State Of The Championship Address
April 4, 2005
DEBBIE BYRNE: We're joined with Lynn Parkes and Sue Donohoe. We're going to allow Lynn as the chair to make an opening comment and then we'll go our questions, please. Thank you.
LYNN PARKES: Good afternoon. On behalf of the committee, I just want to thank you for being here today and tell you how delighted we are with the way the championship has worked this year. I think we have all experienced in the last three or four weeks what we have talked about during the regular season and that parity is real. When we look at our Final Four teams and the way things have developed, that that is what parity is. So we're living that this weekend.
We're delighted with the championship and looking forward to a wonderful championship game tomorrow night.
DEBBIE BYRNE: And we'll start with questions for either Sue or Lynn.
Q. Parity, it seems like people have different opinions as to whether parity is good or not good. Tell me why it's good for women's basketball.
LYNN PARKES: Well, I think when you see what we call parity, that speaks to the fact that programs are developing, that institutions have made commitments to their women's basketball programs that allow them the resources and the time and effort to bring their programs forward. I think as much as anything that's what it says.
Q. Lynn, I know it's only a couple weeks after the new format, for the first and second rounds, but just based on attendance figures and just initial feedback, just the committee's thought on the new format.
LYNN PARKES: Well, I think that we're very pleased with it. I think that we had some challenges with the format. I think there certainly were some things on the plus side of the ledger as well. We had an opportunity to have additional neutral games as a result of that.
We certainly see that as a positive thing. We know and we're not surprised that our attendance took a little bit of a hit. But I think that what we're also seeing is that we were down a little bit in the regionals. I think that was related to the Easter Sunday weekend. Obviously that's not something we can control. But it's a process, it's an education process for the fans and I think we'll work through that part.
So we're very pleased with it and we certainly think that it adds a new dimension for us and there's a lot of positive things that have resulted.
Q. For Lynn, the attendance, I think to say Easter weekend is a little bit, I mean attendance was abysmal, especially in my Regional at Kansas City. How does the attendance at a place like that affect the NCAA's view on bringing a Regional back to that area?
LYNN PARKES: Well, attendance is just one component of what we look at when we determine a site. And there were some teams that had an opportunity to advance in that area that may have affected that one way or another.
So although it's important to us, we want to create a good environment for the student?athletes. All this is not revenue?driven. We want it to be a good environment for the student?athletes. But there are other components as well, community support, volunteer support, those sorts of things. So all of that factors in.
Q. Women's sports in general seem to be still a niche market in this country, whether it's women's gymnastics in Utah or women's basketball in eastern Tennessee. How does that affect your philosophy in putting on the tournament; are you trying to overcome this and bring the women's game to areas where it may not be as popular or do you use that fact in order to drive your selections?
LYNN PARKES: All of the above. I think all of those things roll into what the decision is. And you're exactly right, we have all talked about that, women's basketball for many fans, it is a niche market. And it's an educational process that we're going through in trying to take that fan that has an affinity for a particular team and broaden the scope so that they're basketball fans instead of a fan of a particular institution.
Q. What can you do or how much more proactive does the NCAA have to be as far as selling regionals? Because a Final Four now has been on lottery system since 1998, been an advance sellout since 1993 and yet it seems like there's still a lot of trouble selling the regionals. You've talked before about the potential of maybe awarding regionals for multi years; is that still on the table?
LYNN PARKES: Well, we actually have done that in this last cycle. And at this point we're only awarding for two years and that's kind of a test shot, so to speak, see how that works and then we'll circle back and assess it and move from there.
But what we think that that will do for us is give a host institution and a host city an opportunity for multiple marketing opportunities and maybe even working with coaches to come into that area and do some promotional type things, so that we can kind of grow it from the ground up.
So I think that we're in a situation where we want to be creative, we want to be smart in the way we progress. But we need to do some things to grow that. We were just talking yesterday that in the next couple of years we're actually in a traditional arena, where we'll have fewer tickets on the street. And we hope that some of those basketball fans that may not have an opportunity to attend a Final Four, we can drive them to a Regional and let that be the basketball experience for them for that particular year.
Q. This question is for Sue. TV ratings seem to drive sports more each year, does it ?? is there a bit of an, I don't want to say disappointment, but without a UCONN, without a Tennessee in the championship game, does that ?? do you worry about what effect that's going to have?
