WE ARE SPORTSCENTER

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY Paul Farkas STYLIST Kim­mie Smith

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We grew up watch­ing ESPN to catch high­lights of our fa­vorite games and to see what was go­ing on in the world of sports. Without a doubt, SportsCenter is the es­sen­tial des­ti­na­tion to stay in the loop on what­ever games are tak­ing place in the world. Re­gard­less of the time slot that you're view­ing it on, it's the an­chors that be­come ex­ten­sions of your sports ac­tion, friends and fam­ily.

There's al­ways some­thing amaz­ing go­ing on in the world of sports; how­ever, we were pumped to head to the head­quar­ters of ESPN dur­ing the NFL's Free Agency and right be­fore Selec­tion Sun­day of March Mad­ness! Be­ing in the midst of the en­ergy, his­tory, bump­ing into sports an­a­lysts, for­mer coaches and more was def­i­nitely ex­hil­er­at­ing and a lot of fun!

We are thrilled to pro­file and share the jour­ney of th­ese an­chor­women of SportsCenter, from what sta­tions they came through, what their times­lot of SportsCenter is like, how they feel the state of women in sports/sports me­dia is and how they bal­ance life. We en­joyed shoot­ing, sytling and chat­ting with them in their world (at work, work­ing out and out­side of work) and shar­ing it with their fans!

Al­though we didn't talk to all of the an­chor­women of SportsCenter, we en­joyed walk­ing in the shoes of Sa­rina Mo­rales, Toni Collins, and Dianna Russini - three women who lead busy lives cov­er­ing up to the minute sto­ries, prep­ping be­fore they are on air and liv­ing their lives.

ATHLEISURE MAG: We see you on SportsCenter and every­one has a story of how they got to this point, can you tell us where you're from, what col­lege you went to, what sta­tions you came through and whether th­ese jobs were in sports cov­er­age or other ar­eas?

SA­RINA MO­RALES: I’m from the Bronx, New York. Woot woot! I went to Syra­cuse Uni­ver­sity. Whose house? Ne­w­house. As for my job path, that’s a good ques­tion. I don’t even know how to an­swer this be­cause mine was def­i­nitely the road less trav­eled. When I started at ESPN some­one was like 'Oh, where did

you come from?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I’m from New York City.’ And they were like, ‘No, what sta­tion did you work at?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I came from Na­tional Geo­graphic.’ They were just like, ‘Oh … OK.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, what’s the big deal?’ But I had never pro­gressed on the so-called nat­u­ral track.

A lit­tle back­ground: I prac­ti­cally moved to Lon­don af­ter grad­u­a­tion be­cause it was 2008, the mar­ket crashed and I couldn’t get a job. When I came back to New York, I ap­plied to be Nike's field re­porter. It was a new po­si­tion where I would get to in­ter­view all of their Nike ath­letes. Eth­i­cally, tra­di­tion­ally, you didn’t take th­ese jobs as a jour­nal­ist. But I un­der­stood what Nike was try­ing to achieve, be­ing that they’re pretty in­no­va­tive and cre­ative with the way that they ap­proach com­mer­cials and their tech­nol­ogy and what­not; this was a brand ac­tu­ally al­low­ing a re­porter to get in­side ac­cess and cre­ate con­tent.

I worked for Nike for a lit­tle over a year. And then af­ter Nike I ap­plied to News Chan­nel 12 in the Bronx think­ing. 'All right, here is my mo­ment. I'm go­ing to

get a re­port­ing gig and start my ca­reer in jour­nal­ism.' And ap­par­ently that Nike job hurt me in a sense. They thought it was branded. They were like, ‘Well, you’ve in­ter­viewed all th­ese celebri­ties, why would you want to work in lo­cal tele­vi­sion?’ I was like, 'be­cause I want to grow my work as a re­porter and I want to start my ca­reer in sports.’ They said no and I ended up work­ing at an in­vest­ment bank to pay the bills.

The path from there was dis­jointed: Side­line re­porter for Ver­i­zon Fios on the side, cov­er­ing high school bas­ket­ball in Staten Is­land. Then TruTV as a dig­i­tal co­or­di­na­tor where I worked on shows like ‘Im­prac­ti­cal Jok­ers,’ which was su­per fun, but I had lim­ited job growth.

