, averaged 17 & 8, led his team to a national championship and said all of the right things along the way. And he slipped to #3 in the draft. Why? The top of the mountain is coated with teflon. You can’t stay long before we find a way to slip you off. Rory has had 2 dominant stretches in his young career, the second even better than the first. When 2015 began, the discussion wasn’t “will somebody challenge him for #1,” it was “how far can Rory extend his advantage?” When he arrived back in the states, he MC’d at Honda. Going for the CGS, a backdoor top 5 followed. We explore the missed cuts at Wentworth and Royal County Down more than his dismantling of Quail Hollow. Why? Because we demand perfection from our #1. Spieth is that perfect now. Rory is, well, underrated?
McIlroy’s T.U.P. – 19 majors and the greatest European golfer of all time 

4. Kristaps Porzingis is Tony Finau – LENGTH! POTENTIAL! These two are athletic soul mates. I’ll even stretch Finau’s Samoan lineage to lump him into our “international” pool of prospects. Scouts are drooling over the Latvian for his measurables (he can touch the top of the backboard with his kneecap!!!!) and soft touch, and don’t we do the same with Finau? We dig the long ball and the potential it has to deliver Finau to the winner’s circle. Like Porzingis, he has proven himself on the stages just below the Big Show, but we still secretly wonder if those tools will truly translate into a promising career.
Finau’s T.U.P. – 20 years of Tour Card, 5-10 wins, 0 herniated discs 

5. Mario Hezonja is Brooks Koepka – This analogy was perfect a year ago. Hezonja, by all accounts, was the best shooter in the draft. Koepka, by all accounts, was the best American not on Tour. Both have proven their worth on the second-biggest stage in their respective sports. Both are sneaky explosive.
Koepka’s T.U.P. – Multiple majors, multi-lingual

6. Willie Cauley-Stein is Patrick Reed – Tell me those two couldn’t fill a conversation for a few hours. I actually want both of these guys to combine forces to become the greatest super-athlete personality of the 21st Century. Look at Patrick Trilly Reedstein the wrong way, and you will feel the wrath of a small army. Cauley-Stein is all defense, and Reed knows only offense on the course. Willie protects the rim, while Reed can’t protect his image. Join forces now, fellas!
Reed’s T.U.P. – 3 majors by his 30th birthday and a lifetime supply of Prilosec 

7. Emmanuel Mudiay is Hideki Matsuyama – The Asian connection (Mudiay prepping a year cashing checks in China) aside, both guys ooze with potential in grown-man frames that have you forgetting how young each really is. But, each are drafted with a significant question mark. Folks wonder about Mudiay’s outside shot as much as I wonder about Matsuyama’s ability to make a 7-footer with the pressure on.
Matsuyama’s T.U.P. – 5 majors, 15 Tour wins, 20 Dunlop Phoenix Open wins, foreword in Ryo Ishikawa’s Autobiography

8. Stanley Johnson is Patrick Rodgers – Both are big. Both can dunk. Both can score. Both are slated to do big things, but you just don’t know at this stage. At this spot in the lottery, it could be big or bust.
Rodgers’ T.U.P. – Major champion, greatest golfer from Indiana

9. Frank Kaminsky is Jason Day – Both are old for the sake of this exercise. With each, you know what you are going to get, but that leaves us without the hope of what is still unknown. For Frank the Tank, that means the Hornets have to live knowing Kaminsky will never be explosive or likely guard anybody without help. For fans of Jason Day, he’s given you everything but the major. After vertigo likely cost him another golden chance, we now wonder if the ceiling has been touched. He’s still ONLY 27, but doesn’t it feel older?
Day’s T.U.P. – Breaks the major seal, settles below Rory/Spieth as #3 for a while, surpasses Greg Norman’s major haul 

10. Justise Winslow is Justin Thomas – Like Winslow is lost in the shadow of Okafor, Thomas has been lost a bit in the wake of his classmate, and friend, Spieth, who (we should remember) Thomas bested for all major awards in their one shared year of college. The upside for both here is huge, and the explosiveness is apropos given what Thomas gets out of his small frame. Winslow could be a perennial All-Star or gone by the end of his rookie deal. Thomas could be top 10 in the world and a 20+ Tour winner, or in traction five years from now.
Thomas’ T.U.P. – See above

