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|| News Item: Posted 1999-04-08

March Madness
By Brian Baer, St. Petersburg Times

Who would have thought that UCONN would stun number one ranked Duke to win the Final Four? I guess would be March Blandness if all went to plan. I was the leader of the St. Petersburg Times sports action team assigned to cover the Final Four at Tropicana Field.

For me, it was my first time covering the Final Four. We had a total of five shooters - two on the floor, two overhead and one feature photographer roaming the stands - plus two outside the stadium. Inside we also had a lab tech and a picture editor for the digital stuff shot at the stadium. We shot a combination of film and digital.

My work in planning started in December 1998 when the NCAA came for a visit of the Trop during an exhibition USF basketball game. For the first time in the history of the Final Four the NCAA met with representatives of the different photo agencies and talked about our needs. Brian Horton (AP Sports Picture Editor), Rich Clarkson (NCAA Photos), Porter Binks (Sports Illustrated Associate Picture Editor), Mike Heffner (St. Petersburg Times Sports Picture Editor) and I spent about two hours discussing things like overhead shooting locations, remote camera possibilities, AP member work areas and film processing areas for AP, Allsport, Reuters and Sports Illustrated. New ground was broken by the NCAA, but the questions answered in December saved hours of frustration at the tournament.

The Trop has come a long way in a year since the regionals last year. Last year construction was continuing on expanding the stadium for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Everything was covered in construction dust and not everything was working, like escalators and bathrooms. Members of the media had great praise for the completed Tropicana Field this year. Everything was clean and working, the court lighting was brighter, and there were numerous restaurants to choose from.


I have nothing but praise for the big time shooters who have covered countless Final Fours. Thanks. Your advice and experience helped shape our coverage. Like Bob Rosato from Sports Illustrated who not only found a secure overhead shooting location, but allowed us to shoot next to him for the tournament. It did not have a view of the bench, but was a great spot for action on the floor and at the nets. The spot was so good that AP
muscled in there for the final game.

I do not have the experiences others may have but the shooting end of the tournament appeared to be organized. The NCAA had the floor locations set out correctly. Two rows deep, about 40 credentialed shooters on the floor. The biggest complaint was the Sporting News floor location was so close to the UCONN bench that he had to keep yelling at the players to move back so he could see down court.

There were only eight assigned overhead locations facing the benches. Each photographer had to sit on a folding chair on a walkway while shooting. Other overhead spots were managed with luck and pleading.

The AP members work area was close to the floor but only big blue event curtains separated the walkway from the work area. The film processors used by AP, Sports Illustrated and Knight Ridder were crammed into the laundry room of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Nikon was shoved into a shower area. Unless you knew they were there, you would have never found them.

Another down side was the media hotel was located in Tampa, about a 30-40 minute drive from the Trop. This is OK unless you get done transmitting at 2am after the final game. The good news is that it is closer to the nightlife, which is in Tampa and Ybor City. And the number one complaint, the FOOD!!!! I would rather pay $10 and have a good meal than chock down another hot dog left over from the Sweet 16 tournament. I guess the NCAA finally figured out that they can serve bad food and we would still show up.


On a more serious note...There were seven television cameras reportedly stolen during the Final Four. Some were smash and grabs from video guys who left their camera in their cars while having lunch. But some were taken from CBS trailers at the site. Be careful with your stuff.


Get there early and be prepared. You cant show up the day of practice and set up remote cameras and fight for a better shooting position. It is not going to happen. A couple of remote cameras that were placed under the press table after the NCAA walk through were removed by the NCAA. Get there early and place them. Technically, you are supposed to have permission from the NCAA before placing any remote cameras. I know it is common sense but check your phone lines. We had phone lines installed but were not working. Try getting that fixed at the last minute.

Speaking of remotes, Sports Illustrated set up 30 cameras to cover the
event. Both hand held and remotes. Their lead photo was taken with a hand held camera by Rich Clarkson (NCAA Photos) who has covered numerous Final Fours. Experience pays!

Keep in touch and keep after the people who hold your life in your hands, like the NCAA, with credentials, and AP, with darkroom space. If you establish relationships early and often, you'll end up (eventually) with what you need. We started in December 1998.

Keep up with the tournament. Know the teams and the players. We staffed 21 of 63 games, including all games from the Regional Semi finals on. Each of the four action shooters went to one of the regionals. We knew the teams and the players by the time they made it to St. Petersburg.

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Rick says: "Stop Complaining!" ::..