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End-of-semester life lessons as important as journalism fundamentals

It’s always a good indication the semester is coming to a close when I start to get emails from anxious seniors asking what their overall grades look like and what they can do to pump them up, since those transcripts will be going off to law school admissions offices pretty soon. One time, a senior came to me crying, because she had never earned a B in a class as part of her major, and she was in danger of getting – horrors! – a B-plus in my class. The directive was simple: kill it on the final project, and you should keep your winning streak alive. (She did.)

While it’s important for students, particularly upperclassmen, to complete their work in ways that assure them the best marks they can secure, it’s just as important for them to learn some skills that will serve them in the working world. For journalists, that means the ability to dig for information, interview respectfully but thoroughly, organize facts and present them in entertaining ways.

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Big Ten media rights negotiations will tell us plenty

No matter how much ACC and – especially – SEC coaches whine and complain about Jim Harbaugh’s summer satellite camps on their turf, there can be no denying his influence on the college football world. The Wolverines remain on the outskirts of title contention, but Harbaugh’s behavior has attracted considerable attention, particularly when he chooses to conduct his maneuvers south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

While Harbaugh leads the band and keeps U-M and the rest of the Big Ten in the headlines, there is a lesser-known bit of activity happening involving the conference that will have even more impact than Harbaugh’s creative recruiting methods.

The Big Ten has begun soliciting offers for its media rights, and that means companies like ESPN, Fox and CBS will have to start searching between their couch cushions and busting open their piggy banks to make sure they have enough money to land the biggest contract in the college athletics world.

The conference has a unique, tri-partisan approach to its rights, thanks to its football deals with ESPN and Fox, not to mention its agreement with CBS for assorted men’s basketball games. By assembling a top-flight aggregation, the Big Ten was able to become the top-grossing league 10 years ago, when it last negotiated its deals. Since that time, the SEC, ACC and Pac-12 have all jetted past the Big Ten and are each raking in more than $3 billion a year from their various partners and conference-specific networks.

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ESPN’s Warriors infatuation rolls on toward playoffs

It wouldn’t be at all surprising if there is champagne cooling somewhere at ESPN’s headquarters in anticipation of Golden State’s winning Wednesday to set an NBA record for most victories in a season. Should the Warriors subdue Memphis, which they snuck past in Tennessee Saturday night, they will reach 73 triumphs and surpass the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. That occurrence may not necessarily spawn another “Michael Jordan crying” meme, but it will send the folks in Bristol into spasms of joy.

As if they could get any more excited than they have been about the team since late October.

This has been the season of Golden State for ESPN, which made a decision before the season to cover the Warriors with a fervor previously unknown to the media. Those who were disgusted by the media conglomerate’s “Heat Index” during LeBron James’ first year in Miami must be completely irate at the treatment ESPN has given the Warriors during the 2015-16 campaign. Five years ago, the company’s handling of the Heat included devoting a full-time reporter to the squad, televising as many games as possible – and then some – and tracking practically every move of James and his high-profile teammates, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Things are even more extreme this year. ESPN has added four extra Warriors games to the 10 it is contractually allowed to broadcast, a new record. The NBA is more than happy to direct its most popular team to the largest audience possible, so it has had little problem going beyond the limit.

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Final Four mayhem offers lessons for college newspaper

One of the goals of the current editorial administration of The Villanovan is to increase both its website and social media presences. It’s interesting that a demographic that doesn’t pay much attention to print media needs to be prodded to explore other delivery methods of its news, but it seems that many students take the term “college newspaper” quite seriously and often must be convinced that it is important to break with tradition.

This year’s editors at Villanova are committed to enhancing the paper’s ability to bring information to students and other university constituencies and have taken some significant steps toward that end. Over the past couple weeks, they have received a substantial assist.

