Pittsburgh, PA — During Friday afternoon’s NCAA Tournament media availability, DYST Pittsburgh’s Zachary Weiss sat down with Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade to discuss a variety of topics concerning A-10 men’s and women’s basketball. The below conversation is unedited with the exception of grammar.
Zachary Weiss: Last week you were appointed to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. What does that honor mean to you having served 10 years as commissioner of the Atlantic 10 and having the chance to represent the conference in this way?
Bernadette McGlade: “It’s just a great honor on what certainly is a very impactful committee, in that it oversees this iconic men’s basketball championship that America is in love with. It is for the entire 32 conferences and all 365-plus schools. I hope my basketball experience will add something and that I can be a positive contributor.”
Weiss: With the current championship format in women’s basketball, having seeds 3-8 hosting first round contests and thus far that being a decisive home-court advantage, what was the thought process of rewarding those teams based upon its regular season conference play?
McGlade: “There are three very important reasons for this change. Opening round games and Thursday games were really challenging to be able to get fans into the arena. Student-athletes want to be able to play in front of crowds, so (Senior Associate Commissioner) Debbie Richardson and I spent a lot of time figuring this out and we called this the hybrid format. We rewarded the top two teams in the conference by giving them a bye and then when you give the homecourt to 3-though-8, that really puts a lot of meaning on the regular season.
“There is a lot of talk nationally about the regular season not meaning anything and that nobody cares about the regular season. Two years ago when we first implemented this change, we immediately found that all of a sudden that the regular season games, especially in February mattered a lot to everyone. There is a tiered reward system. The top two teams get a bye, 3-through-8 host and it is an incentive for seeds 9-through-14 that if you want the benefit of hosting, you have to get better, you have to improve. It shows that the bar is right in front of you. It’s been positive and worked well. We tweaked it this year. The first year we played all of the games on the weekend and 1 and 2 felt like the six-day layoff was a little bit too much, so we recaptured the weekend to have conference games and then we put all of the six first round games on Tuesday to reduce the layoff for 1 and 2 and I think it helped.”
Weiss: With 1 and 2 having that layoff it still in some sense is difficult because these teams have a rhythm, there is no right answer to what the “golden format” is but 1 and 2 you had GW lose last year in the quarterfinals, Dayton lost in the semifinals this year and Duquesne in the quarterfinals, do you think this tweaked format is the right balance?
McGlade: “I think this is the right balance. By minimizing or reducing the days off that 1 and 2 have this past year helped. Beyond that once you get to the quarterfinals, we have a good brand of women’s basketball in the league. You really need to have your ‘A’ game. If you have an off day like a Duquesne did, then you’re going to get beat. I don’t think the format impacted it this year but it could have last year with GW.”
Weiss: With the use-it-or-lose-it timeout going away before this year, teams are now holding their timeouts for the end of the game for the purpose of advancing the ball and this was something which really held true for the Atlantic 10 Championships. When you talk about game flow and the women’s game has had a faster pace to it, how do you find that balance?
McGlade: “I kind of like because at least with advancing the ball, it adds another level of strategy which I think is interesting to the fan. I do think that the way coaches are learning to manage those timeouts, it hasn’t been a drag on the tempo. I think we should stay the course for another couple years and really see what the statistics bear out.”
Weiss: Conversely it takes away from a potential turnover on the press and the timeouts being used as a bailout. Do you see that side and how do you find a medium whether it’s taking a timeout away or putting more emphasis on on-court adjustments?
McGlade: “I haven’t really studied it that much, but I do think maybe there could be benefits to reducing one timeout. Other then that, you have the strategy of advancing the ball, you still have to get the ball inbounds. Yesterday you saw Loyola inbound the ball, they didn’t call a timeout, they stayed with their flow and with what they knew and they scored and won the game. I do think you add another level of danger when you have to inbound the ball in a stationary position where you can’t run.”
Weiss: Looking at the end of the regular season awards in women’s basketball and the process for voting, a lot of times coaches are so focused on their team at that point that they do not have time to delegate or they look at a statistic and use that to determine how they vote. How do you not necessarily further educate so there is more awareness in voting, but iron things out whether it is more cooks in the kitchen, less pressure on the coaches and have a more consistent balance between the end of year voting and the weekly awards?
McGlade: “That is not something I have spent a lot of time on, but I do know it’s something that needs attention right now, perhaps maybe even after this year. You can’t just not let the coaches vote because they are so busy and put it to the media. We have more media in some areas where there are two schools versus another area which has one and then you run the risk of having a bias or playing favorites or having more people vote in a certain footprint. It may be time for us this spring to look at putting together a voting panel like you have with the coaches poll or I vote for the Naismith Player of the Year, Coach of the year. There are a set number of people that vote in it so it’s not based on all of the media in New York or Philadelphia that way it is spread out.
“At the end of the day, you want to get those honors right for the student-athletes that deserve it, for the coach that deserves it. Some people think the sixth-player award might not mean much and it may if it isn’t you but it might if it is you. That’s a really good question, and an area that I think my staff will really take a look at. Are we big enough where we can just put in a voting panel where you select ‘x” number of people and you give them terms? Maybe you’re on the voting panel for five years and then you sort of rotate off or if you move out or something, we change it.”
