Jan. 2, 2009

By Greg Johnson 
The NCAA News 
- When Bob Fishman, who has directed every Men's Final Four since CBS began broadcasting the event in 1982, and NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball and Business Strategies Greg Shaheen meet, the former usually accompanies the standard greeting and handshake with a "Gator Chomp."

It was on display again December 3 during CBS' three-hour walkthrough at Ford Field, site of the 2009 Final Four.

Fishman doesn't have emotional ties to the University of Florida, but the school's traditional hand gesture that celebrates Gator success became one of the signature shots in the recent broadcast history of the Final Four.

In 2006, Florida 6-11 center Joakim Noah stood on a table in front of the Florida fans and celebrated the team's national title with the chomp. The sweeping shot - the end in fact to "One Shining Moment" that year - was taken by CBS' Jib camera that is attached to the end of a long mechanical arm.

"That is one of the best Jib shots ever in any sporting event," Fishman said. "The movement and the excitement of the shot with the juxtaposition of the player to his school was as classic a shot as you could have. You could only get that from a device like the Jib."

That's in part why Fishman is excited about the layout at Ford Field, which was "tested" December 3 when Michigan State hosted North Carolina. The new format places the court at the 50-yard line, which allows additional room for the Jib.

"That camera will be on the end of a 40-foot arm," Fishman said. "It will give you dramatic sweeping shots of relationships to the cheering sections and to the court, and dramatic sweeping shots of players running out onto the court. It will also give you dramatic sweeping shots of free throws, which we've used in the past. We have the ability to move that Jib because of its base being on wheels. It will give us different perspectives throughout the telecast."

In the past when Final Fours were played in domes, the court was placed in one of the corners, temporary stands were constructed and a curtain blocked the view of the rest of the arena not being used.

In 2009, the entire arena will be used. Risers will be constructed from the ground level and will go as high as the first 20-25 rows of the lower-bowl stands. Fans seated higher than those rows will have unobstructed views of the action.

An octagon-shaped video board will also hang at center court. Fans, particularly those in the upper bowl, will see close-up live shots of the game and replays.

"We want those who are attending to feel like they are a part of something special, regardless of where their seat is," Shaheen said. "I personally went to the corner seats and the highest seats in the center sections. Between the video boards that are (already in Ford Field), and the video board we're going to hang for the Final Four, we think we have something extraordinarily special."

Even though the attendance is expected to exceed 70,000, the plan for the setup calls for a more intimate atmosphere. About 3,000 students from the four competing institutions will sit in the end zones.

CBS studio set will be built on a platform near the student section in the south end of the stadium. It's something the NCAA's network partner has discussed with the Division I Men's Basketball Committee in the past.

"It adds atmosphere, particularly during the pregame show," said CBS Senior Producer Eric Mann. "Here we're going to try to create some spirit. It is the heart of college basketball. You want to see the students, the cheerleaders and the band - that makes it unique."

The configuration also raises the court 29 inches off the ground.

All of the changes provide a blank canvas for broadcasting.

"This reminds me of the old jigsaw puzzle you did with your family," Shaheen said. "There are several people involved and a bunch of pieces are turned right-side up and some turned upside down and in different directions. It's a matter of several people coming to fit it all together."

During the December 3 walkthrough, the CBS production team discovered some of the nuances that can take the viewer places they've never been.

CBS will deploy a robotic slow-motion camera, called a slash camera, on both corners where the team benches will be located. This could never be done before because the cameras would obstruct the spectators' view. Conversely, the shots from the CBS camera could also be obstructed by cheerleaders and still-photographers positioned along the baseline.

With the raised court, the site lines are clear for everyone.

"We will get some tremendous replays with the slash camera," Fishman said. "This year, for the first time, we are going to have that camera right on the floor itself. It will make all the difference in the world. It is a 5,000-percent improvement on what we've had in the past."

Viewers are going to see more interesting low-angle replays from a center-court hand-held camera positioned near announcers Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg.

The announcing duo will be sitting a few feet off the raised court on a small riser 12-18 inches high. Feedback from the announcing teams in Houston and Detroit, where the South and Midwest regionals were held in 2008, was that the raised floor made it difficult for them to tell if a shot was a two-point or three-point attempt. The higher angle will give Nantz and Kellogg the ability to call the game without checking the monitor for accuracy.

With the benches being below court level, the robotic slash cameras can show reactions of coaches and players from that area, players entering and departing from the game, and capture the drama of winning and losing.

CBS' cameras aren't allowed in the team huddles, but the new angles will take viewers closer to the action.

Since the stadium was built primarily as the home of the NFL's Detroit Lions, the CBS crew will take a close look at the lighting in the building. In layman's terms, they want to see how much reflection appears on the court from the video boards and how to set the cameras that will be taking close-up shots, because those images require more light.

Fishman said he heard numbers from the Ford Field technical staff that the illumination of the court will more than CBS has experienced.

Normally, the walkthrough of the arena takes around 45 minutes, but this one took three hours because of the uniqueness of this particular broadcast.

When he heard about the new configuration in domes, Fishman admits he was skeptical. He wasn't sure if it would be good for the viewer.

"Now it is not the case," said Fishman, who will have 17 cameras at his disposal for Final Four game coverage. "I did the regional finals in Houston last year. I thought the presentation of the game itself really didn't suffer at all. When the ball is in play, you are worried about action and not the crowd."

While the walkthrough was lengthier than in recent years, it prompted participants to feel good about the possibilities.

"Bob Fishman, after all these years of directing the Final Four, said this is the most excited he's been walking away from a set up," Shaheen said. "We want him and his CBS colleagues to help us figure out how to tell the story of the Final Four. The new configuration will provide the chance to have powerful images, and that is great news for everybody."