SUE DONOHOE: I don't think so. I think that we have looked at numbers over the last several weeks and certainly we'll look at numbers that they pulled down last night and we feel confident that the numbers were good from last night.
Last year was an extraordinary year. From a ratings standpoint, we just blew the top out and ESPN certainly deserves a lot of credit for that and how they broadcast the games and the production of those. When you look at what we have accomplished from a ratings standpoint, over an extended period of time, we're still very good this year. We're not as good as we were last year, but you're not going to have the kind of year that we had last year. I think there's several reasons for that. We have had some games that maybe teams got out to an early lead and kept that lead and it affected folks turning and looking for something else. But without a doubt in my mind, I think talking with our ESPN partners last night, they feel very good about what we have done through the tournament and certainly we feel like we'll pull good numbers from last night.
Tennessee and UCONN are the names that folks recognize and certainly they have carried the torch and the tradition for a long time. But I think that there will be a crowd tomorrow night tuning in to see the new kids on the block.
LYNN PARKES: I want to circle back to your question too and ask Sue to take just a minute to talk about a branding and marketing initiative that the NCAA and the issues committee has taken on. Because I think it's very, very positive and certainly in line with what your question was.
SUE DONOHOE: Thank, Lynn. We have been working for about 18 to 20 months now on what we call a branding attribute initiative for NCAA women's basketball and basically what we have done with that, we have spent an extraordinary amount of time doing a great deal of research. And we have gone out to focus groups and we have talked with them, tell us what makes women's basketball unique, what sets women's basketball aside. And we have talked with student?athletes, we have talked with fans, we have talked with coaches, we have talked to the general public and we have identified five to six brand attributes: Sportsmanship, role model, community involvement, fundamental play. Those things that define what women's basketball is.
And what we did this morning, we had a breakfast meeting very early with the women's coaches Divisions 1, 2 and 3, and we asked them to take a part in delivering that message every day, all day about what women's basketball is and deliver that message wide, deliver it far, so that hopefully we can build some equity in our brand, we can distinguish ourselves within the marketplace, and certainly our measurable outcome for that will be attendance and it's attendance in the regular season and ultimately an increase in attendance at the championship.
Q. Can both of you ladies address if it hasn't been already, the thought of what's going into, there's a move now to move the three?point line and all these things for international ?? seems to be towards with the international play in mind and what have you; how do you think and what do you think of it in regards to women's basketball, is it necessary or not?
LYNN PARKES: Well, that's something that would be addressed through the issues committee and the rules committee. And I'm going to let Sue kind of take that one because I know she's been a part of the discussion more than likely.
SUE DONOHOE: You know, there was an effort to make that change, to extend the three?point line and then to widen the lane. There were some folks that were very much in favor of it, so many folks that were opposed to it. With the opposition opposed, those recommendations were pulled off the table, and it allows both the Men's and Women's Rules Committees to go back to the table, have further discussion, maybe put some experimental rules out there.
I think what you're seeing is, when you see a lot of the international play and a lot of our young student?athletes and coaches are participating in that international play, those that support it believe that extending the three?point line and it's only an extension of about no more than nine inches, so we're talking about like this (indicating), that that certainly was not as controversial as the widening of the lane. But I think those that support it believe that by widening the lane, that it will free up some of the rough post play that happens in the paint.
But where we are with it right now, the rules committees meet early May, and both the men's and women's rules committees will spend some significant time discussing it. They have done a great job of talking with the membership out in the coaches organizations to get a position on where the coaches are with it. So it's certainly a topic for discussion that they will have this spring and we'll see where the rules committee goes with it from there.
Q. Will both the men and the women have to agree on it or can it be one or the other?
SUE DONOHOE: It could be one or the other. I think ideally from a facility standpoint and a logistical standpoint and a commonality standpoint it makes sense. But certainly if the men feel like they need to make that change, they would. The men's and women's rules committee work very closely, they actually meet at the same time, they open up their meeting with a general session where they can identify common issues and areas that they need to discuss and then throughout that rules meeting our staff folks that work with them are back and forth so that they're talking about the same common points. So they will work on that together. But it's certainly not something they would have to decide collaboratively.
