When March Madness descends on Indianapolis, it will be the maddest March that’s ever been. For the first time, all 68 teams will travel to one state ready to battle it out for the national championship – something missing from last spring after COVID-19 shut down the season before the madness could even tip off.
And though this year will bring a challenge like none other to the host city of Indianapolis, Holdaway and Rasmussen are no strangers to helping run large-scale championship events, especially the NCAA Tournament.
The Circle City was already set to host the Final Four on April 3 and 5, but with COVID-19 posing a threat across the country, the NCAA made the decision in January to hold the entire tournament in the state of Indiana. That means 68 teams will be housed in downtown Indy; 67 games will be played between West Lafayette, Indianapolis and Bloomington; and countless practices will be held in the Indiana Convention Center.
This will be the seventh NCAA Tournament that Holdaway and Rasmussen will be a part of as IUPUI hosts.
What exactly does the host job entail? Essentially, IUPUI comes alongside the NCAA and assists in various tasks to help make the tournament run smoothly for teams, media, fans and other stakeholders.
Holdaway, IUPUI’s sports information director, will serve as the media coordinator for all games played in the Indiana Farmers Coliseum and at the Final Four in Lucas Oil Stadium. He is a liaison between the media and the teams for the duration of the time that games are held at his sites.
“My job is done well when the media are happy and the student-athletes and coaches are happy,” Holdaway said.
Rasmussen acts as the tournament manager, helping facilitate between the NCAA, Indiana Sports Corp and other groups involved in the tournament. He is organizing the information between the various behind-the-scenes staff – from the facility staff to the media to the volunteers.
While the job isn’t new to Holdaway and Rasmussen, the challenges presented by COVID-19 are, and the situation has affected the preparation of all staff members.
“Not being able to get answers to questions we have has been challenging,” Rasmussen said. “But I know those individuals we hope to get answers from more than likely don’t have answers themselves. To provide for the appropriate public health response to hosting the NCAA Tournament means that we aren’t going to have all the answers as early as we would like.”
Holdaway believes the key to success is being as prepared as possible – and he has seen his fair share of interesting events happen in Indy. In 2010, Butler advanced to the Final Four in Indianapolis, which brought an unprecedented amount of media coverage. Three years later, Louisville’s Kevin Ware suffered a traumatic leg injury during the regional final against Duke, also in Indianapolis.
“You think you’re ready for every scenario, and then you get dealt something different,” Holdaway said. “We want to be prepared as possible, but also flexible enough to shift on the fly.”
The preparedness is part of the reason Indianapolis and IUPUI are viewed as such great hosts. Since IUPUI became part of the formal hosting cycle in 2013, Indianapolis has hosted more NCAA Tournament games than any other city outside of Dayton, which hosts the First Four each year – except this year.
Dubbed “the amateur sports capital of the world,” the city routinely opens its doors to collegiate national championships, Olympic qualifying events and more. With a walkable downtown and connectedness throughout the major venues, the city has built its brand, and events keep coming back – the Final Four is set to return to Indy in 2026.
“The vision from community leaders to utilize sport as a driving force to help brand the city of Indianapolis and advance opportunities for the tourism and hospitality industry in our city is huge,” Rasmussen said.
But besides the world-class venues and downtown amenities, Holdaway believes there’s a special ingredient that puts Indianapolis at the top of the list.
“Indianapolis has a bit of that small-town feel, but with all the amenities and tourist attractions,” he said. “At the heart of it all, though, is the people. We go out of our way to make people feel at home when they come to an event here.”
This year, the stands won’t be filled, but the city will take on a task unlike any before. Holdaway and Rasmussen are prepared as possible to ensure that 68 teams, media and the NCAA leave happy.
”Making the Madness” is a feature series that explores the IU Bloomington and IUPUI students, staff, faculty, alumni and venues that are involved in hosting the 2021 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.