Cube is TV site for prep sports

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Cube is TV site for prep sports

HighSchoolCube.com is the best thing to hit high school basketball since the three-point shot, the next best thing to being there.

Imagine sitting in the comfort of your living room and watching live coverage of games from four of the most competitive holiday tournaments in Illinois -- Pontiac, Proviso West, Rich South and Hinsdale South.

Who woulda thunk it?

It's all brought to you up close and personal by HighSchoolCube.com, which promotes itself as "the leading broadcast platform for high schools." Founded in January 2011 by a couple of Texas entrepreneurs, it has established start-up companies from coast to coast.

"It is a way for high schools to showcase everything they do and people can watch it wherever they are," said Jim McAteer, the Chicago executive producer who recruits and schedules crews to cover a multitude of events.

"If you can't attend a game, we will give you an opportunity to still watch it, live or replay. At the moment, 40 schools in the Chicago area are involved. Nationally, too. We have done games in Hawaii, New York and Indianapolis. We have set a schedule through March with 40 schools that have agreed to allow us to do their games."

It isn't ESPN or NBC or CBS or ABC. By their equipment standards, HighSchoolCube.com is primitive broadcasting. A crew consists a play-by-play announcer and a cameraman. The lone camera is situated at mid-court and covers all the action as the state finals were covered on a tiny black-and-white screen in the 1950s at Huff Gym in Champaign.

But it is live and nobody misses a shot. According to McAteer, his four cameras covered 117 games at Pontiac, Proviso West, Rich South and Hinsdale South. And it doesn't get any more exciting that the two semifinal contests between WarrenCurie and SimeonPeoria Manual at Pontiac.

"We knew what viewers want and what makes a good broadcast," McAteer said. "They want a game they can watch from start to finish, know what the score is and who is winning and follow the action and get information from the announcers as if they were sitting in the gym. We're trying to make it the closest thing to being in the gym."

McAteer, 40, a Marian Catholic graduate of 1989, received a journalism degree from St. Mary's College in Winona, Minnesota. He was a weekend sports anchor for an NBC affiliate in South Bend, Indiana, for 10 years. He met one of the founders of HighSchoolCube.com in Chicago and got hooked.

"I recalled in South Bend that the number of people who would watch a 30-second clip of high school football and basketball was off the charts," McAteer said.

He is always looking for people to do play-by-play at games and continues to add announcers, cameramen and schools to their broadcasting platform. He also visits schools, including Fenwick and Benet, to teach broadcasting. Benet has its own students covering the games.

"Last week really helped to get our name out there," McAteer said. "We had over 3,000 views for the Proviso West and Pontiac finals, our highest numbers to date. A year ago, we weren't even out there.

"This definitely is a success. We're still trying to get the word out. We probably would have had another 3,000 people who would have watched Simeon if they knew it was on live. The challenge is to get the word out. If they knew about it, they would watch it.

"It's growing every day. We started doing a couple of games with a couple of crews. Then we did 117 games with four crews last week. We also plan to do football, baseball and volleyball. Also plays and concerts. There is a passion and a following for high school sports. We will continue to grow and get bigger. Our goal? To include every school."

The five play-by-play announcers who were employed to do the four holiday tournaments -- Andrew Braverman (Proviso West), Matt McLaughlin (Hinsdale South), Jim Dragna (Rich South) and Brian Snow and Emil Williams Jr. (Pontiac) -- are typical of the type of people who are getting involved in front of and behind the camera.

"I love working with high school sports," said Braverman, 27, a 2002 graduate of Glenbrook North who has worked as a radio sports talk show host in Nashville, Tennessee, and as a morning drive host at a sports radio station in Denver, Colorado.

"I want to be 100 percent intertwined in high school and college basketball recruiting. I don't want to do play-by-play at the professional level, maybe college. But I love to follow prospects. I love to speak to coaches and athletes and travel around the country to big events like the Super 64 and Peach Jam.

