Just minutes after the women's basketball team fell in the National Championship game to Maryland April 4, head coach Gail Goestenkors and seniors Monique Currie and Mistie Williams trudged into the NCAA-mandated press conference in the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.
Choking back tears, the three dutifully answered questions from reporters and then returned back to the Blue Devils' locker room. By NCAA rules, the locker room was required to be open to media after a 20-minute "cool down" period following the end of the game. With several players crying and nearly all still in their game uniforms, Duke was required to keep its doors open for half an hour before the Blue Devils could commiserate among themselves.
"You're dealing with raw emotions," Goestenkors said. "You have no time to collect yourself and then all of a sudden there are a bunch of microphones in your face. It makes for good media because people like the human drama, but it makes it really difficult on 18- and 19-year old kids to deal with that."The current amount of media responsibility coaches and players are required to fulfill at NCAA basketball tournaments is one of a few issues Duke head coaches Goestenkors and Mike Krzyzewski raised during and after this year's tournaments.
When the men's team beat Southern in Greensboro March 16 in the first round of the tournament, it was after midnight by the time the game had ended. The matchup was slated for a 9:40 p.m. start time, but the previous game on the same court ran long and delayed Duke's start.
At the press conference following the game, Krzyzewski was joined on the podium by freshmen Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus, rather than usual team spokesmen J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams. Redick and Williams were among four Blue Devils who were asked by the NCAA to submit samples for drug tests shortly after the game had finished.
Krzyzewski said he thought the situation was unfair to his players as it disrupted the team's routine.
"I don't think you should have the drug test if you have the late game, you should have them some other time," Krzyzewski said. "I'm not sure you should have the typical press conference either."
Krzyzewski went on to joke that the press conference was for the media markets in "Hawaii and Guam" because deadlines had already passed for most of the East coast media. Krzyzewski did not specifically blame the NCAA event organizers, however.
"The NCAA, the people who were there were great-they said 'We're going to look into that,'" Krzyzewski said. "You're always looking to improve the experience the student athletes will have."
Each year, the NCAA performs an evaluation of the men's and women's tournaments and how they affected the student athletes, said Susan Donohoe, NCAA vice president for Division I women's basketball. Student athletes and coaches of all participating institutions are asked to fill out surveys.
In addition, the NCAA holds long video conferences with the schools that make the Final Four in both tournaments. Administrators surrounding Duke's women's basketball program are scheduled to participate in one in the coming weeks.
"On an annual basis we look at where we are, how can we look to grow and all the issues during and surrounding the game," Donohoe said. "Just about every decision we make we talk about the student-athlete experience."
Donohoe said among the issues considered when making tournament arrangements are missed class time for players, media demands, television contracts and attendance.
Goestenkors expressed concern with the travel and media demands placed on her team during its run to the National Championship game. Duke's win in the Elite Eight over Connecticut in Bridgeport, Conn. did not tip off until after 9:30 p.m. and did not end until almost two and a half hours later.
The Blue Devils finally returned to Durham at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning-just in time for some of the players to get ready for their morning classes. Slightly more than 48 hours later, Duke was back on a plane travelling to Boston Friday morning to begin prepping for the Final Four weekend.
"You would hope there's a better balance," Goestenkors said, acknowledging that the lucrative television contracts often dictate game starting times. "First and foremost for us are academics. Duke is not an easy school. It's not like we can miss so much class and have the players just bounce right back from it."
This year marked the fourth consecutive season that ESPN broadcasted all 63 games of the women's tournament. In order to reduce television conflicts with the men's tournament, the first two weekends of the women's tournament are played Saturday through Tuesday, and the women's Final Four games are Sunday and Tuesday. Of its six NCAA Tournament games this year, Duke played three Sunday night and the other three Tuesday night.
Prior to the 2003 women's tournament, the NCAA changed a rule so that the top 16 seeds were no longer allowed to play sub-regional games on their home courts. The women's tournament is now modeled after the men's with several pre-determined sub-regional sites. The shift has caused increased travel for top teams.
Coaches want their teams to be on television to increase exposure and desire neutral sites to create a more fair tournament. But both developments have made things more difficult on teams, Goestenkors said.
"All that we want to do as coaches and players is play," Goestenkors said. "However, we need to help promote our sport. I think people would be shocked if they understood how much is required of coaches and players that has nothing to do with playing the games-ESPN interviews, commercials, media interviews, press conferences, open locker rooms. It's extremely fatiguing."
Goestenkors, like Krzyzewski, did not want a complete overhaul of postseason procedures but rather for the NCAA to take a closer look at streamlining various aspects surrounding the tournament. For example, both coaches recommended shorter time for media availability.
The NCAA is listening. Before this season, the day and time of commercial shoots for the women's Final Four teams were moved because of the recommendations from last year's participants, Donohoe said.
"With being a tournament team, there are a lot of demands-they don't call it 'madness' for nothing," Donohoe said. "Do I feel like there's a large push to make a change? No, not necessarily."
"These are issues we're certainly very sensitive to," she added. "We'll listen to coach and student athlete feedback and see how it can be made better."
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