The media loses again in the futile battle to maintain its turf. The NCAA has decided to reduce floor seating for reporters from in the neighborhood of 200 to around 70. The ousted members will be shipped to various spots of the Georgia Dome. More than likely, many of them, ticked off, will decide to watch on television from the press room.
Actually, this has been the routine for writers at venues for the entire tournament. NCAA officials told the United States Basketball Writers Association that it had other uses for those prime floor locations.
According to USBWA president John Akers of Basketball Times, the situation could have been worse. The media could have been booted off the floor completely.
“Last May, we got an inkling they were interested in moving us,” Akers said. “If we hadn’t gotten involved, there wouldn’t be anything at courtside. That’s not to say we did anything special because we still lost 2/3s of our seats. But we saved what we could.”
According to Akers, the NCAA plans to use those former media seats for family and friends of the teams; for use to raise money for charities; and for sponsors. “We all suspect the seats will go to CBS more than the others,” Akers said.
The likely reason is more about aesthetics than making money. The NCAA tournament generates billions of dollars; a few more bucks for floor seats isn’t going to make a difference.
Akers said the NCAA wants to have more fans closer to the floor. Cheering fans look better on TV than rumpled reporters pounding a computer. In some cases, those seats are empty, especially for the second game on Saturday, when media members are working on their accounts of the first game.
“They kept asking questions, ‘Why aren’t those seats filled?’” Akers said. “We explained, ‘People have to work on their game stories.’”
There’s the obvious question: Why is it important the media to be sitting on the floor in the first place?
“In basketball, you need to be down there to hear what’s going on,” Akers said. “It’s different than covering football and baseball. You wouldn’t want to be on the floor for those sports. Unless you cover basketball, you can’t really understand why it is important to be on the floor. If somebody doesn’t want to believe it, they aren’t going to believe it.”
Akers knows many media members won’t be happy with their new seat locations for this year’s Final Four. However, he doesn’t intend to be in charge of the complaint department.
The NCAA asked Akers and the USBWA to create a priority list for the floor seats. They declined.
“We didn’t want to get involved and have it be on us,” Akers said. “It’s on them. They wanted to do this. If people are upset, they should be upset at the NCAA.”
Akers joked that he “picked the short straw” in being on call as USBWA president this year. Normally, he said the job is mostly ceremonial. It wasn’t this year, and he expects it won’t be the case for future presidents. He anticipates the NCAA likely isn’t done when it comes to reducing media seats on the floor.
The situation could be worse next year when the Final Four is in vast Cowboys Stadium. Preliminary reports say some media seating will feel closer to Oklahoma than Dallas.
“People are going to have to put in more work than ever before,” Akers said. “And probably the best we can do is salvage what we have.”