11. Myles Turner is Billy Horschel – Oozing with the goods that have been flashed to us in spurts, this isn’t a perfect comparison, but the flash-in-the-pan potential exists here. Not to say that Billy will be off the Tour, but his time at the front is relegated to small stretches when he gets hot. Turner is the young guy who shows flashes and needs to develop consistency. If either (or both) grew to exhibit that explosiveness each and every day, it would. be. On!!
Horschel’s T.U.P. – Major winner, Hall of Famer, best quote on tour for 20 years and example of transparent emotion

12. Trey Lyles is Victor Dubuisson – I’m not sold on either, both in game and personal mystery. They flash enough athletic skill and victory to make you believe something greater is coming, but you would never fully invest because you have that feeling words can’t describe. Nope, not for me.
Dubuisson’s T.U.P. – Major winner, after which he gives a 20-minute monologue on what makes him tick

13. Devin Booker is Harris English – Booker was drafted in the lottery. I watched Kentucky maybe 10-12 times this past season and don’t remember a single play involving Booker. That’s not to say that he didn’t score, or wasn’t any good, but you were mesmerized by the size and versatility of Towns, the playmaking of Ulis, the combustibility of the Harrisons, the how-does-he-score-that-slow ness of Lyles, etc. Booker was along for the ride, playing his role and not worried about his future earnings. That sums up my perception of English, who I pegged since college of being a star on Tour. He’s won. Twice. Got inside the top 40 in the world too. But, we’ve stalled, as if lost under the weight of an age group loaded with star power. Booker talked like a young man ready for his time at the front. I only hope English is poised to follow suit.
English’s T.U.P. – Multiple Ryder Cup teams, more lime green pants and top winner of the Georgia Mafia

14. Cameron Payne is Ollie Schneiderjans – Four-year college lottery picks are almost as rare as four-year stud golfers these days, so let’s link these two together. I’m not sure how quickly Ollie will follow his classmates (listed at 1, 8 and 10 on this list) to the Tour, but he was the top amateur in the world last year for a reason. Like Payne, Schneiderjans is a bit crafty and unconventional (strong grip, throwback swing), but with the seasoning of college, he’s conditioned to handle the grind ahead.
Schneiderjans’ T.U.P. – Tour winner and developer of “The Ollie” instructional series on YouTube

I love the NBA Draft!

Full Time

Young broadcasters often ask me, ‘How can I do what you do?’ My answer has often been quick and unexpected: “Get a Job.”

Being a freelance broadcaster doesn’t mean that you are exclusively a broadcaster. In an ever-expanding industry that provides increased opportunities to call sports, the work is there but the livelihood in many cases is not. Working 9-to-5 affords many the luxury of also “working” 7-to-9 that night. That was the path that I chose when graduating from college and deciding to pursue my dream in the unconventional way.

In 2006, as my broadcasting career was at a crossroads, I was also in pursuit of a new “day job” that would provide balance. Somewhat serendipitously, I stumbled across an opening at the headquarters of my Fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi. From alumni development to communications and, for the last three years, in a part-time role as manager of the quarterly publication, I’ve worked for Phi Psi for nearly a decade.

This wouldn’t have been possible without incredible co-workers and bosses, including Shawn Collinsworth, who hired me under the promise that he would support me in my pursuit of a full-time broadcasting career. He never wavered from that promise, affording me the opportunity to work from the road as my travel for broadcasts turned extensive over the past five years.

Choosing between two full-time jobs, even if one is your dream, is never easy. Double salaries are nice, and the people are better. Now, the time has come for me to say goodbye to a great partnership. I will still write on a freelance basis, as I do for a few other clients. Without Phi Psi, I wouldn’t be the broadcaster I am today. Thanks for the memories!

Mocking

In 2007, the NCAA started inviting select members of the media, in various forms, to participate in a mock selection of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. In 2007, I added another item to my bucket list. Eight years later, it was checked off this week, as I had the pleasure of joining some of the country’s preeminent college basketball writers, broadcasters and bloggers. We made a bracket. It was our baby. If the NCAA Tournament started on February 13th, I think we nailed it.

But, that’s not the point. Despite some heated conversations at the table about who belonged and what makes a tournament team, the real value was seeing how the committee goes through the process of creating the world’s most interesting bracket. The procedures, the technology and the scope were all impressive.

