Their names are Rob (Anderson), Jeff (Bechtold), Sue (Edson), Jerry (Emig), Jeremy (Guy), Doug (Hauschild), Roger (Horne) Joel (Lamp), Andy (McNamara), Chuck (Pool), Dave (Saba), Rocco (Gasparro) and Tom (Whitestone). Between 6 p.m. last night and the time 60 minutes airs two Sundays from now, when 68 teams have become sweet, elite and finally four, they will have filled 275 hotel rooms, issued 800 credentials, answered 500 questions, walked at least 100 miles and slept a cumulative 30 hours if they are lucky.
They are the 13 March Madness NCAA Division I men’s basketball media coordinators, and last night all heavenly hell broke loose. While it goes without saying that Selection Sunday is for the student-athletes, it’s hardly ever said that it’s their day as well. So let it be said.
They’ve known this was coming for three years, sat through dozens of tedious meetings for two years, worked on it every day for the past year, lost sleep about it for the past week and obsessed about it since they woke up Sunday morning. They have read and re-read their 300-page instruction manual so many times that they are jolted out of a good night’s sleep by the horror of white table topping at courtside or caffeinated beverages in the press conference holding area.
Last night, when the more highly vaunted selection committee’s work was done, theirs was just beginning. Their phones exploded and their inboxes filled and their adrenaline approached fight-or-flight levels. Their best laid plans will encounter unanticipated road blocks and they will find detours. They’re sports information directors, it’s what they do.
Sometime in the next couple of days, they will leave their spouses, kids, dogs, bills, problems and comfort of their own beds and check into the media hotel in case of a late-night issue. And there’s always a late-night issue. They will multitask because life goes on back in the office; the baseball series and lacrosse game and hockey playoffs are still happening and, if they’re lucky, their team is actually playing in this tournament somewhere else. The show must go on concurrently with the Big Dance.
As press conference day approaches, the demands will multiply while their energy wanes. If they have planned well, their corps of worker bees will make honey but they know they hold the ultimate responsibility of the queen; as they go, so goes the hive.
Around 7:00 on setup day, they’ll still be obsessing about the point size on the credential labels and asking their building people to remove the table skirting from the media work room. They’ll feel sweaty and stinky and incredulous to the fact that their AD and the committee reps have time for wine and dinner at this moment but relieved that they’re never invited to these types of things anyway.
They will agonize and strategize for hours to get the press row seating just right only to have a reporter demand to be reseated 12 minutes before tipoff of the first game because his seat is not as good as Sports Illustrated’s. They will wonder how they’re supposed to be at the pre-tournament meeting and strobe test at the same time but somehow they’ll pull it off. They’ll wonder why there are still strobe tests.
At least 50 times the next two weeks, they’ll find themselves at the end of their ropes. A reporter for whom they booked a room, provided parking, replaced a lost credential and provided notes, stats, quotes, food, drinks, power and wireless will complain about the media shuttle being five minutes late. A photographer will switch spots without letting them know and cheerleaders will stretch and throw stunts in the minicam holding area. The copier will break down at least twice, they’ll put out 100 fires and feel lucky if none is a real fire. They’ll tie a knot at the end of their ropes and hang on for dear life.
Then, inevitably, some magic will happen. Bryce Drew will make a shot, Duke will lose to Lehigh, or Scotty Reynolds will take it the length of the court and send Villanova to the Final Four. And they’ll be there, five feet away, close enough to hug Jay Wright if they weren’t such a professional, and this I know firsthand. The end of the rope is a long way from the top of the world.
Having walked in their shoes six times, I can still feel the literal and figurative blisters this job brings. But when the glass slipper fits, you are dancing at the ball with with your Prince Charming, and his name is March Madness. Millions may be watching from the comfort of their living rooms, but you are living it from the glorious discomfort of your courtside folding chair. Long after midnight, you will treasure this dance and your memories will never fade.
Your title doesn’t hold the same cache or rank as the tournament managers, but your job is harder. You know it and so does everyone else but you would never say it and neither would anyone else. Just knowing is good enough.
But I’ll say it – you have the hardest job in March Madness. It’s also the best.
So hats off to Rob, Jeff, Sue, Jerry, Jeremy, Doug, Roger, Joel, Andy, Chuck, Dave, Rocco and Tom. Remember, if not for you March Madness would be like that mythical tree falling in the forest. It would still happen, but no one would know about it.