A year af­ter work­ing at TruTV, I came to a cross­roads where I had an of­fer from CNN’s new morn­ing show as a pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant and an of­fer from Na­tional Geo­graphic Chan­nel as a so­cial me­dia co­or­di­na­tor at the same time. It was a risk for me to turn down the CNN job, be­cause again, since grad­u­at­ing from Syra­cuse, all I wanted to do was to be a sports re­porter, and yet, some­thing in my gut told me to take the job with Nat Geo. So I moved to Washington D.C.

At the time, the VP who over­saw the mar­ket­ing depart­ment said to me, ‘Lis­ten, I know you want to work in sports, I know you want to be a sports re­porter and be on TV, but I think you can find some ful­fill­ment in this po­si­tion. If you can work in sports in this job, do it. If you can do so some on-cam­era work and do in­ter­views, then do it.’ So I did just that. I would tweet from the Nat Geo Wild ac­count on Sun­days like, ‘All right, the Chicago Bears aren’t play­ing all that well, but we’ve got real bears play­ing re­ally well on Nat Geo Wild.’

I looked at the job so dif­fer­ently. I was help­ing grow the so­cial me­dia ac-

counts for their Sun­day pro­gram­ming.

In the year and a half I was with them, I was pro­moted from a tem­po­rary, to full-time so­cial me­dia co­or­di­na­tor, and ended up be­ing a man­ager of the so­cial me­dia ac­counts at Nat Geo. I worked on the Nat Geo ‘90s spe­cial, I grew their Face­book page on Nat Geo Wild from 300,000 fol­low­ers to 6 mil­lion in just over a year that I was there.

As far as my job path, that's a good ques­tion ... mine was def­i­nitely the road less trav­eled. I had never pro­gressed on the so­called nat­u­ral track.

I was just so fully in­volved in the so­cial me­dia job at Nat Geo that peo­ple were like, ‘Let’s give Sa­rina some op­por­tu­ni­ties to host the tal­ent show. Let’s give Sa­rina the op­por­tu­nity to be the face of this ‘Ex­plor­ers’ con­test.’ And it was that con­test that caught the eye of Rob King at SportsCenter at ESPN. He brought me in for an in­ter­view. He saw that video I did for Nat Geo be­cause I up­loaded it to YouTube.

And ESPN, what great tim­ing, kind of saw that I had some value with my back­ground in so­cial me­dia, my back­ground in jour­nal­ism and my back­ground in sports that that would be a re­ally good com­bi­na­tion to come and work at ESPN.

So, no sta­tions, just a lot of ran­dom jobs that kind of made me a good fit for ESPN.

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AM: Were you an ath­lete in col­lege and if so - what sport?

SM: So, I never made it to the col­le­giate level play­ing softball or base­ball or vol­ley­ball - I played those through­out high­school. But I did play base­ball in the Bronx for 10 years grow­ing up. From age 7 to 17, I played. You know, at first it’s cute, right? There’s a lit­tle girl play­ing and there might be a few sprin­kled around the league out of an 8-10 team league. There were fewer and fewer of them as I got older. By the time I was 14 there were two and they were both on the same team – it was me and this other girl. And then 15, 16, 17 I was on my own. I played in a league out­side of my high­school.

I thought I was go­ing to play col­lege softball un­til I popped my ham­string my ju­nior year, which is usu­ally when ath­letes get re­cruited to go to col­lege. I prac­ticed with the base­ball team at DeWitt Clin­ton High School my ju­nior and se­nior years. So I was prac­tic­ing with the base­ball team, play­ing on the softball team. I came back and I had a re­ally strong se­nior year play­ing softball, so I got looked at by other col­leges, but no D-1 schools. At that point, I re­al­ized that if an in­jury like this can come pretty eas­ily and take me out for a sea­son, then I re­ally need to fo­cus on aca­demics. So no, I never played col­lege-level softball, but my dream be­fore re­ally fo­cus­ing on jour­nal­ism was to be­come the first fe­male to play for the Yan­kees. I was go­ing to take Bernie Wil­liams’ spot in cen­ter­field for the Yan­kees. It didn’t hap­pen, so I went to Ne­w­house in­stead.

AM: When did you first re­al­ize that you loved sports and how did you know that that would be a ca­reer for you?

