By Chris Daley
For this blog I thought it was fitting to speak to someone who is a media relations veteran in the world of high-profile college athletics, and who has been behind the scenes of several Division I NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournaments.
Doug Tammaro is a native of Ellwood City, Pa., and graduated from Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, in 1991. He has worked at the University of Cincinnati (1991-92), Notre Dame (1992-93) and Arizona State (1993 to present). Doug is currently Athletic Media Relations Director at Arizona State University (ASU). He and his wife Stephanie, an Arizona State graduate who also thinks she is an offensive coordinator, have two girls, Arianna (7) and Miquela (3).
CD: As a media relations manager for a Division I men's basketball team, what becomes your top priority when the team makes it to the Big Dance? Do you discuss a media strategy with the coaches/players/staff prior to the tournament? If so, what guidelines do you stick by?
DT: I think it varies from school to school and year to year. A team like UCONN, which has a ton of media following them daily and has been to the tournament numerous times recently, would have a different agenda than Arizona State or Washington State. The main point you want to get across in this day and age it to look, sound and show you are excited to be there because so many people are watching your every move. It sounds simple, but there are some many things going through a coach’s mind at the time that they might forget that every move and sound bite gets legs in this day and age.
For the players, I always tell them to remember Mom and Grandma will be looking at them, so make them proud. And then or course we give them a couple of things to know about the opponent and prep them with what questions are coming. At that point it is important to remember that you are a “new” story at the site. Your local media get the up-to-date stuff during the week, but in 2009, for example, it was important for James Harden to not be bored with the question of why did you pick Arizona State for or for Herb Sendek to understand that someone might ask him why he left N.C. State for Arizona State in the spring of 2006. Those people at the press conferences don’t cover you every day. They cover you once a year at most.
CD: You've been on the NCAA Basketball Final Four Communications Committee since 2005. What specifically is the committee in charge of and what duties have you performed over the years?
DT: Basically, a crew of about six SIDs from across the country do whatever David Worlock of the NCAA says. That includes the seating chart, credentials, helping CBS, escorting coaches and players, etc. The media demands for the team and players are amazing for such a two-day span (Thursday and Friday before the games) as there is CBS, NCAA Productions, ESPN, big press-conferences, smaller press conferences, Westwood One Radio, and of course the everyday media. What is amazing is up until two years ago we got all this done on Friday. Can't see how we did it. The CBS time slot (an hour for each team) has turned into a mini-movie set. It is great stuff and projects well on someone's HD-TV but the time spent behind it is amazing. The folks at CBS take a lot of pride in making it bigger and better each year.
CD: You had an internship at the University of Cincinnati in 1992 when the basketball team faced the University of Michigan and their "Fab Five." What was that experience like as someone new in collegiate athletic media relations on such a big stage? What did you learn that season during your internship?
DT: That year was amazing. Personally, I was very lucky in that with a small media relations office I had a lot of duties with the basketball team during the year so being a main contact at the Final Four was not overwhelming. The Fab Five was amazing, but in this day and age of social media, Twitter and Facebook, I am not sure how it could have been handled back then. That season personally allowed me to see what college basketball on the big stage was like and all that goes into it. Almost 20 years later I am thankful for the opportunities that Bob Huggins, Tom Hathaway (Cincinnati SID) and John Bianco (Cincinnati SID and current Assistant AD at Texas) allowed me to have, with a nod to Nick Van Exel for making a bunch of key buckets that year.
CD: What's it like to be working with a team that's "On the Bubble" prior to the NCAA Tournament? Does increased positive media attention help your team's chances of getting in?
DT: To be honest, it is draining, time consuming and believe it or not...very fun. You go to sleep hoping your team's RPI doesn't turn out to be the reason you RIP. More media attention cannot hurt your case, but in a way there is so much information out there it is overwhelming. Case in point this year was Colorado. The second they beat Kansas State for the third time, everyone assumed they were in. Folks started talking about the holes in their "resume" and basically questioning scheduling. That part is tough. For us in 2007-08, we had a great season by all standards, but had to listen to the selection chair defend the NCAA Committee not taking Arizona State because of a bad non-conference schedule. But behind the scenes, Illinois and Princeton had their worst seasons and we played both of them. So did ASU just pick a bunch of bad teams to play? No. But it is hard to project all of that.
The numbers such as RPI, SOS, record vs. top-100...it can blow you away. What you don't want to happen is to have your kids enter a game thinking about being a bubble team. But kids watch TV. They read the internet. You can't stop them. So I think all you can do is try to make it a positive that your team is fighting for a chance to play in March Madness. When you win, you brag about all those numbers. When you lose, you look at the scores of other bubble teams and hope they had a bad night as well. Sounds terrible, but that is the world of bubble teams. Only way to avoid it is to win more games.
CD: With social media tools such as Twitter growing in popularity, how do you think Athletic Departments are adjusting to this trend? What people/outlets do you think might be the best sources to follow for updates throughout this year's NCAA tournament?
DT: Jeff Goodman of foxsports.com is very, very, very good. He is the most underrated one out there. Folks know about Andy Katz, Seth Davis and a few others because of who they work for and they are top-notch, but Jeff is very good from an outlet that doesn't cover college hoops as much as the others. Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News has been doing this for a long time and always is ahead of the curve.
Twitter is amazing for the Tournament. I have found out that when a TV is not possible, Twitter is better than a play-by-play from an official stats feed. Athletic Departments, and mainly personnel in the department, are learning Twitter is an amazing tool. I don't think it is going away anytime soon. We all have to embrace it. The interesting thing is now media relations people are figuring out we can be newsmakers and have an opinion as well. I think SIDs in a professional manner need to have more of an opinion for athletics if they have the experience and knowledge.
CD: Who do you have in the Final Four this year and which team from the Pac-10 do you think will go the furthest in the tournament?
DT: My Sun Devil fans will hate me, but I think Arizona is a Sweet 16 team. Derrick Williams is very good and I am not breaking any news on that. But Arizona shoots free throws very well and shoots a lot of them. Not playing in front of 14,000 red and blue fans won't slow them down in my eyes. I despise when people pick a bracket and pick all four No. 1 seeds, so I am going with Ohio State, UCONN, Louisville and my hometown Pitt Panthers. Pitt over Ohio State in the title game because Pittsburgh always beats Ohio teams (that is my black and gold Steeler blood coming out in a college hoops forum). By the way, if UCONN goes to title game it breaks modern-day NCAA record with 41 games played on the year. Figured I would give you a typical media relations note to end your Q&A.
Chris Daley is Senior Account Executive at Maroon PR. Contact him at Chris@MaroonPR.com or on Twitter at @ChrisDaley43