For teams that got a coveted spot in the NCAA Tournament, finding out where and who they’re playing was not the end of selection-night drama.
It was only the beginning. And that’s especially true for eight teams that are opening-round bound.
Scenes like one at Florida Gulf Coast were playing out at plenty of schools Sunday night. It was nearly 10 p.m. Sunday and people in three different offices at FGCU are calling the school’s top donors, asking whether they want to be part of the team’s travel party for Tuesday’s game against Fairleigh Dickinson in Dayton, Ohio. If those fans were willing, they could have a seat on the charter and stay in the team hotel for as long as the trip lasts.
Meanwhile, in another office, Billy Blood – the Chief Financial Officer for FGCU athletics – is simultaneously working his office phone, his cell phone and emails, trying to actually secure that plane and those hotel rooms. He’s exhausted; his tie is loosened, he’s rubbing his eyes and he has no idea how long any of this will take.
“Details,” he groans, to no one in particular.
He wasn’t complaining, and no one else at the other schools facing opening-round games – FDU, Vanderbilt, Wichita State, Michigan, Tulsa, Holy Cross and Southern – likely were either. They play Tuesday or Wednesday, while the rest of the field of 68 starts Thursday or Friday.
“Quick, whirlwind here,” said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, whose Commodores play Wichita State in the second game Tuesday night. “That’s a quick turnaround time to get yourself ready and get travel arrangements and practice and preparation and all the things you need to do. It’s the fastest night of the year in college basketball if you make the tournament.”
It was also going to be a late night for everyone involved.
There’s scouting reports to prepare, tickets to deal with, hotel room lists, meals to order, practices to schedule, contingency plans made in case your team wins, contingency plans made in case your team loses, along with arrangements for the band, cheerleaders, fans, managers and administrators.
Most of the 68 teams in the tournament knew, or had at least a reasonably strong sense, that they were getting in before seeing their names on the CBS bracket (or the version that leaked on the Internet during the selection show broadcast). But without the pertinent details – date, site, opponent – not much could be done on a logistical front until Sunday night.
“We went through this three years ago,” said Ken Kavanagh, FGCU’s athletic director, referring to when the Eagles became national sweethearts with their “Dunk City” run to the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed in 2013. “So most of us understand what happens.”
Some FGCU players knew that they were going to play FDU in the opening round before the actual announcement, thanks to that bracket getting leaked and widely distributed on Twitter. But with the realization that a chance to play North Carolina is now one win away, the excitement was real.
So at 6:40 p.m., exactly 48 hours before FGCU will play in the tournament’s very first game, the behind-the-scenes work was starting in earnest.
FGCU coach Joe Dooley and his staff met while a member of the school’s video staff loaded tons of FDU clips onto Dooley’s laptop. Dooley stayed in his tiny office for hours afterward, trying to put together a game plan while across the hall administrators figured out their own plan.
They ate cold macaroni and cheese and sipped diet soda. In between bites, one small problem kept causing their plans to be ripped up every few minutes.
They couldn’t get a plane.
Seven of the eight teams headed to Dayton had the same issue when they huddled for a logistical conference call around 8:30 p.m. – there were no arrangements for anyone’s charter yet. Michigan was the lone exception, because the Wolverines are headed to Dayton by bus.
Finally, after five hours of trying, Blood got his plane secured around 11:30 p.m.
FGCU was originally going to fly at noon, then 11 a.m., then a departure of 10:30 was finally set. With that, travel plans for 107 people came together. Breakfast plans were changed three times. Lunch plans were changed twice. Practice was originally going to be held early in Fort Myers; the Eagles will practice near Dayton instead in the afternoon.
“A plethora of emotions,” Blood said as Sunday night turned to Monday morning. “But having success and getting to the tournament make the long hours and the weekends, the nights, the holidays spent working all worth it. I’ll go home, shower, pack, feed my newborn daughter, kiss my wife, sleep for a few hours and then back here. Good times.”
Great times, actually.
The tournament awaits.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.