It's more than just a game for the NCAA

March Madness aside, comms efforts focus on community, academics, and off-court activities

March madness has taken over the country – at the water cooler, on TVs and computer screens, and at universities across the nation. But to make March more than just a month of college basketball games, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) PR and media relations team is promoting local community events that are taking place from April 3-5 in Detroit, the host city for the Final Four.

The NCAA communications staff is working with the Detroit Local Organizing Committee (DLOC) to do on-the-ground outreach to raise awareness about the Big Dance concert and other events. Internally, the communications team is split into two divisions: an overall NCAA public and media relations (PMR) team and a specific men's basketball media coordination team.

“The way it works when it comes to championships like the Final Four, is there is a demarcation in what we do versus what the media coordinator does,” says Chuck Wynne, director of communication strategy for the NCAA. “[The media coordinator] works men's basketball 365 days a year.”

The NCAA, despite being founded in 1906, didn't have a separate public and media relations function until about 11 years ago, Wynne adds. The division has been growing ever since.

For March Madness, Wynne and his 13-person PMR team work with David Worlock, associate director for the Division 1 Men's Basketball Championship, and the media coordination team of 18 that handles credentialing, press conferences, and interviews for key players in the NCAA Tournament. Demand is high for Michael Slive, chairman of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, as well as coaches and student-athletes.

“We in PMR, we're there to assist,” says Wynne. “But our main goal is to answer the big-picture questions and issues that come up about NCAA men's basketball in general.”

The Final Four has grown from a straightforward basketball tournament into an entire weekend of events and activities in the local community, Worlock says.

“A large part of our focus is what we're doing to make a difference and what can we provide the community in terms of activities and long-term benefits,” he explains. “It has become more and more a focus each year.”

To bolster its efforts this year, the NCAA is working with the DLOC and a PR committee led by Kurt Kosmowski, owner of The Kosmowski Group, who is “our eyes and ears on the ground,” Wynne says. Marx Layne PR also assists the NCAA with media relations for Final Four weekend events.

Kosmowski says the DLOC uses a mix of traditional media relations and grassroots outreach to spread the word about the programs and activities associated with college basketball's big weekend. The Final Four also has a Web site, in addition to March Madness On Demand, where fans can watch games online.

Another NCAA message point is making sure academics are emphasized as much as athletics. The organization has PSAs reminding sports fans that “there are more than 400,000 student-athletes and most of them will go pro in something other than sports.” That message is reinforced through local events, such as the Middle School Madness Essay and Poster Contest in Detroit this year.

“The thread that runs through everything we do is academics tied to athletics,” explains Wynne. “We want to make sure people understand that we're about academics and student-athlete well-being. We're about [how] what happens on the court can be as educational as what you learn in a classroom.”

While the NCAA and DLOC's focus is mainly local, there is still no denying that March Madness is a nationwide event.

“On a national scale, [the games] are going to be on CBS and [the network] starts promoting them early,” Wynne says of the broadcast partner for all NCAA Tournament men's basketball games. “In terms of games, we feel like [PR for] that is taken care of.

We want to let the locals know that this is more than just basketball games. We want to leave a footprint.”

At a glance

Organization: National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)

President: Myles Brand

Headquarters: Indianapolis, IN

Key Titles: All mediums of national, regional, and local news, school newspapers, higher education publications

Comms Budget: Undisclosed

PR Team: Chuck Wynne, NCAA director of comms strategy; David Worlock, associate director, NCAA Men's Basketball; Bob Williams, MD, NCAA public and media relations; Erik Christianson, director, NCAA media relations; Gail Dent, Jennifer Kearns, Stacey Osburn, Cameron Schuh, all are associate directors, NCAA public and media relations

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