In early January, the Big South Conference announced a contest that would send one lucky twitter follower to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to watch the Big South Conference Basketball Championships from press row. The league office suggested participants tweet (including pictures and videos) about men's and women's basketball games as well as basketball headlines from around the league. The participant that engaged in the promotion and actively included the hashtag "#BSCHoopNation," would be granted the title "#BSCHoopNation Guest Reporter" at the championships (including full media access).
I was fortunate enough to win the contest. I read the fine print of the contest and started to tweet about Big South hoops more frequently than I usually do. I gave extra attention to Longwood University (my alma mater) but I shared the spotlight with all twelve of the Big South schools. Every once in a while, I would post pictures of game action or me watching the Big South Network on my laptop, cell phone, and/or tablet. That was important as well because the Big South Network was free to all users for the first time in Big South history.
I really enjoyed the contest portion of the promotion because I typically watch a lot of the Big South action anyway. I can proudly say I watched all 12 men's league teams multiple times this season. Considering it was Longwood's second year in the conference, I really enjoyed learning more about our peer institutions and basketball programs. Watching so much Big South basketball throughout the year definitely helped me appreciate other programs more but it also intensified my rivalry with others.
As for my visit to South Carolina, it was unforgettable. It is important to understand that I was fortunate enough to do student radio and broadcast Longwood basketball action while I was a student. With that being said, the awesome view from press row wasn't something that was new to me but it was something I took for granted while in college and I was excited to get another opportunity to take in a game from the hardwood. The vantage point did not disappoint as I watched some of the better basketball games that I've ever witnessed live.
My fiancée and I arrived in Myrtle Beach on Thursday night. The Big South covered my hotel accommodations as well as admission into all tournament games between Friday (men's quarterfinals) and Sunday (men's and women's finals). Also, meals were provided at 10:45am and 4:45pm in the media/hospitality area of the HTC Center so I had very few expenses (travel costs from Virginia to South Carolina was my primary expense).
On Friday, I arrived to the HTC Center about 45 minutes before the tip of the first quarterfinal men's game. In a lot of ways, this game was the highlight of the weekend. It was my first game on press row in more than 4 years. It was a back and forth affair. The two schools, High Point and Winthrop, took it to the wire in dramatic fashion. For those of you who didn't see it, Winthrop had the lead in the last minute of the game but High Point got ahead on a jumper with about 6 seconds remaining. Winthrop immediately inbounded the ball and frantically ran up the court before Andre Smith heaved a shot with three High Point defenders around him. Swish! It went in and as you can imagine, bedlam ensued. I thought to myself "this is what March Madness is all about." The arena was abuzz and I knew I was in for some great mid-major hoops action.
The second and third days of my stay were equally as cool. The game action was just as exciting as the first day. On top of that, I was able to tour the television trucks of ESPN and Webstream Sports. I was able to take a look at the men's and women's basketball offices in the arena. The media room was another special privilege that I enjoyed as I was able to rub shoulders with media personnel from all around the Big South.
I joined in on Fan Fest in the concourse of the HTC Center. The Big South provided events for families and individuals to partake in between games. Putt-putt was a popular attraction as well as a miniature basketball shooting game. Fans could design signs in the concourse as well. The Big South offered all the supplies you could ask for. The tournament champion's trophy was on full display for most of the tournament and fans could take pictures with it. You could buy pictures of the game action minutes after they were captured. Even the media timeout and halftime entertainment was fun to watch. The pep bands of each school kept the atmosphere lively and the spirit squads were equally as influential.
With my credentials, I could go wherever the real media could go (basically anywhere). The administration of the Big South was more than hospitable. I was personally introduced to the commissioner, Kyle Kallander, within minutes of arriving. The staff answered my questions, gave me background information that I was not previously aware of, showed me how the Big South Network works, gave me a crash course on web-streaming with Webstream Sports, and so many other things. They gave me the freedom to explore the entire HTC Center and allowed me to have a really good time. Even though they were super busy with their own tasks, they were more than willing to help and they genuinely seemed excited to have me in attendance.
The coolest moments for me were probably the trophy ceremony and the cutting down of the nets. I was able to capture those moments on my twitter account and I honestly thought it was the neatest content I captured the entire weekend. Even though my Lancers weren't around, I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of the post tournament ceremonies. It was neat to see each and every player climb the ladder and cut off one of the coolest souvenirs in sports.
Feel free to check out my twitter feed (@Depot51). I posted approximately 75 pictures/Vines along with countless game observations. Some of the posts are pretty neat considering you typically don't see it on television. The behind the scenes aspect of the promotion is what I really focused on with my coverage. I wanted fans to see what it was like to attend a tournament. Considering I had never been to a Division I conference tournament before, I feel like I provided some good perspective. Some of the shots are normal basketball shots, but I tried to be creative with others. All in all, I feel like I accomplished what the Big South wanted in that I showed fans what the television cameras aren't able to show you.
As a fan of a team that didn't have a conference to call home while I was a student, I've always been appreciative of what the Big South does as a conference. I now have a much bigger appreciation for what they are able to accomplish on a daily basis. The effort that goes into getting games streamed live surprised me. It blew my mind how much work (physical, mental, and technical) really goes into getting these games to the masses. Especially in the mid-major conferences, it's usually a few people doing the work of many. I stayed busy and logged a couple of 12 hour days myself but the Big South folks were there several hours before me and left a few hours after me. The tournament as a whole was a great and memorable experience. There is no doubt that I'll be going back in the coming years.