"Getting to call Proviso West is a dream. Basketball is my passion. When I was at Glenbrook North, Chris Collins was a hero. So was Billy Donlan. I loved Glenbrook North basketball in the pre-Jon Scheyer era. It's worth losing my voice over, 20 games in four days."

McLaughlin, 40, a Lyons graduate of 1989, did play-by-play for the Schaumburg Flyers minor league baseball team for four years and currently works for a trade show marketing company. He also free-lances as an announcer for DePaul and Buffalo Grove sports events.

"If the stars align, my ultimate goal would be to get a play-by-play job, hopefully in major league baseball. My dream job? Once upon a time, it was to be the lead voice of the Cubs or do college basketball in the Chicago area. It would be fun to get back into that arena and sharpen my skills.

"As someone who grew up in the western suburbs, it was fun to watch the matchups at Hinsdale South and players from different schools from all over the area. I'm really impressed with what HighSchoolCube.com has done. It seems clear to me that there was some forethought put into it before the launch. There was vision behind it. There is a high degree of professionalism. They arrive at the sites prepared."

Dragna, 54, a St. Laurence graduate of 1976, majored in journalism at Arizona State, was a bike messenger in Chicago and once served as a mascot for the Chicago Cubs in spring training. His only regret? His two scheduled gigs for CubsWhite Sox games were snowed out.

A substitute teacher, he graduated from the Illinois Center for Broadcasting in 2011 and did play-by-play for the Benet basketball team on the school's website last season. He did the SimeonBenet game that attracted over 4,000 views.

"My goal is to try to get work with a radio station to do play-by-play. That's been a dream of mine since they put Walter Cronkite's name on the journalism school at Arizona State, the opportunity to talk on camera, all I want to do I life," Dragna said. "I did a five-day tournament in Arizona. At Rich South, if they had asked me, I would have done eight games a day. Rich South was nirvana for me, what I was cut out to do."

How far can HighSchoolCube.com go? "I think it's goal is to become the ESPN of the Internet. They think one day that everything will come through the wire, even newspapers," he said.

Snow, 39, a 1990 graduate of Fenger, started his own Internet broadcast company in 1995, called Interscholastic Sports Network Chicago. With good friend Alvin Washington, he covered Chicago State basketball and Public League schools. At the moment, while free-lancing with HighSchoolCube.com, he is trying to raise funds to stabilize his company.

"I'm having the time of my life, especially after being hooked up with HighSchoolCube.com," Snow said. "For the first time in six years, I'm really have fun again. For a while, it became how much money I could make, how many games I could to, to pay my bills. But why did I get into this business in the first place? I've done 35 games for HighSchoolCube.com so far. I want to establish something like the Cube, have a fully company of my own to do high school sports and continue to do play-by-play."

Snow said he was influenced by former Chicago Bulls announcer Jim Durham. "He gave me the bug. He was the main reason I got into play-by-play. I loved to listen to him, such timing and detail," he said.

"People who say it's just a high school event don't understand how much fun it is and how these kids grow up playing it. I've been covering high school sports for 16 years and I've never seen a tournament go down the way it went down in Pontiac. And I enjoyed every minute of it."

Williams, 27, a 2002 graduate of Lane Tech, majored in radioTV in college. A bowler at Lane Tech, he earned a bowling scholarship to Lindenwood College in St. Louis. and currently is working in media relations for the National Bowling Congress. But his goal is to be a full-time play-by-play announcer in the NBA or college basketball.

"At Lane Tech, I took a radioTV production class as a junior and liked it. When I went to Lindenwood, I started to do color commentary, then play-by-play for a radio station on campus. Last August, I was looking on Google and came across the Cube."

Williams and Dragna worked together at Pontiac. They weren't Pat Summerall and John Madden or Harry Carey and Jimmy Piersall but they were entertaining and informative, all you could ask for.

"I've seen a lot of high school basketball but nothing I've ever seen was on that level...the environment, the gym, the fans, fantastic games. It felt like a movie, a great presence. Something magical was happening,"
Williams said.

"I want to get more repetitions. I want to make a name for myself in this kind of market. The Cube can help me out with that. It is really taking off. I'll stay with them as long as they will have me. They have a perfect vision for high school athletics. Chicago has so much talent but no outlet until the Cube to let people see it."

