Method to my madness: My NCAA Tournament experience helped shape me as a journalist
I never thought one of the best experiences of my life would be traced back to a faulty credit card.
I was set to go to Cancun, Mexico on spring break this past year, but a credit card snafu put the trip in jeopardy. It turned out the trip wasn’t paid for and my spot at the hotel wasn’t reserved anymore. Before I knew it, I was locked out and unable to go on spring break.
But I wasn’t upset in the slightest. Yes, I would have enjoyed waking up to a drink in hand while sitting on a beachfront. But I enjoyed sitting courtside at an NCAA Tournament game much more.
The Buffalo men’s basketball team reached its first-ever NCAA Tournament this past March after defeating Central Michigan in the Mid-American Conference Championship game.
After covering Buffalo’s conference championship run in Cleveland I traveled to Columbus, Ohio with two photographers and a fellow writer to cover what nearly every college sports journalist dreams of covering: a “March Madness” game.
It was too surreal at first. I kept thinking to myself that I didn’t deserve to be in the position I was in. I was relatively new to the sports journalism field and many alumni at The Spectrum would have killed to be in my spot.
But I wasn’t complaining. March Madness is one of my favorite sporting events of the year. I was ecstatic to be covering a tournament game, let alone the first-ever game for the team I covered for the entirety of the season. I made sure I left Columbus with stories and inconceivable experiences from that weekend.
It began the night before the game when I received an email from the coordinator of the tournament. The email stated that all media would be given a seat, but he could not promise it would be courtside. The staff at Nationwide Arena constructed a makeshift table in the nosebleed section for the remaining media members.
At the time, I was convinced The Spectrum would be seated in the bleacher section. And for good reason, too. There were representatives from The New York Times, Associated Press, The Buffalo News and other prestigious national news outlets attending the game. Why would two college journalists receive precedence over them?
Humbled, yet partially irritated for the possible seat location, I walked into Nationwide Arena roughly two hours before the game began and instantly went to the court to explore. As Buffalo came on the floor for pregame warm-ups, I found my seat: the closest seat near the Buffalo bench, right behind where former head coach Bobby Hurley stood the entire game.
It was too surreal to believe, but it began to settle in as I observed Buffalo’s pregame routine – a few shooting drills for the players and stoic silence from Hurley, who sat on the bench with headphones plugged in for the majority of the pregame.
The game itself was everything I thought it was going to be. The one part I couldn’t predict was a tie with less than three minutes remaining in the game. Buffalo’s energy had propelled them to the tournament game, but I thought its energy would succumb to West Virginia. To my surprise, the Bulls rallied. To an even bigger surprise, graduated forward Xavier Ford hit a game-tying 3-pointer that electrified a huge crowd that was pulling for the Mountaineers for most of the game.
In the end, it didn’t matter that Buffalo lost. It didn’t matter that it was potentially the last time I would see Hurley coach (which it turned out to be). It didn’t matter that I had friends from all over the country calling me during the game saying they saw me on television for a brief moment.
What mattered was learning my position as a journalist. Before I found out I would go to Columbus to cover the game, I was under the impression that college journalists are second-rate to professionals. I learned that isn’t the case.
It didn’t matter which publication the journalists came from. At the end of the day, all of us were there to cover the tournament, no matter what our different accolades were.
College journalists are capable of working with professionals while excelling in the process. Of all the professionals I met that weekend, none of them treated me like a student. I was their equal.
Jordan Grossman is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org