Wednesday, September 25, 2013

White Paper Summit: Where were the fresh ideas?

Forgive us if we're yawning. But Monday's "white paper" summit featuring a gathering of coaches, officials and administrators with a stake in the women's game, unveiled a bunch of tired ideas that do little to address the problem.

The problem, we're told, is the game is not growing. Among the solutions that have been most reported:

*Return to the format with the top 16 seeds hosting NCAA first- and second-round tournament games;

*Have the Final Four return to a Friday-Sunday format, albeit one week after the men's tournament.

These ideas did little to grow the game before, and while the current format often compromises the bracket as lower seed teams frequently host higher ones, this one favors the bigs. With the top 16 hosting, pen in first and second rounds in Storrs, Knoxville, Palo Alto -- the usual suspects -- and say goodbye to the intriguing possibilities when the event expands to worthy mid-major locales. If the new format were in place years ago, Gonzaga and its electric, sold-out atmosphere would have never become part of the first- and second-round experience. The Zags have never been a Top-4 seed.

Nor was Delaware in 2012-13. But thanks to open bidding, the Blue Hens played host to the opening two rounds, sold out its gym and provided a pulsating backdrop for a magical two-game run by Elena Delle Donne and Co.

We keep hearing about how folks was to promote parity. Why propose something that helps the rich get richer?

Look, it's not that these are bad ideas; they're just old ones. Instead of moving the ball forward, it's putting the ball back where it was. Left unanswered - or even dealt with - is what we thought was the central question - how do we grow this thing? Having the same cast of characters bat around the same ideas sure doesn't seem like the winning ticket.

Thinking outside of the box sounds like a cliche - which it is - but we also think it's a good idea in this case. Where were actual student-athletes at this summit? And has anybody spoken with a fan of the game, or better yet a non-fan? It's all good and well to be a coach, player, administrator talking about the game and "enhancing the student-athlete's experience," it's another to talk to regular folk, and for that matter, the players who make this sport special.

Or, they could have just invited us, as we've been yammering about a potential solution for years. It's really quite simple. If all you're offering at early-round NCAA sites is three basketball games over two days, you can do all the marketing, rules tweaks and officiating adjustments you want. Except in a few locales, the audience will be limited.

But if you make these things an event, with the games the centerpiece of a series of interactive and/or related activities, the possibilities are endless.

Seems to us that too much of the focus is on how things look on television. Now obviously that's important. But what about the in-arena experience? As it stands now, teams whisk in and beeline from the bus to closed press conferences to closed practices and back to the bus. On game day, there's no interaction with the fans, and as one kid I know well was told when he wanted to exit the Constant Center to get Skylar Diggins' autograph last March after a first-round tournament game -- "Go out and you can't get back in."


Why can't there be an interactive fan-fest with the players and coaches the day before the game?
Invite every youth girls team to be part of a skills camp the day before the game. Have the players engage with the fans their game is trying to recruit. How about a 3-point contest? How about some fun?

Some coaches will no doubt cringe about diverting their players' focus the day before the big game. But remember, these are the same coaches who agreed to do on-court, in-timeout interviews with ESPN during these same big games. If coaches can adjust to that, they can adjust to anything.

We wouldn't stop there, either. Fraternities and sororities at the local college(s) could be encouraged to "adopt" a team, with prizes going to the Greek unit that gives off the most support on game day. How about a luncheon of the off-day where fans could meet the coaches and select players? Or a music concert that night, or a fashion show. Something, anything, that would make the site of the tournament the place to be not just at tipoff, but throughout the entire four days.

It's hard to imagine any fans - or more importantly, prospective fans - that wouldn't think these are ideas worth exploring. In fact, the only people that might have a problem with them are the coaches, officials and administrators at the white paper summit.

Maybe that's why they kept Monday's discussion to themselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment