Why stop at basketball? Might Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt also save Tiger Woods? Cure the latest coronavirus variants? Stop anti-Asian hatred? Quell the maskless mobs on South Beach?
If you believe in fairy tales and Jim Nantz, yes, friends, this is a revolution. But if you’ve studied the sea changes in college hoops, you aren’t shocked in the least, realizing there are no one-percenter elites in the sport now — and that Loyola-Chicago and its 101-year-old team chaplain just might win it all. The have-nots are terrorizing the haves as they invade traditional mansions, water-board famed coaches, ransack their stuffed safes and spray-paint the fine artwork with their own names — Oral Roberts, Abilene Christian, Ohio, the Mean Green of North Texas and Oregon State, which reduced the NBA’s presumptive No. 1 draft pick, Cade Cunningham, to something ordinary.
And on their way out the front gates, owning all the cachet now, they are tweeting ha-ha-has back at the gamblers who legally bet against them.
Where’s Duke? Kentucky? North Carolina? Michigan State? Louisville? The NCAA tournament is being played in Indiana, but there are no Hoosiers. I see no Ohio State, where the players are being threatened online by psycho fans, but I do see Ohio, from Athens, where I remember once attending classes and find the personal triumph of Jason Preston more compelling than anything on Netflix. I see Illinois crashing because of inflated egos and porous coaching, embarrassed by the modest school tucked away in a North Side neighborhood, Loyola, thanks not only to Sister Jean’s faith but the precision and passion of leisure-wear-clad coach Porter Moser and a balding, mustachioed, harmonica-playing big man, Cameron Krutwig.
The No. 1-seeded Illini, you might say, were nun-and-done.
“The guys believed, and it’s amazing what happens when you have a group of young men who believe,” said Moser, who can name his next job, including governor of Illinois … or coach at Indiana.
This delicious portion of March Madness — oh, how we needed it as a virus-and-politics-weary country. Has the pandemic altered life to the point where, in a couple of Mondays, we finally might see some crazy, little team win it all? And I don’t mean Gonzaga, the crazy, little team that grew up and now stands nearly alone as a blueblood.
“We just beat the University of Texas. Little ol’ Abilene Christian out in West Texas built a program that went toe-to-toe with the University of Texas, and it’s an incredible story,” coach Joe Golding rhapsodized. “It’s what March is about. We needed March Madness, man. We needed some type of normalcy to our country. We needed people to fill out brackets. We needed people to cheer for the underdog.”
And Sister Jean? Somehow bigger in Americana at 101 than she was at 98, when Loyola reached the Final Four, she delivered these pre-game words to the team: “As we play the Fighting Illini, we ask for special help to overcome this team and get a great win. We hope to score early and make our opponents nervous. We have a great opportunity to convert rebounds as this team makes about 50 percent of layups and 30 percent of its (three-pointers). Our defense can take care of that.”
Maybe she should coach the Illini. Or the Bulls. Because the Ramblers held Illinois and its future NBA guard, Ayo Dosunmu, to 28.6 percent shooting from the three-point arc.”It’s been a whole season of that. That’s our defense,” said Krutwig, who resembles what a young Mike Ditka might have looked like if he’d played hoops. “It’s not just a 48-hour scout. We’ve been working our whole season for this. I guess people kind of forgot. We were the No. 1 defense in the country this year. People chalk it up to being a mid-major.”
Of course, there is no such creature as a mid-major anymore. My only issue is why Sister Jean, in her picks, had Loyola losing to West Virginia in the Elite Eight — when West Virginia (and Bob Huggins’ mullet) lost to Syracuse, a team Loyola should beat.
Yet for every broken bracket, every sweet disruption and every familiar adrenaline attack that cues the thunder of March, there are louder voices in Indianapolis — those of the athlete activists speaking hard truths, something you won’t see covered on CBS. This would be an insurrection.
They’ve already seen one game declared a no-contest due to a COVID-19 outbreak, with virus-ravaged VCU going home. The natural response is to ask who will be infected next and whether there’s a hole in the NCAA’s “controlled environment.” At what point should the tournament be shut down to protect players, coaches, officials and traveling parties, knowing five programs have been disrupted by COVID the past week? And if you view that as a Chicken Little reflex, consider how the sport’s obsession with money prompted the playing of needless conference tournaments that might have led to VCU’s outbreak and other positive tests?
“It just stinks,” said VCU coach Mike Rhoades. “I can’t sugarcoat it.”
The activists also have observed the anguish of Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell, who received threatening tweets after a stunning loss to Oral Roberts, and wonder why players are subjected to such hatred. Is this what happens when the sports industry embraces legalized gambling — creeps who lose wagers threaten players? And the abuse isn’t limited to digital devices; an old-school coach stuck in the last century, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, grabbed a player and bullied him in full view of a national audience.
So, quite justifiably, the players wish to interject once again that they aren’t being paid a penny. Hundreds of young men, all but locked down in hotel rooms so the NCAA can make $1 billion from its basketball spectacle, do not get a crumb of compensation from the pie. They receive scholarships, nice places to live on campus and televised windows to showcase their skills, but in the biggest equation — advertisers paying broadcast networks that feed the NCAA monolith — what’s happening to them now, amid a pandemic, looks like slavery to them.
Symbolic of the slights: A multi-billion-dollar governing body that should care deeply about peak performance has whiffed on nutrition. Borrowing from former President Trump, who served junk food to Clemson players for their White House celebration, the NCAA asked its proud partners from Wendy’s, Buffalo Wild Wings and Pizza Hut to provide massive quantities of burgers, chicken wings and pizzas. In essence, the players are eating no better than COVID-pudgy fans gorging at home. Said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s tournament poohbah: “That’s a lot of food for hungry student-athletes.”
His comment contains two lies: It is not food, and they are not students.
Which explains why this tournament ultimately could be remembered for much more than basketball. It might be defined by a historic boycott — the possible shutdown of games in the Elite Eight or Final Four, where America’s eyeballs are primarily glued — as guided by a movement that includes players from at least 15 schools with little to do but think and text in confinement. Heeding the powerful lessons of activists throughout professional sports, including LeBron James inside the NBA’s restrictive bubble, the players want change. They are treated like essential workers as the NCAA and its partners, CBS and Turner, try to shoehorn 67 games into three weeks in central Indiana. The sole mission is to complete the event on the night of April 5, this avoiding the substantial financial losses resulting from the canceled 2020 tournament.
It is an act of desperation and business survival in a sport burdened by two many existential issues to count. Yet, the players who’ve been asked to save the NCAA tournament aren’t paid a cent for it? That’s why some are talking boycott, fueled by a hashtag: #NotNCAA Property.
“This tournament is going to generate a billion dollars,” Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon told The Athletic. “And we’re not allowed to make a single dime off our own names … but they want to treat us like employees. … Maybe it’s protesting a game or delaying a game — because it would be a nightmare for the NCAA. I know they don’t want that. Right now, we certainly have the leverage to do it.”
Is it likely games will be boycotted and postponed? The answer depends on how many more games are canceled because of COVID-19. Three years ago, Michigan was at the forefront of a plotted Final Four-wide boycott but couldn’t gather consensus acceptance. Some players are thrilled to be living a dream, others intimidated by coaches who might try to ruin their lives. The difference this time is the pandemic. In life-and-death America, players haven’t been able to see loved ones, and now, VCU’s forfeit plants more doubt.
The NCAA has said that COVID-tainted games can proceed if five “eligible and healthy” players are available. But while Rhoades indicated he had at least five — “I was going up and down the hallway and saying, `We’re like a wounded animal. You don’t want to go against a wounded animal,’ ” he said — the NCAA played the caution card. In consultation with the local Marion County Public Health Department, it wisely determined, “With potential risks to all involved in the game, we could not guarantee or be comfortable that five or more players would be available without risk.”
Members of the VCU traveling party had been tested every day for three weeks. “But within the last 48 hours we’ve received multiple positive tests,” said Rhoades, which suggests the infections occurred during a period when the Rams were at the Atlantic 10 title game in Dayton, Ohio, before bussing to Indianapolis. How were the players infected? Was it during a walk on a rare occasion when teams are allowed to be outdoors? “I want to make sure it’s clear: This isn’t something where our team broke protocol and did the wrong thing,” VCU athletic director Ed McLaughlin said. “We don’t know how this happened, but it certainly wasn’t bad behavior on our side whatsoever.”
Is it any wonder, then, why such a crisis plants burdensome seeds? The athletes want compensation for their work and health risks, as we all would in their situation. The core issue is the longstanding fight that athletes should be paid for names, images and likenesses, a mission that has progressed in some states but continues to clog Congress like a bad half-court offense. The disparity is magnified by their current accommodations, a hermetically sealed experience that allows for games, practices and an occasional outdoor exercise period. Unlike college football players, who played once a week, basketball players have engaged in multiple games a week and traveling since November — that is, when schedules weren’t paused by virus outbreaks.
Now here they are, in the heartland, hoarded together like so much cheap labor and subjected to abuse beyond the absence of pay. As I wrote last week, this NCAA tournament is the most heavily gambled sports event ever. Despite pandemic risks that wouldn’t make betting advisable — such as, hearing three hours before tipoff that Oregon was advancing — almost 50 million Americans are expected to invest $1.3 billion. And when a team loses unexpectedly, fans are known to turn wacko, perhaps because they lost a wager.
It’s repulsive that Ohio State had to contact police after Liddell was threatened on social media. One fan vowed to find Liddell and attack him. Another wrote: “You are such a f—— disgrace. Don’t ever show your face at Ohio State. We hate you. I hope you die I really do.”
Tweeted Liddell, after posting the screenshots: “What did I do to deserve this? I’m human.”
And an unpaid human, at that. We don’t know if the cowardly snipers were gamblers who’d lost an Ohio State bet. If they were, this is Exhibit A of the possible consequences when the sports industry — especially college sports, which purportedly is centered around higher education and “student-athletes” — embraces the legalized gambling craze. Of course, Ohio State’s athletic leadership rallied around Liddell, with coach Chris Holtmann saying, “These comments, while not from or representative of Ohio State fans, are vile, dangerous and reflect the worst of humanity. E.J. is an outstanding young man who had a tremendous sophomore season and he was instrumental in our team’s success.”
But don’t count on Ohio State or any other monster program to question the possible agenda of gambling. I’ll bring back a paragraph I wrote on the eve of the tournament: “And who cares that Indiana is enjoying a gambling boom that includes 14 physical sportsbooks thrilled to accept wagers of any size? That includes the Winner’s Circle Sports Pub and OTB right there on Pennsylvania Street, mere blocks from Lucas Oil Stadium and Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the six team hotels, according to the trusty Bookies.com website. No way a dirtball or two could infiltrate the NCAA Bubble and convince a teenager or two to fix a game, right? This is college basketball, so very clean and ethical, a sport that has responsibly steered clear of point-shaving scandals — except those at Arizona State, Boston College, Tulane, Northwestern, Auburn, Toledo, San Diego, etc. — and never, ever would allow a player or parent or coach or referee or agent or sneaker creep to be on the take or crawl under a table.”
Whatever the motive for the attacks on Liddell, it’s another reason athletes are wondering: Why are we playing for no pay?
The abuse also comes from coaches, the men who walk into living rooms and tell parents that their sons will be treated well. Izzo, 66, blistered forward Gabe Brown during an overtime loss to UCLA, grabbing him by the arm and jersey. Brown pulled away, causing Izzo to chase him through the tunnel in an uncomfortable scene. “A normal nothing,” Izzo called it. “It’s just that this day and age, everything’s something. He missed a play and I told him, and he walked away and so I told him to come back.”
Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim should be a happier man than usual, watching ice-veined son Buddy lead the Orange to the Sweet 16. But the grumpy coach, who recently mocked a reporter as someone “who has never played basketball and is 5 foot 2,” continues to scold players even with big leads. Boeheim is 76.
Mike Krzyzewski, whose Duke team finished 13-11 and had its season ended by a COVID outbreak, is 74. North Carolina’s Roy Williams, routed by Wisconsin in the first round, is 70. John Calipari, coming off his most miserable season at Kentucky, is 62 and perhaps too old to be chasing around recruits in a private jet. Kansas’ Bill Self, 58 going on 70, was lucky to get by Eastern Washington.
This is a revolution, all right, and not a good one for college basketball. A future NBA superstar, such as Cunningham or Zion Williamson, now won’t bother to play even one season on campus when the NBA soon allows players to directly enter the league from high school. As it is, the league’s top rookies this season — LaMelo Ball, before his season-ending broken wrist, and James Wiseman — didn’t need a full college season to adjust. There is the NBA’s developmental option, the G League, and a new league offering $100,000 salaries. The kids can play in other countries, as Ball did.
All of which will dilute the level of talent in the NCAA tournament. Make no mistake, as long as CBS and Turner have broadcast rights to the event and pay the $1 billion annually — a $19.6 billion extension doesn’t end until 2032 — March Madness will exist. The gamblers have to gamble, after all, and the coaches have to coach so they can get rich and their schools can cash in. But once considered a jewel event on the American calendar, the tournament could fade in prestige for common fans and shift sideways into a gambling-centric mode. It’s the NFL’s world, after all, buoyed by more than $100 billion in new TV deals, and one can make the argument that everything else is niche now.
Thus, the NCAA will keep trying to fight the players. President Mark Emmert will give the Indianapolis activists an audience, as they’ve demanded, and the games likely will proceed as normal until “One Shining Moment” is played. “I’m certainly not unhappy that students are using their voices to describe what they think are issues of importance to them,” Emmert said. “That’s a good thing. They’re students. They’re supposed to do that.” But the NCAA is the biggest flim-flam group in sports, evidenced by the original disparities in weight room facilities at the men’s and women’s tournaments. Once the fresh revenues are deposited as usual, we won’t hear from the NCAA or the TV networks. Mission accomplished, Emmert would say.
In that sense, I’m hoping for an Elite Eight boycott. I’m rooting for chaos. “Am I concerned?” Gavitt asked. “I would be concerned about any potential disruption, I guess, of games.”
The tournament so far has been fun, invigorating. But the emerging stories aren’t on the makeshift courts of Indiana. They are inside those hotel rooms, which must feel like cages by now, inhabited by angry young men ready to raise necessary hell.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.