Q. You guys will decide the 2007 first and second round sites later this summer, is that correct?
LYNN PARKES: Yes.
DEBBIE BYRNE: And are all bids in already for those?
LYNN PARKES: Yes.
Q. Can you give me a feeling, are there many more bids similar to what Texas and Texas Tech did this past year as far as two schools together submitting a bid for a neutral site?
SUE DONOHOE: The bids that we received, we don't have a lot of that sort of model. I think that I had the opportunity to start the tournament out in Dallas. And I felt like there were some very strong points to the model that Texas and Texas Tech put together.
Certainly Dallas is a great city and they did a great job hosting. We don't have a lot of that, but I would say this: I think we have got a significant amount of interest from a lot of different institutions and conferences that are interested in hosting in 2007, 2008. I think someone asked me the number and we had 30?plus bids submitted. So that's, that gives us a good pool of institutions and facilities from which we can choose.
Q. When you say 30 host cities, is that for just the regionals or for first and second rounds as well.
SUE DONOHOE: First and second rounds. And we have got some folks that submitted bids both for first and second round and for regionals. Which is good, because it gives the committee some flexibility to distribute the tournament sites throughout the country. As Lynn referenced earlier, the opportunity for some of these sites to bid for two years we had a significant amount of interest in that from a Regional standpoint. And the step that the committees take on the move to neutral Regional sites in 2007, 2008, that's the next incremental step to get us to a totally neutral tournament.
Q. Sue, you kind of maybe answered the question a little bit, but in looking at the regionals, a lot of interest from cities trying to go back?to?back years and did you have to go out and ask cities to do this; did you solicit it or did cities come to you and say, "Hey, we're really wanting to do this back?to?back year thing."
SUE DONOHOE: You know what, we got great response. We didn't go out and solicit it. The cities and the facilities and hosts that submitted those bids, they understand what that can do for us. Because they understand by coming in and the effort that the committee does and the staff does in helping them prepare, they understand that instead of trying to build equity for one year, they have got about a two and a half year window there that they can build and they can market and grow and it's going to be exciting to see how it works out for us. But it's one of those steps that we think will have a good return and have good results.
Q. New Mexico has been one of the best regionals in terms of attendance. And they're going to be a regional if I understand it, next year, they're going to have it. Do you think in 2007 and beyond, a school like New Mexico will still be as interested in hosting regionals if they cannot ?? if from what I understand the Lobos couldn't appear there. Do you think that you'll still get that kind of interest from a school like that once it has to be a neutral site and their school can't appear there?
LYNN PARKES: Well, I think what you'll find is I think New Mexico will have some interest in doing that. I think we have some other sites that have a long history of hosting events. I think what you'll find is that institutions may find other locations that can be supported by that fan base that might not be on their home floor. And the way we have defined neutral sites is that institutions can play on that home, on that site no more than three times during the regular season, excluding the conference tournaments. So using Memphis as an example, if we play on campus and we wanted to host a Regional, we could go to the Fed Ex Forum and host it there because at this point we don't play more than three games in the forum. So there are ways to work through the system, meet their neutral site responsibility and still draw from a traditional fan base.
Q. Could you address what the advantages are from your standpoint of moving the announcement of the selections from Sunday to Monday?
LYNN PARKES: Well, we talked for a long time about whether to make that move or not. And ESPN came to us with the concept and they have been a wonderful television partner and have provided us with some opportunities that frankly have worked and developed the championship. In this particular case, they feel that we have an opportunity and we have come to the point where we agree with them, in that they're creating a situation where we will own the night. It will be our show, we have a guaranteed one?hour window. And we work through what we feel like were some of the hurdles that we didn't want to disadvantage teams in terms of travel and those sorts of things. We feel like that was part of the delay in not moving to that selection Monday, this weekend, to give us an opportunity to work through some of those things. So they also are working with the committee about some other initiatives that are included in this that will promote that, that will even bleed into the regular season and we feel like that the whole package will really be a great asset for women's basketball.
