Being a Good NCAA Host Worth the Time and Effort

By Brian Bennett

The timeline seemed rather short. On Saturday, Feb. 28, the Geneseo women’s basketball team captured the SUNYAC Championship and with it, an automatic bid to the 2015 NCAA Tournament. On Monday, March 2, the Knights learned that they would be one of 16 campuses hosting a four-team, two-round regional on Friday-Saturday, March 6-7. Not much chance to prepare it would appear.

Yet Geneseo’s athletic department would have all the necessary arrangements well in hand. In any sport, member schools need to submit bids in order to host tournament contests and the process and the preparation begins well before announcement day.

“You certainly have to have the facilities and staff to handle all that is required,” stated Associate Athletic Director Michelle Walsh, who acted in the dual roles of tournament manager and tournament director this past weekend. “But for team events the most important factor is regional rankings, so being selected to host was foremost a reflection on the success of our women’s basketball team.”

The process to host women’s basketball began in mid-February. With the Knights at the top of the SUNYAC standings, a conference title was a distinct possibility and so preparations began, including participation in a conference call with potential preliminary round hosts. The agenda for that meeting had over 70 specific subjects that dealt with aspects and expectations for hosting.

Assistant Athletic Director Jim Lyons is the administrator in charge of handling all of Geneseo’s NCAA bids. He’s been kept busy this season due to the success of the Knights on the field; when teams have the potential for a tournament appearance, Lyons makes sure the proper information is on file at the NCAA website. He submitted bids for women’s soccer in the fall; and this winter, first round and Round of 32 bids for both men’s and women’s basketball, as well as tournament games for hockey.

The facilities information is rather detailed and Lyons is diligent in making sure all questions are answered and qualifying information provided, including a safety and security plan for the venue.

“The most important part of the process from my standpoint is the anticipated budget,” said Lyons. “Most of our expenses is in personnel for the games. I calculate expected income through the various levels of ticket sales and likewise create an anticipated budget, with the form having 37 different possible expenditure lines.”

The NCAA championships committee considers the following criteria in site selection: a bid that is complete in all details; quality and availability of the facility and other necessary accommodations; geographical location (which include such factors as rotation of sites, weather, accessibility and transportation costs); team seeding; and attendance history and revenue potential.

Geneseo is well acclimated in preparing the necessary information for the bid process. Last winter the Knights hosted two NCAA tournament games in men’s ice hockey, and in the spring were selected to host a women’s lacrosse first-round game. Both had similar timelines as the women’s basketball bid, as hosting was dependent on the teams qualifying for NCAA Tournament play.

Lyons also noted that many Geneseo coaches are active on NCAA regional committees and having an inside look at what factors are more important than others. In his dual role as the Knights’ head men’s lacrosse coach, he served four years on the NCAA Division III men’s lacrosse committee, including one term as the chair.

Nor are opportunities limited to team competitions, as evidenced by Geneseo’s recent hosting of the NCAA Division III Diving Regional, a two-day event for both men and women. Hosting such events fortunately have a less-demanding timetable. The materials for that event were due to the NCAA in early June 2014. Geneseo also hosted the NCAA Cross Country Regional in 2013 and Lyons is currently working on a bid for the fall 2015 event.

(For Lyons, not all of his work is in the preliminary stages. After hosting duties end, Lyons enters the reconciliation phase with the NCAA. Geneseo pays for all expenses upfront, with reimbursement coming from the NCAA afterwards, so careful accounting of income and expenses is essential.)

After Geneseo was selected to be a tournament host, the pace accelerated and various duties were quickly taken on by athletic department staff. One of Walsh’s key roles became serving as the liaison with the designated NCAA onsite coordinator Tara Ruckh, the women’s basketball coach at Potsdam.

Assistant Athletic Director George Gagnier ’88 oversees the athletic facilities as part of his responsibilities and a good deal of the logistical planning fell to him. Schrader Gymnasium needed to be reserved and set up not only for the games, but also for practices by the four participant teams on Thursday and Friday. Other rooms in Schrader Hall, as well as adjacent Merritt Fieldhouse, needed to be reserved, cleaned and set up for hospitality, media and team purposes.

Gagnier was responsible for recruiting and scheduling student workers for the various game operations. Among the positions Geneseo was expected to staff included the official scorer, 30-second clock operator, game clock operator, scoreboard operator, timeout coordinator, statistics crew, and public-address announcer. These were either staffed by Geneseo students or athletic department personnel. Between 15-18 students worked at each of the three games over the weekend.

Gagnier also arranged for game concessions, as well as hospitality needs of teams or RAA members, with Campus Auxiliary Services (CAS). He coordinated any special parking arrangements with Geneseo University Police Department.

As hosts, Geneseo was expected to provide off-the-court services for the three visiting schools, including the reservation of hotel accommodations for the teams, the game officials, and committee, media and drug-testing crew from the NCAA.

Roy Tiede and Karen Phillips from equipment issue laundered uniforms after team practices and games Thursday through Saturday. (Tiede had the additional duty of burning and distributing DVDs of the game videos to each team.) Athletic trainers Jeremie Stearns and Emily Ondrejka were similarly available on practice and game days to supply athletic training services, with additional help from Geneseo student training room workers and Alfred University student interns. Stearns and Ondrejka coordinated the use of the Geneseo Training Room with trainers from the other schools and will make sure the proper First Aid materials, as well as water or performance drinks, are available during games. They also arrange to have an orthopedic doctor onsite during the games and if any drug testing takes place (not mandated, but a possibility), it is their responsibility to set up the necessary space to specific standards.

The Athletic Communications and Media Relations office also had prescribed duties. Director Tim Volkmann was designated as the media coordinator for the event, and responsible for working with NCAA personnel, news media and athletic communications’ staff from the participant schools. His duties included the planning and supervision of media work areas, as well as the coordination of all press conferences, statistical services and communications, including such items as game notes for media and public announcer scripts. With Volkmann concentrating on those broader areas, Assistant Director Mina Johnson was responsible for compiling and generating all the necessary material involving the Knights.

Athletic Communications also provided in-game statistical support for each contest, arranged for and provided personnel to handle the live-streaming of the game on the internet, and of course, publicized the game to the Geneseo community.

The number of small details was considerable as the NCAA is specific with its many facility and hosting details as provided in its 101-page women's basketball Host Operations manual. Some of its requirements necessitated adjustments or changes to the facilities. For example, all advertising signs in Schrader Gymnasium had to be taken down for the games, NCAA banners and signage hung and, as an NCAA event is not considered a home contest and an atmosphere of neutrality is preferred, the “GENESEO” and “GUEST” score displays on the scoreboards were re-labeled “HOME” and “VISITOR.” Along with the basic facility setup, many of these requirements involved the services of the college’s facilities services staff. Time to make those changes were limited, as general access to the gym was not allowed when teams were using the facility for practice.

Needless to say, it made for an eventful and sometimes stressful week. However, all involved understand how a successful hosting experience can help Geneseo in future bids, as well as enhance the experience for all the participants.

“As an NCAA administrator, my goal was to make the student-athlete experience the best possible,” said Lyons. “As a coach, my goal is to play my NCAA games at home.”

“We know that for many of our student-athletes, participation in NCAA-level competition is a career goal or playing highlight,” said Walsh. “We will strive to submit a bid to host whenever one of our teams is a participant in the NCAA Tournament.”

Brian Bennett is director of design and publications and is part of the Athletic Communications and Media Relations staff.