The way Bill Bradshaw sees it, the NCAA is an extremely easy organization to get along with. Just do what the folks in Indianapolis say, and everything will be fine. Athletic director at Temple University and a resident of Radnor, Bradshaw is in charge of the weeklong NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship set to kick off at the Wells Fargo Center this month. And to say there are a few details that need his attention is like saying there are a few Little League baseball games taking place on a spring Saturday around the Main Line.
Bradshaw and his staff have a lot to worry about—everything from what channels are available on hotel TVs to where participating teams will practice before games. A 400-page manual is the starting point. Everything else will be crisis management. Oh, and you’d better do things according to the NCAA’s wishes, or the tournament won’t be coming back. “They say, ‘If you don’t want to do it, we’ll give it to Denver,’” says Bradshaw.
OK, so maybe the NCAA isn’t quite that brusque, but it’s no doubt interested in working with partners willing to do things its way. “There is a: ‘This is the way we do it, and you’re going to do it that way,’” says Temple senior associate athletic director Joe Giunta. “But they don’t say it in a nasty way.”
This is Temple’s first time as host school of the games since 1992, when Christian Laettner hit one of the most famous shots in college basketball history to lead Duke University over the University of Kentucky in the regional final at the Spectrum. Bradshaw, meanwhile, had experience staging a weekend of NCAA hoops when he was athletic director at DePaul University.
Temple administrators have provided tourney assistance in the past, but this is the university’s maiden voyage in the driver’s seat. And there’s a lot of new ground to cover. “The challenge is unlike any other sporting event,” Bradshaw admits.
Teams arrive in Philadelphia as early as Tuesday, and winners of the Friday games will play again on Sunday—and there are plenty of benefits. The premier college sports tournament offers great brand awareness for Temple. It can also generate more than $200,000 for the host school. “It’s not just the [eight] teams that are coming in—it’s all their fans and the media,” Bradshaw says. “It’s a crazed situation.”
For Temple, the madness began with its bid to host the tournament. Among other things, it included a complete profile of the city’s hotel, practice-facility, restaurant, transportation and logistical capabilities. The Philadelphia Sports Congress was heavily involved in the effort, but most of the work fell on Bradshaw and his staff, who had to inspect hotels and other venues. “There are certain requirements we have to fulfill,” he says.
Despite the attention to detail and all of the various specifications that are laid out by the NCAA, there remains one big wild card Temple can’t address until the Sunday before the tournament begins: the identities of the eight schools that will be coming to town. Since the NCAA doesn’t announce the field of participants to the host cities before the brackets are revealed on TV to the rest of the country, Bradshaw’s team must be ready to move quickly when it finds out who will be playing in Philadelphia.
The people on the front line are the one or two hosts assigned to each team. If Wyoming is announced as a participant in Philadelphia, the hosts reach out to help coordinate travel, lodging, practice schedules and any other needs. Consider them the concierges who attempt to make sure every detail is handled correctly. It is vital that teams aren’t inconvenienced, so as not to be at any competitive disadvantage on the court.
“The circumstances are not typical,” says Giunta. “We have to find out whether hotels have showers that can accommodate a seven-footer. I stood in showers at hotels to check that. I’m six-five, and if I have room above my head, it’s OK. We’ve had to switch hotels because of that.”
Every hotel must have three rooms available to host meetings, film sessions, study halls and fan events. If a team wants to do a walk-through at the hotel on the day of a game, a ballroom must be ready for that. There are even team specifications regarding arrivals. Some want to come in the front door with fans cheering, balloons fluttering, and a welcome banner heralding their presence. Others want to sneak in the back door and go directly to their rooms.
“The NCAA’s main concern is the experience of the student athletes,” Giunta says. “The hotel and transportation are big parts of that. If it’s a bad hotel or a bus is late to take the team to a practice or a game, the NCAA notices that.”
Bradshaw expects as many as five head coaches from the teams playing in Philadelphia to be “fairly high maintenance”—but that’s just part of the preparation process. The volunteers chosen are expected to be problem solvers and facilitators—all the better to handle demanding people and unusual requests.
Speaking of volunteers, Temple has assembled an army of them to work with teams, fans, sponsors and the media. Hundreds of journalists will descend upon Philadelphia to cover the games. They, too, must be fed information (and food), given access to players and coaches, and assisted with IT issues.
And, of course, everything must run according to a tight NCAA schedule. If the first game on Friday, March 22, is scheduled to tip off at 12:07 EST, then that must be the case. Everything that has happened to that point matters little to the fans tuning in to watch the action. It’s time for basketball.
When the final horn sounds, the last media report is filed, and the teams have headed home, Bradshaw and his staff can, at long last, relax. Content that several months of meetings, planning sessions, and standing in hotel showers have resulted
in a great event, they can all go back to their regular lives.
“I’ve already said to my wife, ‘Please forgive me for all of the things that will happen,’” Bradshaw says, laughing. “Everybody has my home and cell numbers. Who knows, maybe a school president will call me in the middle of the night.”
And chances are, Bradshaw will be ready for the call.