SUE DONOHOE: I would just add a couple of comments there. The commitment that ESPN has made to this women's championship over the last years has just been phenomenal and we sit here today with all 63 of our games telecast and that's a commitment from ESPN. ESPN is quick to say and I would agree, that this championship is one of their premier properties. And as Lynn mentioned, we have talked for a long time about this and it was a very difficult decision and we stayed at the negotiation table a long time, and we got up from that table and we came back a couple of times. But at the end of the day, when you're partner says let us take this and let this championship and this selection and let us give it the treatment and the exposure that it needs, that's when the committee felt like let's take that step. And then when essentially when ESPN came back and said, we understand that building regular season helps build championships. That was an important factor.
So it's been a long time in discussion and a lot of back and forth, but if we're going to continue to grow the championship, there is some risk and there's some good, good chances that you need to take and the committee feels like this is one that hopefully will set us apart and give us an identity, a place of our own.
Q. To follow it up, do you have an understanding from ESPN that they are going to increase their commitment to more regular season programming?
SUE DONOHOE: Yeah, absolutely. And there were some ?? the way that we rolled this information out, we went to the WBCA officers first, we went to their Board of Directors and then the first group of individuals that were aware that the decision had been made were our coaches. And we sent an e?mail blast out notifying our coaches immediately before anybody else knew. And several of the points in that informational piece was the commitment that ESPN is going to continue to make to the regular season. You saw some of those commitments this year that you might not have seen in the past. You had rivalry week. Well, we have always had, we had rivalry week on the men's side, but we saw it on the women's side. We had a February Frenzy. We had Challenge Week. So ESPN put some packages together that we have not had a part of on the women's side. And they have committed moving forward when we implement Selection Monday, they have made some commitments to regular season, because they understand how important the growth and exposure for regular season is. They have talked about some very specific things to us at this point. We will spend a great time with ESPN and their leadership team in late June and we will do a complete breakdown and they will talk us through exactly what their plans are. Likewise, the committee at that time will talk with them about, here are some expectations that not only does the committee have, but the entire women's basketball community has. Lynn and I just finished a couple hours ago a meeting with our Division I coaches, they had some things that they brought to us relative to regular season and we'll go right with ESPN and visit with them about that. The good thing that we have got with ESPN right now is we do have a partnership. And it is a developing partnership. And it's a growing relationship. They have the best interests of the championship in mind and certainly the committee does as well.
Q. Part and parcel to the Monday deal, if conferences want to take advantage and move their championships, everything finishes on Saturday into Sunday, would you encourage that or would you rather them stay where they are to give you more time now that you actually would have to work on the bracket.
LYNN PARKES: Well, I think that a lot of conferences will probably take that opportunity and in some cases I think it could give them a little bit more television opportunity. Although we would love to have that extra day, we feel like we can get it done in the amount of time that we have had. So we'll be glad to work with conferences.
SUE DONOHOE: We had quite a bit of support from conferences because we have got a lot of women's tournaments that take place, they begin on Wednesday with their early rounds, and Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Well, their attendance for their conference tournament suffers because of that. By virtue of our move to Selection Monday, that allows them to move their women's tournament a day later, and certainly they see increased attendance numbers over the weekend. So we hope that that's going to be beneficial from a conference tournament standpoint as well.
Q. I guess two questions. One, for this being, as you put it, Sue, I think a premier property for ESPN, women's basketball, were you disappointed that last night it went head to head with Yankees/Red Sox on another ESPN affiliate, first question. And second, what do you say to the west coast viewers and coaches and even the Mountain Time Zone, that now is going to have a four o'clock Monday afternoon selection show or five o'clock Monday, which is far from prime time.
LYNN PARKES: Well, we factored all that in as we weighed this out. And what the benefits were. Although we would love to all have a Sunday afternoon that we could have all together, by moving to Monday and at the end of the day we felt like that the benefits far outweighed the downside. And I know that the west coast folks will work with us. They're pretty creative folks and they will find ways to make it work as well.
SUE DONOHOE: And to speak to your first question, who won that ballgame.
SUE DONOHOE: Okay. Well, you know, as far as ESPN programming, we certainly were aware, I would saying ESPN feels this way and I think certainly the women's basketball community feels this way. You got Sunday night, you got the Yankees and the Sox and you got two of the best women's semi final games that you could have. I mean, that's a great Sunday night for sports fans.
LYNN PARKES: That's why they make split screens.
DEBBIE BYRNE: Okay. I'm going to let them go. Okay. Thank you very much.
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