Weiss: It seemed like there was some sort of finality at the Richmond Coliseum with a lot of the second-half ceremonies. When you assess things with the athletic directors, moving forward with the A-10 Women’s Championship, what factors will you be considering with location and trying to make sure each time can be as much in proximity as possible?
McGlade: “We’re out of Richmond at least for two years, maybe three years. We are looking at two options very seriously. Either we take it back to campus and if we don’t do that I believe it was back in 2013 when we did the earlier rounds in campus and then we took the championship game to Barclays Center, the first year we were there. We played it the Saturday night of the men’s semifinal and it was fabulous. It was a big feel, the arena is branded, you have all the teams and administrators there. When we played the women’s championship people, we had close to 5,000 A-10 fans, not school kids, but A-10 fans. We’ll make that decision in May.
“It’s not just as easy as saying ‘let’s do it again next year’, we have to make sure we have our ESPN TV window, we have to make sure we have a determination of where the quarter and semifinals will be. We are spending a lot of time on this, because women’s basketball is important to the A-10 and to our schools. We’re not saying we will not consider neutral sites, because there is a new building that the Washington Mystics are going to be playing in that is expected to open in D.C. in fall of 2018. Their building will apparently be a 5-6,000 seat arena. It’s still totally under construction right now, but we’re going to talk to the principles about renting that building and again it’s a good location.”
Weiss: Would the campus sites be alphabetical or based on facilities?
McGlade: “I would think it would have to be based on facilities and availability. That is the last weekend in our men’s basketball regular season schedule. I think you then have to look at seeding, because there is an advantage to hosting. We would have to look at the criteria of who gets that hosting site.”
Weiss: Between men’s and women’s basketball, you had five teams that made the NCAA Tournament field and some women’s teams made the WNIT as well. This was a year where most of the season the thought was that one team on each side would make the field. It’s cliche to talk about the conference’s depth, but how would you describe it and the team’s to have to ability to play so well and have these opportunities?
McGlade: “It is a testament to the players and coaches in this league. In January on both the men’s and women’s side there was talk that we could be a one-bid league. I think the outside talking heads and bracketologists don’t look deep into the A-10. We are a young team and we had a lot of injuries early. Internally, staff wise, we could see the Bonnies turning it around, Davidson turning it around. It just took a while for the outside world to realize that. Even look at the fourth seed, Saint Joseph’s, they could have thrown the towel in when it lost five in a row in January, but it didn’t and the gout the four seed and it won a WNIT game. It just shows a lot to the work ethic of all of the reams in this conference.”
Weiss: Given what happened after the Duquesne-Saint Louis game, how important is it to maintain the positive relationships between the A-10 administrators such as yourself, the coaches and the referees to make sure that everyone is on the same page and the precendent is set and stays that way?
McGlade: “It’s really easy because the coaches are so great. We have our policies that are very standard and well-communicated whether it’s sportsmanship or the respect and way we treat our officials, our administrators and host venues. People make mistakes. It’s an emotional time after the game and an emotional time for players in the game. For the most part if a mistake is made, the coach knows or an institution knows that there is a corrective disciplinary penalty system which is in place and you have to abide by it.
“If you and I are driving in our car and we get pulled for speeding, we’re going to get a ticket and we can’t jump up and down and scream. We have to pay our ticket and that is a good reminder to us that us that we don’t want to speed anymore. It doesn’t affect the long-term relationships at all between myself or any of my staff or coaching staff. I love to say we never send out a corrective letter of reprimand, but when we do, most times everyone understands that you cross the line and to get back on the right side of the line.”
Weiss: How difficult given the timing of it that there was postseason play?
McGlade: “It isn’t really difficult because I make a strong policy, myself and with my staff. I felt like this when I was in the ACC, especially at Georgia Tech and was a member of a conference that had to abide by regulations. You don’t pick and choose because what may be an important time for you, today, may not be an important time for me. If we do have a situation that is not along the lines of our code of conduct, then it’s important to address it right then. I don’t like to pick and choose and talk about it in three months. If it happens to somebody else and you address it right away, we just let the code of conduct dictate and then we have a very small window. It’s either going to be addressed or we’re not going to address it period.”
Weiss: Was there any precedence with this whether it was warnings or anything of that?
McGlade: “I’ll answer that generally. There are always levels and you have a policy in place. Typically when a policy or code of conduct is violated, there are tiers of addressing it. We are dealing with mature adults and excellent professionals and so typically if there is a first-time offense, we’ll handle it one-on-one and we hope it is remedied and never happens again. If there is a repetitive or multiple series of challenges to the code of conduct or one of our policies, we have to address it in a more restrictive way but we sort of have that all spelled out. For example with our scheduling policy, if you don’t abide by that in year one, you’re going to get a letter of reprimand. If you don’t abide by it in year two, you might get a letter of reprimand and a fine. If you don’t do it by year three, all of a sudden you are talking about a suspension. They are all different for various policies and the degree of a misconduct.”
Weiss: Is there any potential at future Atlantic 10 Basketball Championships that maybe the cooldown period is longer to allow the coach to talk to their team and decompress?
