Final Four and NCAA and Indiana Sports Corp. and Sporting Events and College Sports and Sports Business

NCAA faces firestorm after replacing Shaheen

April 12, 2012

The NCAA has endured a public flogging for two days since it announced that it would replace Greg Shaheen as its chief of championship events, which includes the just-ended March Madness basketball tournaments.

Since Tuesday, fans and prominent journalists have fired off more than 150 messages on Twitter either blasting the Indianapolis-based NCAA or praising Shaheen, who had overseen all 89 of the NCAA’s championships—on an interim basis—since August 2010.

Greg ShaheenGreg Shaheen

But Shaheen had run the NCAA biggest show, the men’s basketball tournament, for more than a decade—including negotiating the mammoth $11 billion TV contract for the tournament with CBS and Turner Broadcasting.

Broadcasters Billy Packer and Dick Vitale called the NCAA’s decision “sad” and a “bad move” in Twitter messages. Duke University Coach Mike Krzyzewski told CBSSports.com that Shaheen’s removal is a “huge loss for our game.” And reporters for CBS and ESPN—the two main broadcasters of NCAA championship events—tweeted that the decision was “puzzling,” idiotic,” and a “damn shame.”

Replacing Shaheen will be Mark Lewis, a former sponsorship executive for NBC and the U.S. Olympic Committee, who most recently was president of New Jersey-based sports hospitality firm Jet Set Sports.

It’s not clear if Shaheen will remain with the NCAA. In a statement issued Tuesday by the NCAA, Lewis said, “Greg and I will be meeting over the next several days to discuss his role with the NCAA moving forward.”

The NCAA made no further comments about Shaheen. And Shaheen has declined to be interviewed about the change. He has, however, made comments supportive of the NCAA on Twitter.

“The NCAA's where I dreamed of working all my life. Here's to dreams realized, true friends and progress made enroute,” Shaheen tweeted on Tuesday. He said he would “be here tomorrow,” and added, “Mark Lewis inherits good people w/ innovative focus, 89 championships ready to roll. I'm excited to see the evolution continue!”

Shaheen, 44, is a Carmel native and Indiana University graduate. He was executive director of the Indiana Sports Corp. in the late 1990s before joining the NCAA in 2000, helping the organization move its headquarters from Kansas to Indianapolis.

The NCAA had to know the criticism was coming. It posted Shaheen’s job publicly in December. And while Shaheen was a candidate, some prominent NCAA coaches said they were mystified why he wasn’t a slam-dunk hire for the permanent position.

In a March 31 story in The New York Times, University of Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self said he was “shocked” at the possibility of Shaheen not returning. Michigan State University coach Tom Izzo said it “blows me away” that the NCAA was considering anyone but Shaheen to hold his job permanently.

“It’s hard for me to understand anything anymore except that everyone wants their own power,” Izzo told the newspaper.

Since the announcement of Lewis’ hiring, the criticism from sportswriters has been even harsher.

“But this is just further proof of how out of touch the people who work in the ivory towers in Indy are,” ESPN reporter Dana O’Neil wrote in a blog post. “The NCAA runs more like the KGB than an organization of and for its membership.”

O’Neil posted similar sentiments on Twitter, which were seconded by Vitale, a longtime ESPN sportscaster. “@gashaheen was passionate & devoted to March Madness - bad move by Emmett & his boys,” Vitale tweeted, referring to NCAA President Mark Emmert.

Many of the comments also showed a deep cynicism toward the NCAA.

“Thought @gashaheen was the best executive the NCAA had, so of course they're replacing him,” wrote CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell on Twitter, referring to Shaheen by his Twitter handle, @gashaheen.

“@gashaheen is (was?) pretty much the best thing about NCAA brass. Now it removed him from running the tournament. Flatly, it seems idiotic,” wrote CBSSports.com blogger Matt Norlander.

Local sports journalists also expressed displeasure. Anthony Calhoun, the sports reporter for WISH-TV Channel 8 in Indianapolis, tweeted, “So disappointed in the NCAA decision to replace @gashaheen He did so much for college hoops and for the coaches.”

Calhoun’s thoughts were retweeted by Chris Denari, who announces Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever games on TV, who added his own thoughts: “I've known Greg since before he was at NCAA. He was an Indy NCAA volunteer. A great asset for NCAA and Indy. Bad move.”

Even some non-sports figures weighed in. NPR News anchor Steve Inskeep, who went to Carmel High School with Shaheen, tweeted, “Sorry old friend @gashaheen is done running March Madness.”

Todd Huston, a local Republican running for the state Legislature, tweeted, “Love the national support for @gashaheen. Greg is a great guy from a great family who will continue doing amazing things.”

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