Indiana University recently played a key role in hosting one of the most popular athletic events in the United States: the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA conducted the entire tournament in Central Indiana. IU's Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall was chosen to host First Four and first-round games March 18 to 20 -- its first in 40 years.
Twelve teams took the court in the historic venue for a shot at advancing in the tournament and fulfilling their dreams. And for the first time all season, a limited number of fans were allowed to attend.
IU Athletics had an important role in ensuring that the event was conducted smoothly and successfully, working closely with the NCAA on all aspects of preparation and game-day operations. Six staff members who helped the university host the games shared their thoughts about the experience:
- Earlston Bean: Senior associate athletic director for safety and event management, and tournament manager.
- Davis Bolsteins: Associate athletic director for facilities and assistant tournament manager.
- J.D. Campbell: Associate athletic director for men's basketball communications and special projects, and one of the media coordinators for the games.
- Chuck Crabb: Senior assistant athletic director for facilities, voice of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall and public address announcer for the games.
- Scott Dolson: Indiana University vice president and director of athletics.
- Dan FitzSimmons: Senior assistant athletics director of information technology, whose department oversaw the information technology and game-day support.
Here is what they said:
Question: What was it like to see NCAA tournament games played in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall?
Bolsteins: Seeing the court and games come together in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall was awesome! The amount of teamwork from different areas on campus and within the Athletic Department was extremely great to see, and the event wouldn't have been able to take place without it. It was hard to believe the NCAA when they wanted to have a uniform look across many different and unique facilities, but they pulled it off. Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall looked great on TV!
Crabb: I had an absolute blast doing the public address announcing for six games. Certainly, there were numerous details handled before the games were played, as I looked after the preparations for CBS Sports-Turner Sports, Hammond Communications Group and participating schools' radio stations and Westwood One national coverage. I also was intimately involved with venue preparations for Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Everything went according to plan and without a hitch. It was very rewarding.
FitzSimmons: Everyone who works in athletics knows how hard it is to win a championship in any sport. In single-elimination tournaments like the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, really great teams don't always advance. So when the players and coaches walk on the floor for the first time, and point up at the banners, it's a special moment. It's why they came here -- to win a banner of their own -- and here are five hanging from the ceiling as a reminder.
Q: How would you describe the atmosphere, considering the games were played with COVID-19 safety protocols in place?
Dolson: In consideration of the fact that we limited the number of spectators to 500 to best protect the health and safety of everyone involved, I think it was as good of an atmosphere as you can have with limited attendance. Certainly, it wasn't the same as when there are 17,000-plus in the venue, but there was a great turnout from the family members of the participating teams. I'm also glad that we were able to welcome nearly 100 vaccinated health care workers as well, as a small token of our appreciation for all that they have done during these last 12 months due to the pandemic.
Crabb: The schools' fans were directly behind my announcing position, so it was good again to hear cheering and support being shown for teams on the court. It's a shame each school's following couldn't have been larger and included pep band, cheerleaders and students. Even being socially distanced, the fans for each school very much were into the game.
Bean: It was still pretty exciting. The fans still got into it, even though they were in their particular pods. You saw some games attended more than others, and you could really see people getting into it. The fans wore their masks; we didn't have any issues. And the atmosphere with the graphic designs on the scoreboard made it an interesting feel.
Q: What did you enjoy most about the experience?
Bean: Just seeing when the student-athletes and coaches came in for the first practice day, to see the look on their faces and how they took pictures, including pictures of the five national championship banners. It was like, "Wow! This is Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall!"
FitzSimmons: Without question the highlight was working alongside the many dedicated, creative and hardworking IU employees -- both within and outside of the Athletics Department. We successfully pulled off one of collegiate athletics' premier events -- on one of the biggest stages in all of sports. The complexity of hosting any tournament is always daunting, but COVID-19 safety protocols added a degree of difficulty in planning and execution that simply can't be measured. We knew there would be added and necessary inconvenience, but it doesn't hit home until you realize that what once was a simple 20-second trip to the scorer's table to set up the stats computer is now a 2,000-step trip through back hallways and stairwells up to the concession level and then down.
Campbell: The opportunity to reconnect with several people who had previous relationships with IU. Texas Tech's Chris Beard and his connection to the Bob Knight family. Houston's Kelvin Sampson's staff had people who were a part of our program while he was here. LSU with the Watford family, Virginia with former IU women's basketball coach Kathi Bennett returning to support her brother, Tony, and Ohio with Julie Cromer Peoples, a former senior staff member here who is now the athletic director at Ohio. I root for people, not teams, so I knew the feelings and emotions these people were going through.
Q: What did you hear from players and coaches about their experience in the venue?
Bolsteins: Due to the limited interactions, it was hard to truly get direct feedback. However, we did hear that many enjoyed having the experience of playing in such a historic venue as Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. All of the teams that were playing here at IU seemed to very much enjoy their time here.
Dolson: I think the general consensus was that everyone loved the opportunity to play in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Of course, I'm sure the six teams that won ultimately enjoyed it a little more, but it was a special opportunity for all 12 teams that played here over the course of the three days. I give tremendous credit to our staff, in particular Earlston Bean, Davis Bolsteins, Jeff Keag, Dan FitzSimmons, Mark Skirvin and Roy Lubovsky for the countless hours they spent to make sure everyone had a first-class experience.
Campbell: The common theme was getting to play in a historic venue that they have seen on television. They did not come away disappointed.
"Making the Madness" is a feature series that explores the IU Bloomington and IUPUI students, staff, faculty, alumni and venues involved in hosting the 2021 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament.