Friday, March 13, 2009

McCaffery's ESPN Visit Boost for Siena

When does the head coach of a college basketball team miss practice?

When one is so ill he can't get out of bed, maybe.

Or, when one has the rare opportunity to bring national recognition to one's program with a day-long series of interviews conducted at ESPN.

It was the latter that caused McCaffery to turn the team's Wednesday afternoon practice over to his assistants on a day he took the two-and-a-half-hour drive to ESPN's Bristol, Conn., studios where he spent about three-and-a-half hours interviewing at and touring the facility.

While there McCaffery did an interview with "ESPN First Take," another with "ESPN Rise," a web site devoted to high school sports, answered fan questions on an chat, appeared on ESPN Radio with Scott Van Pelt and Mike Tirico, and did an interview live on ESPNews.

Whew ... no wonder that McCaffery was sucking on throat lozenges on the return trip to Siena.

It was an opportunity created by Siena's upcoming berth in the NCAA tournament, by virtue of winning the conference's tournament, and the belief by some that the Saints could be this year's mid-major level "Cinderella" team, capable of slaying a few high-major giants like George Mason or Davidson of the recent past.

And, McCaffery's appearance does more than bring recognition to his program. It gives a significant boost to the school, too, in a variety of ways.

"Any time you can put a representative of the college on a national stage like that it's great for the college," said Siena athletic director John 'Argenio. "Obviously, we've had cameo appearances, if you will, before in settings like that. But, never over a full day."

D'Argenio knows as well as anyone in the Siena community the benefits that come from the type of publicity Siena is currently generated.

He has been at the Loudonville, N.Y., school since 1985, and was involved on the publcity side of things as the school's sports information director when the program made its first trip to the NCAA's in 1989.

There, the Saints knocked off heavily favored Stanford in a first-round game and drew considerable recognition particularly in print-media circles. Siena was not only a feel-good story on the court that season, but off it as well because of an on-campus measles outbreak that prohibited fans from attending games for nearly a month.

The "fan ban" was lifted for the NCAA tournament, and the outpouring of support, after an absence, was not only tangible but a noticeable sidelight that only created another reason for recognition beyond Siena's usual base of followers.

But, the program ESPN wasn't the national presence back in 1989 that it is today, and Siena has never gotten the type of "big-stage" forum before that it did with McCaffery's trip to the network's studios on Wednesday

"Right now it's a positive feeling around here," said D'Argenio. "A lot of people are talking about it."

The likelihood is that the recognition will also fuel increases not only in future ticket sales, but admissions to the student population that gives the school a wider pool of students to consider for admissions in subsequent years.

"That's the general belief ... that the kind of name recognition we're getting right now creates more interest in your school and helps boost application numbers," said D'Argenio.

In any other economic environment it would also likely result in an increase in donations to the school.

But, maybe not now.

"That's a funny thing to measure," said D'Argenio. "The way the economy is now has an affect on donations."

D'Argenio said last year's NCAA appearance by the program didn't have much of an affect on season-ticket sales, although the sales of "premium" seats was boosted.

General attendance, though, rose from a year ago. This year's average crowd for Siena home games was 7,144 compared to 6,471 a year ago. This season also marked just the second time the program has averaged more than 7,000 fans per home game for a full season of games at the Albany arena since average crowds of 7,362 turned out in the 2002-03 season. And that year's attendance figures were boosted by three "home" games in the NIT.

D'Argenio said he hopes this year's success and recognition continue to boost attendance figures.

"Usually when the team plays better more people get interested," he said. "We've seen a steady increase in recent years."

And, there might be more to come. If it does, the type of recognition gained from the publicity generated from McCaffery's day at ESPN on Wednesday certainly doesn't hurt.

The Times Union's terrific Siena beat reporter Pete Iorizzo made the trip to ESPN with McCaffery to provide some insight.

For those of you without access to that paper, here's a link to Pete's story:

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