SM: The first time I re­al­ized I loved sports was – I can’t re­mem­ber the pre­cise day – I guess I was 5- or 6-years old and I was watch­ing Satur­day morn­ing car­toons with my fa­ther. I was sit­ting on the couch with him. Usu­ally, my mom would kick me off the couch and have me go play Le­gos or what­ever af­ter Satur­day morn­ing car­toons were done be­cause she didn’t want us watch­ing TV all day. My dad would stay though, be­cause on week­ends they would have af­ter­noon Yan­kee games – Satur­day or Sun­day 1 o’clock games. So one day, I sat next to him and stayed. I was like, ‘I’m not go­ing to move. I’m go­ing to see what’s go­ing on. I’m go­ing to sit on the couch with Pa.' It was good fam­ily time, so maybe my mom de­cided to not kick me off the couch. Once I re­al­ized I what I had achieved, I was like, ‘All right. I beat the sys­tem. This is good.’ The wise 5-6 year old in me hung out watch­ing base­ball with him, and nat­u­rally, I just started ask­ing ques­tions. The in­quis­i­tive mind wanted to know: ‘What’s that white thing called?’ And he’s like, ‘That’s a base.’ And I was like, ‘What does that do?’ And he was like, ‘Look at this 5-year old child ask­ing ran­dom ques­tions.’ I was like, ‘Who is No. 23?’ He goes, ‘Oh, that’s Don Mat­tingly!'

I asked him enough ques­tions and I beat the sys­tem to where on week­ends I was al­ways sit­ting down af­ter car­toons and watch­ing af­ter­noon Yan­kees games with my dad. So it was great that af­ter a cou­ple of sum­mers my dad was like, ‘Maybe I should put my daugh­ter on a team.’

I caught this one ball that was hit to me one game and I earned my spot in left­field for the first base­ball team I played for. We won the cham­pi­onship my first year play­ing base­ball for the Mar­lins. It was the best feel­ing to win and to beat every­one and know we were the best team. The best feel­ing was the smell of the grass, dirty­ing my white pants and put­ting stir­rups on and kind of started to learn su­per­sti­tions. I had to have my stir­rups washed with my socks laid out be­fore the game a cer­tain way. My dad would buy me new cleats al­most ev­ery sea­son and I had to have my bat­ting glove on one hand and not the other. It was the best feel­ing in the world to have

that ball, catch it where the glimpse of sun would hit it as it falls into your leather glove. It’s just the best feel­ing. And that awe­some sum­mer breeze and the ice cream truck mu­sic would play and peo­ple would be shout­ing dif­fer­ent things. You’d see peo­ple peek­ing through the me­tal fence to watch at Har­ris Field in the Bronx. I just fell in love with it. There’s noth­ing bet­ter than the noises and the smells and when that ball con­nects with that bat and the tim­ing is just right, when you’re us­ing alu­minum bats, that clink is both scary and then ex­cit­ing. Be­cause it's like, OK, you're ei­ther run­ning to catch that ball in the out­field and div­ing to make the best catch ever or you’re the one mak­ing that con­tact and you know it’s go­ing to drop in the per­fect spot and you’re go­ing to get to sec­ond base. So, I knew by 6- 7-years old that I wanted to be in sports some­how.

The ca­reer was go­ing to be, Bernie Wil­liams, see you later: Here comes Mo­rales, start­ing cen­ter field for the Yan­kees. I still didn’t de­cide on a walkup song or any­thing.

AM: Even in 2017 we still fo­cus on women in me­dia - espe­cially in sports and how we con­tinue to break bar­ri­ers where are we in our jour­ney as a col­lec­tive?

