Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
4/01/2008 10:47:00 AM
Day 21: Travel Madness
Chris Chambers/Getty Images
NEW YORK -- Covering the NCAA tournament sometimes feels like a full-time air-traveling job with basketball games mixed in between. The real junkies try to double up on sites over the first two weekends, and I did it for the first and second rounds, jumping from the games in Omaha to the games in North Little Rock on a series of 6 a.m. flights. An itinerary like that always seems cooler in the planning stage; when you're zombie-walking to your seat in press row and downing Cokes to stay awake, you start to second-guess the addition of a second leg.
Sitting next to me at Alltel Arena in Arkansas was an even more ambitious traveler, Roger Rubin of the New York Daily News, who had taken a red-eye -- with a connection -- from Anaheim after the UCLA-Texas A&M thriller. In Houston on Sunday, I saw Dick "Hoops" Weiss, also of the News, come into Reliant Stadium after hopping a red-eye from Phoenix, where he had covered UCLA's win the previous evening. I took a crack-of-dawn flight back to JFK from Houston on Monday, abandoning a rental car with a dead battery at my hotel and stealing a 6 a.m. cab from CSTV's David Scott (he was kind enough to let it go) in order to make the gate as the plane was boarding. By Wednesday night I'll be back in Texas, getting ready for the Final Four.
Every writer has a travel story, but every one of those itineraries pales in comparison to Greg Shaheen's from this past week. Shaheen is the NCAA's Senior Vice President for Basketball and Business Strategies -- in short, the Czar of the NCAA tournament -- and the man who gave us an inside description of the process in the selection committee's bunker back in 2005. I met up with Shaheen (who's pictured below at left) courtside on Sunday about an hour before tipoff of Memphis-Texas. He seemed incredibly alert for someone who described the following schedule:
• Monday a.m.: Flew from Indianapolis to New York for meetings with CBS • Monday p.m.: Flew from New York to Detroit to "examine the initial build-out of Ford Field," which, as 2009's designated Final Four host, was experimenting with a raised-court setup • Tuesday a.m.: Flew from Detroit to Houston to meet with Reliant Stadium personnel and check out the raised-court setup there • Wednesday: Flew from Houston to Phoenix for West Regional practice day • Thursday: Was on hand for Xavier-West Virginia and UCLA-Western Kentucky in Phoenix • Thursday late p.m.: Flew on a red-eye from Phoenix to Detroit, stopping in Cincinnati "because it was $230 cheaper, and I'm always interested in those kind of savings" • Friday: Was on hand for Wisconsin-Davidson and Kansas-Villanova in Detroit • Saturday a.m.: Flew from Detroit to Charlotte • Saturday p.m.: Was on hand for North Carolina-Louisville in Charlotte • Sunday a.m.: Flew from Charlotte to Houston • Sunday p.m.: Was on hand for Memphis-Texas in Houston • Sunday late p.m.: Drove from Houston to San Antonio for the Final Four, where he'll remain until April 8.
If you weren't counting, Shaheen took eight flights (counting the connection) stopped in 10 cities (counting Detroit and Houston twice) in seven days. How much rest is possible on a schedule like that?
"I sleep an hour, hour and a half per night during the tournament, normally from Selection Sunday until Tuesday or Wednesday here during the Final Four," said Shaheen, who had been accompanied on the latter part of his tour by selection committee chairman Tom O'Connor and NCAA Executive Vice President Tom Jernstedt. "Then I'll get one normal night's rest, and go back at it. That's the only way you can cover everything. And for three weeks you can do it -- you can fake your body out to think that something important is really happening."
That is a routine I could not follow. Shaheen said he was conditioned for it by working graveyard shifts in radio as a teenager: "It just permanently affected my internal clock in a way that it can just be reset," he said.
It's not as if Shaheen lounges at the scorer's table when he arrives on the scene, either: He's essentially the behind-the-scenes face of the tournament, a "workaholic" (in Jernstedt's words) who oversees operations across all sites. Of particular interest to him in '08 are the experimental raised courts, which he said the NCAA will most likely keep for '09, only with fan seating moved even closer to the floor to tighten up wasted space in courtside media overflow areas.
Shaheen's most visible impact this year, though, was at a micro level: When DaSean Butler's out-of-bounds save attempt during Xavier-West Virginia destroyed the Mountaineers' courtside water-jug setup, it was Shaheen who hopped out of his seat to restore order. The small gesture might have gone unseen -- had CBS' cameras not chosen to trail him, complete with narrative from an amused Bill Raftery and Verne Lundquist, carrying the Dasani bucket off the court. "We just needed to get ready for a TV timeout, and I decided, 'I'll go grab it and refill it,'" said Shaheen. "I'm a believer that you never ask anyone to do anything you're not willing to do yourself."
As Raftery said on the air, "Who says that Greg Shaheen doesn't do everything for this tournament?"
Blogging before the Texas v Stanford game, you showed us how cavernous the Reliant Stadium was.
I went to the Texas v Memphis game and found it exactly the same. I was on the 7th row, and felt like my shouts were doing little to affect how loud the place was.
Why doesn't the NCAA build the seats closer like a regular, although larger, college arena? Or, why didn't they just use the Toyota center -- already built for basketball -- to house the regional games in Houston?