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A PR Person's How-To Guide For Spinning College Sports

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A PR Person's How-To Guide For Spinning College Sports


A PR Person's How-To Guide For Spinning College Sports

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Last night in college basketball, Louisville topped Wichita State, and Michigan ousted Syracuse in the men's Final Four. That brought to a close a week in college basketball that was eventful and unpredictable. Unpredictable is a word university PR departments really don't like.

BETTINA CORNWELL: Good PR begins with being ready.

LYDEN: That's Bettina Cornwell, a sports marketing expert at the University of Oregon. Often in sports, you just can't plan.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: A shocker in Los Angeles. Wichita State is going to the Final Four.

LYDEN: Cornwell says for a Cinderella story like Wichita State, the media strategy is easy: Just say yes. Get the players and coach on every page and screen in the country. Prime example, Butler's surprising ascent to the 2011 NCAA final.

CORNWELL: We can see from history that Butler did cash in on it. They've quoted 500 million in media coverage and PR and value from their experience in the Final Four.

LYDEN: Wichita State, though, is just the latest lady to crash the ball. Virginia Commonwealth, George Mason, Florida Gulf Coast, the list goes on and on. Because of them, Cornwell says the gravy train might've left the station already.

CORNWELL: The Cinderella phenomena becomes less Cinderella-like when it happens many times. It isn't as surprising when it continues to happen.

LYDEN: Louisville is still alive in the tournament, no surprise there. But no PR department could've planned for this moment in their game against Duke last Sunday.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Kevin Ware just took a shot - oh, my goodness. That is a gruesome-looking injury to Kevin Ware.

LYDEN: Gruesome, all right. The sophomore badly fractured his leg. Despite that, he's been incredibly positive, Cornwell says. He even made an appearance on Letterman earlier this week.


DAVID LETTERMAN: And the number one thought going through Kevin Ware's mind at the moment of the broken leg...

KEVIN WARE: At least my bracket's not busted.

LETTERMAN: That's right.

CORNWELL: I don't think you could've coached a young man in a better response.

LYDEN: The injury prompted media buzz about who would pay for Ware's medical care. Often, schools can't afford the payments and have to revoke a player's scholarship. Obviously, bad PR.

But the Cardinals have the nation's most profitable basketball program, so the right move was easy to make. They'll pay for it. And what about another PR flashpoint last week: damage control.


LYDEN: That's the incriminating bleep, bleep, bleep video of Rutgers coach Mike Rice. Although the tape was old and Rice had already been suspended once, the university wasn't expecting ESPN to air it this week. Double damage control for the university.

CORNWELL: There was an immediate response in terms of suspension, but the question is, did that response match with what people believed should happen, which would be immediately taking action against the coach?

LYDEN: Rutgers fired Rice on Wednesday. Tomorrow night, two PR departments will have an easier, even delightful job. Louisville and Michigan will square off for college basketball's title game.

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