As the college basketball season reaches its conclusion, the eyes of millions of sports fans around the country will tune in to what some consider the greatest sporting event in the world - NCAA March Madness. For the majority of fans the rich history of the the tournament itself is something all to often taken for granted. Few realize the immense efforts that go on behind the scenes to bring not only the tournament to life, but to shape the very game of basketball itself.
Established in 1927, the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) has been an integral force in not only spreading basketball throughout the world, but its very creation as well. Started by coach Phog Allen, himself a disciple of the legendary, the NABC was an organization initially focused on creating consistency in a game that was rapidly growing in popularity. The association helped define the rules of modern basketball by creating standardization in ball size, rim height an other aspects that most players and fans would never think twice about.
The NABC was also responsible for starting March Madness, running the first ever national college basketball tournament in 1939. A year later, the association sold the rights to the tournament to the NCAA for a mere $2000 as well as a percentage of complimentary tickets to all future tournament games. Much to the NABC's chagrin, some 7o years later the NCAA would sign a 14 year extension with CBS and Turner Sports worth an estimated $11 billion dollars.
As the game evolved and rules became streamlined, the NABC's mission began to change. When Jim Haney took over as Executive Director in in the early 1990's, college basketball coaches were just beginning to come to the forefront of the national media scene and their collective ability to reach the public was largely still unharnessed.
"Coaches tended to be viewed strictly on their wins and losses," says Haney. " There wasn’t a national recognition for their compassion and concerns, not just for their student athletes but for their communities and national issues as a whole. We recognized that, good or bad, coaches have a pedestal upon which they could speak on and be able to get across various messages to a wide base of fans," he adds.
About the same time Haney came on board with the NABC, the great Jimmy Valvano was at the height of his fight with cancer. When Valvano eventually lost that battle in April of 1993, the NABC partnered with the American Cancer Society to form Coaches vs. Cancer. The program has gone on to raise more than $100 million for cancer research since its inception. According to Haney, raising money is only the beginning of what Coaches vs. Cancer has been able to accomplish.
"Yes, we've raised millions of dollars for research, but we've also helped bring awareness to the cancer and its causes. Before the program started, there were dozens of arenas where people could smoke in. Due to the work of our coaches, you'll be hard-pressed to find a basketball facility in this country that isn't smoke free today," Haney proclaims.
The NABC has enlisted the help of individuals outside the coaching profession, including former Secretary of Education Arnie Dunkin, to help get other successful non-profit initiatives off the ground in recent years. The "Ticket To Reading Rewards" (TTRR) program, in which member coaches work with their own student-athletes to help kids raise their reading levels, has been tremendously successful in meeting its goals.
According to Haney, "74% of all men's college basketball players eventually graduate college, a much higher rate than the general student body as a whole. The TTRR helps our coaches get their own players to set a positive example for young students who view them as role models."
The NABC was also behind the creation of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and the College Basketball Experience, a $25 million dollar project started in 2004 that has since been labeled one of the top 5 basketball experiences anywhere. As part of the hall of fame, the association has held a gala to honor individuals who have had a profound impact on the game but might have not been a coach, including: Jerry Conangelo, Bill Bradley, and Phil Knight.
More significantly, the NABC has provided a support system for the thousands of coaches who make up its body. The association's convention, which occurs during the Final 4 each year, attracts various coaching subgroups of all levels of the game, both professional, college and high school with the intent of creating dialogue for what is in the best interest of their respective games an overall.
"We run several clinics during the Final 4, not just about coaching, but about ethics and family, dealing with the media, encourage healthy habits and lifestyles. Coaching is incredibly stressful, we're here to help take the pressure of an already high-stakes profession," Haney explains.
There is little question that the NABC has had a profound and lasting impact on the game. While the organization has never sought credit for its contributions, it is not difficult to argue that without the guidance and support they have offered coaches, basketball would not be one of the most beloved sports in the world today.