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

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USA TODAY

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

There were six teams deserving of reaching the College Football Playoff this season. But there were only four spots.

But what if there were more spots?

An expansion of the Playoff field to eight teams has seemed inevitable from the day the four-team system was announced. Four more Playoff games means oodles more TV viewers, which means oodles more dollars.

And then we wouldn't be having all these arguments, either — but that's nonsense because of course we would, trying to figure out who got snubbed from the expanded bracket.

But this season's emphasis on the conference-champion debate might kick the efforts to expand the Playoff into high gear. Just take it from NCAA president Mark Emmert.

Now, technically speaking, there are 10 FBS conferences, each of which crowns a champion at the end of every football season. Emmert is obviously referring to the Power Five conferences: the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC. He might want to pick his words a bit more carefully, considering he represents the other five conferences — the American, Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt — too, but his point remains understood.

This season has sparked a ton of controversy as the Playoff selection committee opted for the first time to include a team that did not win its conference, Ohio State, and it picked the Buckeyes over the Big Ten champs, Penn State. Plus, Big 12 champion Oklahoma was passed over in favor of non-champion Ohio State, too, actually falling behind another non-champion from the Big Ten, Michigan, in the final Playoff rankings.

With that decision brought the reasonable question of how much a conference championship should matter in getting a team into the final four and competing for a national championship.

The Playoff committee's mission is to pick the country's four best teams, and there aren't many people out there that will argue that Ohio State isn't one of the country's four best teams. But there's something to be said for winning a conference championship because if the Buckeyes can waltz into the Playoff without even playing in the Big Ten title game, why even have a conference championship game — besides, obviously, earning one more night of big-time TV money.

And so the call for an expanded Playoff bracket has reached perhaps its greatest volume in the short time the Playoff has existed. The obvious solution to Power Five conference champions continually being boxed out is to lock in five spots on the bracket for the five conference champions. Then, guarantee a spot for the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences, and you're left with two "at-large" spots that this season would've gone to Ohio State and Michigan, two of the highest-profile programs in the country sure to drive TV viewership in battles against conference-champion Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Penn State and Oklahoma teams. And P.J. Fleck's undefeated Western Michigan squad takes the final slot.

That's quite the field. But if you think it would've solved all this year's problems, you're wrong. Still there would've been outcry that red-hot USC didn't make the field. The Trojans are playing so well that they could very well win the whole thing, despite their three early season losses. That debate over snubs will exist forever, no matter the size of the field, something we see play out each and every season in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Also, what a damper an expanded bracket would put on the final few weeks of the regular season. Ohio State's game against Michigan, the highest-rated game of the college football season with more than 16 million people watching, would've been effectively meaningless. No matter who won or lost, both teams would've made that eight-team field, right?

Additionally, another round of Playoff football would expand the season to 16 games for some teams. That means more physical demands on student-athletes and a season cutting deep into January, which would impact their educational and time demands.

But again, an expansion of the Playoff bracket has always seemed inevitable. There's too much money to be made, and at the same time fans seem to be all about that idea. People love the postseason for good reason, and the win-or-go-home nature of the NFL playoffs make those games the most-watched sporting events of the year.

Now the NCAA president is chiming in with hopes of an expanded field. So really isn't it just a matter of time?

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

CSN's Chris Boden and Tracey Myers have the latest on the Blackhawks in the Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda Dealers.

From an injury standpoint, it's been a tough few weeks for the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks are down two key players in captain Jonathan Toews and goaltender Corey Crawford, and now may be without defenseman Brent Seabrook who sustained an upper-body injury in Tuesday's victory over the Arizona Coyotes.

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While the Blackhawks haven't had much luck on the injury front, their upcoming two opponents are in the same boat.

"You look at the New York Rangers, a very talented team, but this is what every team goes through every season. Your depth gets tested," Myers said.

Check out what else Boden and Myers had to say about the team's upcoming matchups in this week's Honda Road Ahead