Despite VU’s tremendous business school, long tradition of producing skilled nursing professionals, rejuvenated law school, and, of course, its all-star lineup of communication department adjuncts, many know it simply as “a basketball school.” That is just fine with the admissions folks, who no doubt experience a spike in applications every time the Wildcats post a successful season. Some of the elbow-patch types might not be too keen on that, since no serious academician wants to think kids choose their college based on winning percentage, rather than scholastic pedigree. It’s a fact that success on the court – or football field – creates excitement that translates to applications and donations.

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NFL uses all weapons in battle with New York Times

Earlier this semester, a student asked me why he had seen on a SportsCenter broadcast an advertisement for a sporting event to be shown on NBC. It didn’t make any sense that ESPN would allow a competitor to promote its programming.

As it turns out, the folks in Bristol couldn’t control the commercial, because it was running on a Comcast cable outlet. Comcast owns NBCUniversal, and it shows ads for its own products throughout the day, no matter what the channel. ESPN may not have liked that an NBC event was being pushed toward viewers during SC, but it had no say over what Comcast did on its delivery system.

Imagine how confused people were late last week when they clicked on the New York Times’ article questioning the NFL’s research on concussions and found banner ads across the top of the story inviting people to learn more about how the league was “advancing player safety on and off the field.” Here was a detailed investigation of the NFL’s alleged unwillingness to pursue player safety, and it was topped by an invitation by the league to learn how it was in fact committed to protecting its participants. What’s next, ads for “Real Housewives of Topeka” during “Masterpiece Theater”?

I’m not interested right now on which side is right on this, although hearing owners Jimmy Irsay and Jerry Jones minimizing the potential dangers of the sport makes one wonder whether the NFL is truly committed to minimizing the long-term effects of repeated blows to the head.

What’s more interesting is how the NFL is fighting back against the Times.

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ESPN remote broadcasts shortchange women’s NCAA tournament

Verne Lundquist may not be as precise with his game calls as he was 10 or 15 years ago, but what you want, the guy is 75 years old. Still, he remains a familiar and welcome voice on CBS and Turner’s NCAA men’s tournament coverage, and it was fun to listen to him and Jim Spanarkel broadcast the action from Brooklyn over the weekend. And, make no mistake, Lundquist and Spanarkel were at Barclays Center, as viewers were able to see plainly during pre, post and in-game shots of the pair during games played on Friday and Sunday.

Few people in the country watch games because of the broadcasters. The days of people turning on Monday Night Football just to hate Howard Cosell are long gone. The action is the thing, and people want to know who wins and who loses, not how the announcers describe things. During the NCAA tournament, the excitement is such that the men behind the microphones provide a soundtrack to the Madness, but they don’t make the event. Upsets, improbable stars and last-second shots rule the tournament.

It does help, however, that they are on site and able to describe all of the craziness – on and off the court. Put it together and you have some of the most compelling television around.

When it comes to the NCAA women’s hoops tournament, ESPN doesn’t feel that the equation must be so complete.

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CBS elongated Selection Sunday show big disaster

One of the best bits of unintended comedy in the past several weeks came Sunday when CBS asked Charles Barkley to pick first-round games in one of the NCAA tournament brackets on the network’s brand new touch-screen toy. It was obvious that no producer had spent some time priming Sir Charles on the device, because the Hall of Fame forward spent five minutes messing things up, to the delight of his on-set colleagues and no doubt the dismay of those in charge of the show.

Some weren’t happy with Barkley’s performance, but in a show that was positively excruciating to watch, it served as a welcome respite. If CBS and Turner were smart, they would put Barkley in front of a new piece of technology every night and watch as he fumbles about trying to master it. The beauty of that is Barkley doesn’t care. He is confident enough to provide some levity, thanks to his outstanding basketball resume and huge popularity among viewers.

It’s unlikely the networks will do anything like that, because after Sunday’s debacle, it’s clear they have no concept of what people want. Instead of rolling out the NCAA tourney pairings in a half-hour format or even extending a little beyond that, CBS decided to stretch the process into a two-hour window, infuriating fans who wanted answers, not “analysis.”

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