McGlade: “These coaches at this level is used to it. It is a hectic schedule, they play a lot of games, it happens in regular season where they have a short window. I think the consistency is important with what we do in the regular season and the postseason. I don’t think we have to over blow anything. Most of the time when the events end at 9 or 9:10, heck we’re dying for publicity, so we don’t want to miss deadlines, so we’re trying to keep it tight, we know it’s late and if we want anything in the papers that we want to accommodate the media is in attendance instead of making them wait 25 minutes after the game.”
Weiss: Shifting to men’s basketball, the NIT format this year was interesting with the rules changes. The quarters is something caught some attention, what do you think of that change and would you like to see that added on a full-time basis?
McGlade: “The NCAA operates the NIT now so they are experimenting in real time with real games that people care about. I love the fact that they are doing that. I think eventually the men will go to four quarters but I think it’s fabulous that they went ahead and put it in to see if they really like it in real time as opposed to a bunch of people sitting in a room, adults that haven’t played the game in 20 years that think we should reduce timeouts or play four quarters. It is like a focus group and I like it a lot. That’s been one advantage the NCAA has by taking over the NIT.”
Weiss: In terms of pace it reduces the media timeouts to two per half, there is more chance for a team to have to think and adjust? How do you appreciate that pace having some experience seeing it play out and how do you think that pace affects the men’s game?
McGlade: “It could affect the men’s game but the pace is pretty quick in the men’s game right now. I’ll be honest with you and I’ll disclose something here. As much I like the four quarters in the women’s game, I do think it will go that way with the men, as a former coach and player, I actually really like the halves. I am not that big of a fan. I really like the 20-minute halves and I like that format but that being said, the direction of the game will go more towards the four quarters. I do think we will see even more swings as far as teams being able to reset, make adjustments and come back and do it after the first quarter instead of halftime. It will add a new twist to the men’s game if in fact the rules committee decides to make that change.”
Weiss: You already have the advancing of the ball in the women’s game but the one-in-one was eliminated prior to this season. Do you prefer the one-in-one or do you penalize for the five fouls by potentially having to make up for the point or two scored at the other end of the court?
McGlade: “I actually like the one-in-one as well, maybe I’m old school. I think it adds pressure to the game. When there is an intentional foul, I am all about giving the shooter two shots because that was a two-point shot they were taking. I grew up playing the game and at times there is a foul and you really didn’t mean to foul. That’s where I think the one-in-one is good, until of course you get to the 10 fouls.”
Weiss: This weekend you hosted another successful men’s basketball championship, breaking the all-time ticket sales record after Friday night play. The Barclays Center is in place for the next three years, but when you look at these renovations being in place, you have options to play with. Pittsburgh did a capable job of hosting and so did Washington D.C. How does that help that we are not necessarily married to a site and that the sites these past two years have passed all tests?
McGlade: “The one thing we did not know and we know now, meaning myself and my staff is that we were unsure how the A-10 fans and our constituents would like moving. Barclays in Brooklyn was so popular, we really didn’t know how our fans would react. We quickly found out that it was refreshing and re-energized fan base that really liked Pittsburgh. We had an uptick in the Dayton and Saint Louis crew, Bonaventure crew. By taking it to DC, we had another uptick. We are doing a pretty extensive evaluation now through a fan survey but what this is telling us is that the fans like consistency to a certain degree and then they do like a little bit of a chance of scenery. The fact that three great cities, three great buildings, all in the heart of our footprint all excelled at hosting puts the A-10 in a really unique competitive situation for our championships.”
Weiss: What else may be unique and competitive is the fact that it is so upperclassmen driven. You don’t see one-and-dones or two-and-throughs, you are introduced to a player, you watch them grow and they either succeed overseas, in the NBA or whatever else they so choose to do. How important has that been and having that being reflected on the all-conference teams?
McGlade: “I think it’s been really critical and it has been the Atlantic 10’s lifeline to have senior-laden teams. That what contributed to us having a little bit of a down year. Last year, we were very heavily senior-laden and we had a very successful season. This year, we had four new coaches, a new entree of talented freshmen, but it takes time for that to gel. Having seniors definitely is the only way you can win when you get to NCAA postseason. You have to have one-and-dones on your team or you have to have a heavily-laden senior team.”
Weiss: With coaching changes, they happen, La Salle women’s basketball is going to have one, how do you welcome these new additions and make sure they feel part of the family?
McGlade: “As soon as it’s announced, my staff lets me know and I reach out to the new coach, regardless of the coach. Of course, I get a note off to them and send them some gear. Everybody likes an A-10 sweatshirt or a hoodie, a t-shirt so I put that in the mail right away because most times they are coming from another school and we try to be welcoming in that respect. When I get a chance to go on campus, I make it a point if we have some new faces that I will swing by, even if it’s just to say hi and not just be the commissioner you get the notes from.”
Weiss: Is there anything you would like to add?
McGlade: “Hopefully people will understand that we are a strong, nationally relevant league that shouldn’t be looked at as just happening to have a good year.”
Photo credit: Mitchell Layton/Atlantic 10 Conference