I would consider myself an NCAA apologist. Unlike some in the room, I had no agenda to ‘out’ the organization on perceived bias or systematic inefficiencies. As somebody who has hosted dozen of selection shows (for the NCAA), I respect the challenge of those tasked with giving schools a shot at a championship. Call it blind faith, but I think they do the best any of us could do. But, how do they do it? A few things stood out:

1) The process is so extensive and so organized, it becomes impossible for any committee member to view a team by name. While we talk about Duke, Indiana, Notre Dame, etc., after hours of staring at screens, the name of the school is rendered simply to a cue to look at a resume.
Within that, choosing teams to make the field is exhaustive. At the start, the committee ranks every team. Each team is either identified as an at-large selection (a team that you think is a lock to be in), under consideration (worthy of discussion to make the tournament) or nothing (better luck next year). With 10 members on the committee, it takes 80% of the at-large vote to immediately make the tournament (we slotted 17) and 30% of the consideration vote to make the discussion list (we identified 45).

Mock Shot 1

Those 45 teams took forever to whittle down. Each committee member then lists his/her top 8 from the consideration list. The consensus top 8 is then given to each committee member to rank, 1 thru 8, and the consensus top 4 are then slotted into the at-large list we established from the beginning. Oh, and we discuss teams at every juncture. Rinse, repeat, until you fill the field.

The ‘list 8, rank 8’ process is also used to seed teams once they are in the at-large list. While it’s the same process, it also offers a break from picking teams. Shifting back and forth is really helpful, especially as the resumes get worse. It helped to talk about really good teams for a few minutes before sorting through the muck.

2) The technology and information available is tremendous – I’m jealous of the committee. What they get to stare at for five days in March is like Christmas mated with the 4th of July for a college hoops fan. Ask to see two teams compared, boom, the magic NCAA Fairy Statmother pops them up together on the screen for all to see. What, you have four teams you want to see? There’s a Nitty Gritty report for that. My favorite: Hover your cursor over a particular stat (say, road record) for a team you’re comparing, and it highlights all those instances for every team you have pulled up.

Wanna compare the top 50 wins of Cincinnati, SMU, West Virginia and Georgia? There's an app for that!

Wanna compare the top 50 wins of Cincinnati, SMU, West Virginia and Georgia? There’s an app for that!

3) It’s an objectively subjective process – I brought this up to a committee member, but I thought the numbers in front of us were skewed, in that most of the stats were all related to wins. Top 50 wins, no less. I don’t have a problem with that. Who you beat is more important than who you may have lost to. That doesn’t mean that losses didn’t hurt a team, but wins were valued more. That was a question I had going in.
Strength of schedule was also big, and teams (I’m looking at you, Notre Dame, Ohio State and West Virginia) who didn’t bother to schedule in the non-conference schedule were skewered in moments.
Then there was the dreaded ‘eye test.’ It was mentioned so much during football season that I figured it was used, but to what extent? It turns out, a lot. It’s important. Once our mock committee heard that, we never went back.

So, which one means more? There is no correct answer. You want one? There isn’t one. And, you know what, it’s okay. There were good discussions between two teams, but with a room full of knowledgeable people, criteria was never a sticking point. There is no wrong answer. And, believe it or not, almost all cases have a clear cut “winner” in resume.

It should be noted that there are also several ah-ha moments that just slap you in the face. Oklahoma’s resume was crazy good. And then you have to ask yourself, “Is Oklahoma a 2 seed?” I still don’t know how to answer it.

4) Bracketing is about geography. No really, it’s about geography – Remember that cool technology part? Once you have teams seeded, it’s time to send them somewhere. Highlight the top seeded team and each geographic location is shown on screen with the total miles from that school’s campus to the venue. The NCAA want fans and schools able to make it. There were complications (conference conflicts, rematches, etc.), and I don’t want to simplify a process that took over an hour, but it really felt simple. Pick team, find closest venue, slot and continue.
This is where the age-old bias argument comes in. And, of all aspects of the selection process, it couldn’t be further from the truth here. I actually thought to myself, it is infinitely harder to create a biased situation on purpose than do what is actually done.

 

I wanted to write about certain teams, or scenarios (we had 3 Pac-12 teams in the First Four; don’t ask), but it really meant nothing for our exercise. It’s about the process. The committee will be questioned on Selection Sunday. Somebody will feel offended. What will be my response? Go beat somebody.

2015 Mock Selection Bracket