2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship: Check out NCAA.com coverage
NCAA Insider: In the news: March 22. Read more »
By Fred Demarest
He brought the sport coat with him to be safe.
Turner's Ernie Johnson (left) and John Adams, national coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, on the air.
And shortly before 10 p.m. on Saturday night, John Adams, the national coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, donned his jacket and became a focal point of the NCAA’s commitment to better educate viewers.
Shortly after the end of Butler’s thrilling third-round victory over Pittsburgh in the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, the phones started to ring. A pair of fouls called in the final seconds provided the potential for controversy and debate.
“You see the Butler foul and you’re listening to the talent and you’re thinking, ‘This could be a story,’ ” said Adams, in his third year in the role. "I don't think the Pitt-Butler game was over five minutes before my cell started going off with everybody wanting to know what we thought of the end of the game. I probably got texts and e-mails from 10 or 20 media sources within five or 10 minutes.”
Adams was in Atlanta as part of the NCAA’s Command Center, a group that included NCAA staff and Division I Men’s Basketball Committee chair Gene Smith monitoring the activity from all eight first-weekend sites at one location. Within five minutes of the game’s conclusion, new partner Turner Broadcasting System wanted Adams to come on its set to discuss the chain of events and put them in the proper context. Adams and NCAA Interim Executive Vice President Greg Shaheen conferred and then started the walk to the Turner studios.
NCAA Interim Executive Vice President Greg Shaheen.
“The Association had an opportunity to be clearer,” Shaheen said. “We’re trying to create an entire experience from A-Z, to the crowning of a national champion, and this made sense to have the head of officials come on to discuss certain calls.”
Saturday night’s visit to the studio set wouldn’t be Adams’ last of the weekend. After the conclusion of the North Carolina-Washington game Sunday, Adams was once again asked to clarify the mechanics of a timing decision in the final second.
Shaheen makes it clear, however, the intent is not to develop another on-air personality. Instead, the opportunity is to use the resources available through the NCAA’s broadcast partnership with Turner and CBS to provide the most accurate and educational viewing experience possible.
“John is perhaps the latest reluctant face; he didn’t take the job to do this,” Shaheen said. “I told John leading up to this year’s tourney to bring a sport coat and there may be a circumstance where he had to talk about a play. These plays are going to happen − we’re all human − but I think we have an obligation to explain these plays to viewers as best as we possibly can.”
The ability to put Adams quickly into this role is one of the benefits of the Command Center. The genesis of it dates to 2003 when Shaheen devised a one-stop shop to monitor the activities of all eight first-weekend sites as competition overlapped with the start of the war with Iraq. The ability to communicate with each of the eight venues and monitor activities paid immediate dividends.
“It became accidentally self-evident that a one room set up with computers, phones, feeds from each of the sites was far more practical,” Shaheen said.
Traditionally set in Indianapolis, the Command Center moved to Atlanta this year after the establishment of the NCAA’s new arrangement with Turner and CBS. With Shaheen, Adams and Smith among those monitoring each game over the first weekend of the tournament, the opportunity and proximity to Turner’s studio proved useful.
Adams acknowledged several close plays over the opening weekend, but he emphasized that his officials performed well.
"We've had 52 games, and I think we're really only talking about plays in two or three of the games,” said Adams. "I would tell you I'm very pleased so far. We always strive to get all of them right in every game, and we'll keep trying to do that."