SM: I think we’re in the mid­dle some­where. The norm is now a woman is al­lowed to be on TV and talk about sports. And that is some­thing that is be­com­ing more nor­mal. But it's all for­ward-fac­ing jobs. I’m just see­ing at ESPN us get­ting fe­male pro­duc­ers. It is be­com­ing nor­mal to see two fe­male an­chors host­ing SportsCenter to­geth- er. For­get what tweets they’re go­ing to re­ceive and the crit­i­cism that they’re get­ting, it is some­thing at least more nor­mal and ac­cepted. It’s funny, a friend of mine said the other day that we had hyped up a lot hav­ing four fe­males on ‘Around the Horn’ for the first time ever this year, in 2017. And we hyped it up. It’s a big deal. And it is. It’s a huge deal to have four fe­males be­ing guests on Around the Horn. But we are in 2017. So we’re def­i­nitely not to the point where it’s nor­mal to have that, which is ab­so­lutely ridicu­lous with the amount of fe­males cov­er­ing sports now. For­ward-fac­ing tal­ent, we’re get­ting there. I don’t think we’re any­where close to equal­ity in terms of we're still go­ing to see all the crit­i­cism. We’re still go­ing to get more com­ments about our looks than about what we're ac­tu­ally say­ing an the words that we use. I don’t think you re­ally hear a lot of women do­ing play-by-play.

The pro­duc­ers, peo­ple who are mak­ing busi­ness de­ci­sions and higher up pro­duc­ers mak­ing larger con­tent de­ci­sions, I don’t think there’s been a lot of op­por­tu­nity for women there. And un­til there is some­one that breaks that mold, the first per­son that does it is go­ing to have the most dif­fi­cult time. I'm so im­pressed by some­one like Linda Cohn or Chris McKendry or Robin Roberts, Han­nah Storm and Suzy Kol­ber - th­ese women were pi­o­neers. It's just so dif­fi­cult, I can’t even imag­ine. But they made it so that it is nor­mal for me to be on SportsCenter. Which is crazy. It’s just the gen­er­a­tion be­fore. So, I would say we’re in the mid­dle if not lower mid­dle. Low mean­ing we haven’t got­ten any­where and high mean­ing this is the best and it’s equal all around. So we’re not there yet. We’ve made improvements, but women in sports me­dia are far from the norm.

AM: Who were your men­tors that as­sisted you in get­ting to where you are to­day?

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SM: I would say I have two men­tors, now three. But my first was Harold Ta­mara. I in­terned for him while I was at Syra­cuse. Harold did not go to Syra­cuse, but I worked with him in dig­i­tal me­dia one sum­mer when I was in school and he was so sup­port­ive as a men­tor be­cause he pushed me to think crit­i­cally. He was the one who told me to get on Twit­ter. He was like, ‘If you want to do sto­ry­telling, then here’s another ve­hi­cle for you to do sto­ry­telling.’ He put me on to do in­ter­views for dif­fer­ent dig­i­tal projects that he was work­ing on and he just took chances on me. He showed me so much re­spect and taught me to think in un­con­ven­tional ways. He pushed me to go study abroad. He pushed me to think crit­i­cally, to think eth­i­cally. And so, Harold long term is still a men­tor to me to­day. He’s helped me when I think about sto­ries. He’s helped me when I did an in­ter­view with Lau­rie Her­nan­dez re­cently. He talked me through the piece that I wrote for The Un­de­feated. Another men­tor is Hayes Tauber who was one of the peo­ple that hired me at Na­tional Geo­graphic. He said, ‘Take the job at Na­tional Geo­graphic. Be the so­cial me­dia co­or­di­na­tor here and then move up and make the space that you need and make the job that you need it to be so that you feel ful­filled and we can help you grow per­son­ally.’ And right now, Adnan Virk who is on ESPN is another men­tor to me. He’s the one who has kind of made sure that I’m meet­ing with the right peo­ple at ESPN. He’s be­ing crit­i­cal of my work and giv­ing me sup­port when he thinks I've done well and talks me through ques­tions that I’ve had be­ing new in the jour­nal­ism space – or I should say ‘con­ven­tional’ jour­nal­ism space – be­cause I when I look back at my work, I’ve been prac­tic­ing cer­tain as­pects of jour­nal­ism this whole time. It just wasn’t con­ven­tional. He’s been very sup­port­ive here at ESPN.

It’s funny that it’s been three men who have made the most im­pact but I’ve said this many times be­fore, I think women can’t be their own cheer­lead­ers be­cause we’re fight­ing for our own selves to make space. I can say that Linda Cohn has cer­tainly been a men­tor to me in giv­ing me ad­vice here and there, but for long-term pur­poses it’s been three dif­fer­ent men and again, that’s crit­i­cal be­cause those are the guys who can speak up for women be­cause they have a voice that women don’t have still.

AM: SportsCenter is such an iconic show - tell us about what you do, your time slot and what's a day like on an off the set?

