Jaunelle White has been here before. She's done the meetings, the setup, the preparations. She's done an NCAA tournament before.
Except, like everyone else this year, the IUPUI senior associate director of athletics for internal operations and senior woman administrator hasn't done the tournament like this. Not with COVID-19 looming over everything, creating logistical nightmares and enhanced protocols.
White joined the IUPUI staff in May 2018 after stops at Louisiana State University, University of South Alabama and Texas Southern University. This season, she's the assistant tournament manager for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament at the Indiana State Fairgrounds' Indiana Farmers Coliseum. While exact game-day roles are still being fine-tuned, White has been involved in all the preplanning activities, which consists of weekly Zoom meetings with the NCAA local organizing committee, all institutional/conference hosts and Indiana Farmers Coliseum staff.
This will be her third NCAA tournament, after serving as the tournament director for the first and second rounds of the NCAA women's basketball tournament in 2004, and as a band and cheer liaison at the 2014 men's Final Four.
And despite all of her experience, she and the rest of the staff are up against a new challenge this year.
"The unique challenge is the health and safety component," White said. "Following COVID-19 protocols is the highest priority next to providing a positive experience for the student-athletes. The NCAA and the local organizing committee have done a phenomenal job with planning."
It helps that IUPUI and Indianapolis are experts in hosting large-scale sporting events, too.
"Indy is familiar with hosting large events and providing the ultimate experience for everyone involved," White said. "IUPUI is proud to be a member of the village taking on this challenging but rewarding task. The Hoosier spirit reminds me of good old southern hospitality."
Because of COVID-19, the tournament will have a much different look and feel than it has in the past. The NCAA has partnered with hotels, restaurants and local law enforcement to ensure that health and safety protocols are met for the duration of the tournament. Spectators will not come in contact with teams at the venues, and several staff members and volunteers won't come in contact with teams either. Increased signage and credentials will be present to try to keep everyone safe.
White is part of a larger group tasked with making it all run smoothly, and it can be a bit dizzying to see the list of partners White is working with in the planning process. In the buildup to the tournament, she communicates regularly with the NCAA, fairgrounds staff, Indiana Sports Corp, Horizon League and her IUPUI colleagues. And while it may be plenty to juggle, that's where experience comes in handy.
"I believe experience with large events is invaluable," White said. "The amount of intricate detail that goes into the planning is unreal. This is an opportunity for transferrable skills to shine."
With the stage set and the "March Madness" nearly here, White knows what makes a successful host.
"When the tournament is over, I will feel we did a successful job hosting when the student-athletes and spectators say this is an event they will remember for the rest of their lives," she said.
"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.