Bonnie Bernstein knows more about March Madness than you. After covering the nation’s biggest sporting events for 17 years, including eight years of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament for CBS, the Brooklyn native can fill out a college hoops bracket with considerably more knowledge than most fans.
“Now that I’m not covering a game — not physically at a game — it’s easier for me to enjoy the tournament,” Bernstein said on Thursday, the first full day of NCAA men’s tournament action.
In addition to her role as vice president of content and brand development of CampusInsiders.com, billed as “the first digital-only college sports network,” Bernstein, 43, is the face of the website’s NCAA basketball tournament coverage.
For the 2014 NCAA tournament, CampusInsiders.com launched extensive new coverage, including the “68 in 60” series, which offered viewers one-minute video previews of each team selected to the tournament by Monday at noon — just hours after the brackets had been seeded.
“The team at Campus Insiders really busted it to get everything on the site quickly. We had to do 73 videos in a very short amount of time, and I didn’t hear one grumble. It was an all-nighter. We plowed right through it,” Bernstein said.
As teams are eliminated from this year’s Big Dance, Bernstein, basketball analyst Seth Davis, former Notre Dame forward Jordan Cornette and Drew Nicholas, who played on Maryland’s 2002 national title team, will post digital previews of the next round’s matchups — the site’s ‘Who’s Got Next?” features.
“We’ll hop on set and immediately analyze and preview the next round’s game,” Bernstein said, noting that the video and text content will be available to viewers on all devices.
Bernstein talked to BC about her experiences on the sidelines of the NCAA tournament, who she thinks is the next rising star in sideline reporting and whether or not she could school Seth Davis on the basketball court.
What’s your go-to bracket strategy? Who is your pick this year?
“I just close my eyes and use a push pin to choose teams (laughs). Just kidding. I don’t know that I have a strategy other than the old golf adage of ‘never second guess your first stick’ ; you have to go with your gut on games that seem like toss-ups.
“My pick this year — and it’s not a groundbreaking one — is Michigan State. I don’t look at seeds or who has played well as much as who is playing the best now. I think with (Adreian) Payne, (Branden) Dawson and (Keith) Appling all healthy, Coach Izzo has the team he thought he’d have this year. Plus, Gary Harris might be their best all-around player right now.”
Has any employer of yours ever cracked down on sports reporters playing a March Madness office pool?
“It’s a given that no one actually bets. I think brackets have become such a part of mainstream culture that it’s expected that an office will play them.
“We’re fans first. I catch a lot of flack on social media for rooting for a team, but those fans don’t understand that if I’m not covering a game, I am going to root for a team. I went to the University of Maryland, so I’ll root for them.”
In line with your coverage at CampusInsiders.com, which school’s fans aren’t given enough credit for being crazy about their team?
“I think the easy answer is Wichita State. Sometimes it’s more a matter that national viewers don’t see certain teams’ fan bases as much.”
Who would win a game of H-O-R-S-E between you and Seth Davis?
“I would hope that Seth is good at basketball through osmosis, but purely based on athleticism, I would take him. I was a college athlete at Maryland. I might not be able to knock down three-pointers, but I’d take him to the rack.”
BC readers count on us to scout sideline reporters. Which up-and-coming talent do you think is going to be great?
“That’s easy: Allie LaForce. This chick is great. She played college basketball at Ohio, and she really knows the game. Not only is she beautiful and athletic, but she also has good sideline instincts. She’s very natural on-air.…It’s a much more complicated role than just asking questions.”
Have fans ever catcalled you? What’s your go-to response?
“I’ve been pretty lucky. Anything fans have yelled has really been pretty nice. Sometimes fans don’t know that you have an ear piece jammed into each ear and sometimes you can’t hear them.”
“There’s nothing like being around a hyper-engaged crowd. I wasn’t competing on the level of the NCAA tournament, but as a former athlete, you try to find something to replace the adrenaline rush of athletic competition. Being in the middle of the action at an arena where the fans go insane is really an incredible experience.”