SM: My job for the last year at ESPN has been co-host­ing on SportsCenter A.M. with Kevin Ne­gandhi, Jay Har­ris, Jaymee Sire and the new­est and very val­ued mem­ber, Randy Scott. So there are five of us on the show. It's been a year now, or just over a year, of be­ing a part of that show and work­ing with great pro­duc­ers like Mark Eise­man; Heath Henry – he’s the CP of the show; Scott Clark helped us launch the show.

My job for the last year at ESPN has been co-host­ing on SportsCenter A.M. with Kevin Ne­gandhi, Jay Har­ris, Jaymee Sire and the new­est and very val­ued mem­ber, Randy Scott. There are five of us on the show.

It was the first time we ever did such an early SportsCenter. It will be part of SportsCenter and ESPN his­tory and that is such a big deal. So, ev­ery day I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morn­ing. I get ready and I’m in to work be­tween 4 and 4:30 in the morn­ing and I’m look­ing at the run­downs. It’s a three­hour show, so there’s a lot of stuff that needs to get in there, but we get to digest and break down the big­ger sto­ries in sports, which is great.

Plus, we’re the first SportsCenter that peo­ple are wak­ing up to. We used to just re-air Stan Ver­rett and Neil Everett overnight un­til the 9 a.m. SportsCenter, so this is great that we’re start­ing at 7 a.m. I go through the run­down when I ar­rive and see all the sto­ries that we’re go­ing to talk about. I’ll write in leads to video. I’ll do some ex­tra re­search for some of my shot sheets that I’ll use to talk through high­lights. If there are things that aren’t in there, this is the time be­fore the show to ques­tion it. Like, ‘Hey, overnight I saw X, Y, Z …’ There was a day that Si­mone Manuel be­came the First African Amer­i­can fe­male swim­mer to win a gold medal in swim­ming at the Olympics. To me that was a huge deal. Yet her story wasn’t in the top of the show and I felt strongly about her be­ing on the top of the show so that was some­thing that we had a dis­cus­sion about af­ter she won. Michael Phelps had also won his Xth gold medal, but at the time I thought that was re­ally im­por­tant, her mak­ing his­tory. There was a time when you had seg­re­gated pools, now you have this woman, the first black woman to win a gold medal for team U.S.A. in the Olympics. I felt like that was so im­por­tant and needed to be in the top of the show be­cause, again, as SportsCenter, as the first show in the morn­ing, we set the tone for every­one else in sports that day and to have that un­der­stand­ing is im­por­tant. We have to re­ally hold our­selves ac­count­able to set the tone for the rest of the sports day. So, it's a great po­si­tion to be in. I sug­gested the story, we got that in. So that is the first part of the day. From 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. it's work­ing on the show and ex­e­cut­ing all of that on the show. Af­ter that, we have a post-show meet­ing. I might have some meet­ings that will take me to maybe noon and then I’ll go home and take care of my per­sonal life and naps and start my work day, again, at 6 o’clock, 7 o’clock at night where I re­group with the pro­duc­ers on a big e-mail chain about who is go­ing to be on our show the next day. I put on the TV, I watch SportsCenter or I put on what­ever game I want to watch and take some notes. I go on the in­ter­net and see what sto­ries are grow­ing. And then who­ever is our guest that day, I’ll put to­gether some ques­tions for them. So we start the pro­duc­tion process overnight and we have a great overnight crew that also puts in sto­ries. They’re watch­ing games for us if we’re not up to watch them. So the work­day is bro­ken into two parts. It’s a long day and it takes a lot of work, but be­cause we have such a great crew and every­one is work­ing and put­ting into the show, it kind of makes you feel like the work that you do mat­ters.

AM: How do you jug­gle your per­sonal life against the de­mands of ever chang­ing news?

SM: It’s su­per dif­fi­cult to jug­gle the two and I’m re­ally bad at jug­gling, so there’s that. It’s re­ally about the peo­ple that you keep around you. So luck­ily for me, Jaymee Sire be­ing on the show with me is one my first friends that I had at ESPN. ESPN is such a huge com­pany. There’s about 4,000 peo­ple just on the Bris­tol cam­pus alone so be­ing where you’re work­ing, a lot of peo­ple just end up be­ing friends with peo­ple at work. And at that point, there’s an un­der­stand­ing of, ‘Sa­rina is get­ting up to work at 3 in the morn­ing, she can’t go have din­ner with us.’ That’s a

ba­sic un­der­stand­ing. Dat­ing is very dif­fi­cult. I think that find­ing some­one who works in sports and un­der­stands sports has been ex­tremely valu­able to me and also we can talk about ev­ery­thing.

