CBS’ Suzanne Smith has been working the NCAA Tournament for more than 30 years, including the past 20 as a director, and also is the only woman currently directing NFL games.
Does being one of the few women in her line of work mean something extra to her?
“Absolutely, I take pride in it,’’ she said Thursday as she prepared to direct the NCAA East Regional games at Madison Square Garden on Friday and Sunday. “What I’ve learned recently is it’s a responsibility as well. I was for a long time just going along thinking you work hard, you do a good job and you are who you are.
“But for many, many reasons that I don’t know the answer to – that there is no simple answer to – there aren’t a lot of women doing what I’m doing at this level.’’
Smith would like to see that change, and soon.
"I hope that other women will come along and be able to do it,’’ she said. “But it’s a privilege to do what I do and I am proud of it and hopefully I can help some other people along the way . . . It is surprising to me more women don’t do what I do.’’
This is Smith’s 10th year working college basketball with the team of Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery.
“It’s been tremendous,’’ she said. “It is a privilege to work with the two of them. Everybody knows they do such a good job on the air. What people don’t see is what they do behind the scenes. They’re in the limelight, but it is a team effort and it starts with them and they bring everyone in and make our broadcast better. They really do.
“One of the things I love about them is they have fun with each other and sometimes make fun of each other but they never disrespect the game. They never disrespect the players. They never make fun of the players or the game or anything.’’
Smith also marveled at the lack of a generation gap between Lundquist, 73, and Raftery, 70, and much younger viewers and players.
“Last week [Ohio State star] Aaron Craft came over to the table, as a lot of the players and coaches do, and said, ‘I just watched ‘Happy Gilmore’ last night’ and asked Verne to repeat the lines. That’s one of the things that bridges the gap. The kids will also ask Raftery to do one of his favorite calls, whether it’s ‘onions’ or ‘man to man.’
“They bridge the gap, but then you have the older generation who finds it comforting to listen to them and they’ll tell some old stories and they don’t make excuses for talking about things that maybe the kids don’t know about.’’
Speaking of generation gaps, reporter Allie LaForce, 25, is young enough to be either man’s granddaughter.
“Last week was the first time I met Allie,’’ Smith said. “Coming in we sat down and we talked. I was pleasantly surprised how much she knew about basketball. She can talk the talk and walk the walk. She played the game [at Ohio University].
“She knows sports as well as any guy out there, and I think it shows on the air. The first night last week I thought it was really, really impressive that she interviewed a girl with Down syndrome, a 4-year-old [St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli's grandson] on live television, which is difficult to do, and a current player in the NBA and those three stories are very different and very diverse, in addition to doing the coaches interviews, the player interviews and everything else.
“She really showed me a wide range of what she can do, how good she is on the air, how good she is with people and one story was better than the next. I was impressed with her.
“As we know, there are different people in the business that like to be treated differently, like divas, and Bill Raftery and Verne Lundquist, they are two icons in the business and they are not that way, and Allie LaForce joining us this week, absolutely a team player, not a diva.’’