Dat­ing some­one who un­der­stands my job and the de­mands has made it a lot eas­ier be­cause if that wasn’t the case, I’d be pretty mis­er­able. My fam­ily, my mother has been su­per sup­port­ive. She’ll watch the show from her phone. My boyfriend wakes up ev­ery morn­ing to watch the show and watch it with me, al­most. As he wakes up, he watches it and gives me feed­back on things through­out the three hours. If he sees some­thing that he thinks works for the show, he’ll send it to me overnight. So hav­ing some­one who knows the work­load, who un­der­stands the sports world, who un­der­stands my job makes it a lot eas­ier to then fit in those per­sonal spots in the rest of my life. It’s so much more clear and easy. And again, hav­ing Jaymee, who is one of my clos­est friends here and at ESPN, to work with her Mon­day through Fri­day, to have our din­ners on Wed­nes­day nights, once a week we meet up and just kind of hash out and re­lax and the un­der­stand­ing of, ‘Hey, let’s have din­ner at 4 o’clock,’ is not an odd thing to re­quest be­cause we’re both on the same sched­ule. So it’s re­ally about the peo­ple that you keep in your life and those peo­ple have been very, very, very sup­port­ive. I couldn’t do all of th­ese things without sup­port­ive peo­ple. That has made my life so much bet­ter and made my ca­reer and my ca­reer growth stronger in a lot of ways be­cause I’ve had peo­ple who are strong for me when I can’t be.

AM: Who are your fa­vorite teams?

SM: Oh, easy. The Yan­kees, Bronx Bombers, let’s go, pin­stripes. The Knicks, which has been tough over the years but I al­ways brag about the ‘90s Knicks with Charles Oak­ley and An­thony Ma­son (R.I.P. to An­thony Ma­song) and Ewing and Starks, that team, what the Knicks did for me was just taught me to just be such a hus­tler and to work hard. Just that men­tal­ity of New York. And the Yan­kees have al­ways been an ex­am­ple of how to win. Be­ing a kid and a Yan­kees fan, it taught me the win­ning men­tal­ity of you can be down in the ninth in­ning and win the World Se­ries if you have Mar­i­ano Rivera pitch­ing for you. So I learned a win­ning men­tal­ity from the Yan­kees. The hus­tler in me is def­i­nitely from the New York Knicks.

And the Gi­ants, they’re just a stress fac­tor, but it makes the foot­ball sea­son re­ally in­ter­est­ing. And ob­vi­ously, clearly, prob­a­bly the most in­flu­en­tial team in my later years is the Syra­cuse bas­ket­ball team. My eyes were drawn af­ter the 2003 NCAA cham­pi­onship that they won. I ap­plied to Syra­cuse in 2003 and it was ap­par­ently the hard­est year to get into Syra­cuse, the year that I got in, be­cause every­one ap­plied and every­one wanted to go to Syra­cuse af­ter win­ning a bas­ket­ball ti­tle. So that was huge for me. Syra­cuse Bas­ket­ball, another stress in my life, but for the bet­ter and go­ing to the Fi­nal Four last year was such a great ex­pe­ri­ence. Syra­cuse bas­ket­ball keeps me busy all year round.

AM: March Mad­ness is here - what's that like and how does it af­fect your nor­mal day to day as you head into the of­fice?

SM: March Mad­ness is the great­est thing that’s ever touched the world of sports, be­sides the Yan­kees. I love March. It’s my fa­vorite month. It’s one of those things where you just never know what’s go­ing to hap­pen. The games are ex­cit­ing. I love watch­ing th­ese Cin­derella teams try­ing to make their way to the sec­ond rounds, to the Sweet 16, to the Elite Eight. And it’s one-game elim­i­na­tion. It’s a ge­nius, ge­nius way to get bas­ket­ball fans ex­cited. The Thurs­days and Fri­days that

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