March 18, 2018
By John Heisler
Just another St. Patrick’s Day on the University of Notre Dame campus?
Saturday qualified as one of the busier individual days of home competition in Irish sports history:
–A noon second-round National Invitation Tournament men’s basketball game at Purcell Pavilion against Penn State on ESPN
–A 1 p.m. women’s lacrosse game against Virginia at Arlotta Stadium
–A 6 p.m. men’s lacrosse contest at Arlotta against 10th-ranked Virginia on ESPNU
–The 8 p.m. Big Ten Hockey Championship title game between third-ranked Notre Dame and fourth-rated Ohio State on the Big Ten Network
Stuck in the middle of all that at Purcell Pavilion were off-day practices and press conferences for teams from Notre Dame and Villanova after they won games Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championships to qualify for a second-round game Sunday.
For Notre Dame event management and Olympic facility program director Chad DeWeese, it marked just another Saturday and just another busy week.
DeWeese, tournament manager for the NCAA first- and second-round women’s basketball games this weekend at Notre Dame, is no stranger to working NCAA events.
It’s his first as tournament manager after working NCAA women’s hoops games the previous four seasons under associate athletics director Monica Cundiff, who oversees the Irish game management efforts for all sports.
The consistent success of Muffet McGraw’s Irish women’s program and Notre Dame’s progress toward a seventh consecutive number-one national seed in 2018 allowed DeWeese and his staff to have a good sense March would mean more NCAA outings at Purcell Pavilion. That gave the Irish game management crew a chance to prepare.
“With the success of our program we generally have an idea when we will have a chance to host,” says DeWeese. “There are some things on our ends in terms of hotels, signage and hospitality orders that we can do ahead of time. That way it’s not as much of a scramble on game week.”
Bids are due to the NCAA in mid-January-requiring specs for television and media arrangements, facility space, budget, hotels and a long list of other areas.
“Since we’ve done this for a number of years, most of it stays the same,” says DeWeese.
Cundiff works with the Notre Dame athletic business office to nail down financial details with the NCAA.
“There’s a conference call two weeks out from the selections for all potential hosts,” DeWeese says. “There are last-minute checks as you prepare for selection, and then it’s a waiting game until Monday night.
“Once the four teams are announced, everybody gets to work. From our staff, it’s all hands on deck, no matter what your role or the sports you handled. We split up responsibilities, and everybody attacks their area. I couldn’t do it without the help of all our other game management staff members (also including event management and Olympic facility director Kathryn Coneys and Kasey O’Connor, event management and Olympic facility program director and former Irish softball player.
“Monday is a late night as you receive information from the NCAA and then reach out to all the teams coming to Notre Dame. Each site has its own manual, and we make sure it’s uploaded. The NCAA runs everything through Teamworks (an app specifically for women’s basketball), so all informational files are uploaded and shared that way–so you don’t have to worry about sending tons of emails and texts. That’s how the NCAA communicates as well, with notifications on officials assignments and lots of other details.”
Notre Dame’s institutional experience with the NCAA event paves the way in March.
“It helps for sure–you don’t have to build it all from scratch,” says DeWeese. “We have a lot of things in place and each year we do it I think it gets a little better. It’s always kind of crazy the first few days, but there are a good number of things in place that we make tweaks to.
“The first year I was here (2014) we hosted the regional, and for a number of us it was the first time going through the process. The regional requirements and expectations involve more than what’s involved in the first two rounds. But each year it has gotten smoother and smoother.”
On game day, DeWeese can be found troubleshooting, making sure the participating teams are well-served and assuring that all the various event setups happen.
“I’m the primary contact for all of the team administrators, so they can reach out to me,” he says. “It’s all about making sure we’re all good.”
One new wrinkle in 2018 involved the addition of a second-round NIT game Saturday for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team.
That prompted a few minor changes to the Saturday NCAA women’s practice schedule for the two advancing teams from games Friday night.
“The window was very small to get the building turned around,” DeWeese says. “It meant adding the international three-point line and wider foul lanes very late Friday night for the NIT game and then removing those immediately after it ended.”
The added challenge of all the Saturday campus events combined with minimal staff support from students since it’s spring break. That required a bit of extra planning.
“It’s being creative with staffing, parking, locker rooms, etcetera,” DeWeese says. “We make it work. Having done this multiple years, there’s a plan in place. And it helps keeping files from year to year to remind ourselves how we’ve handled things in the past.”
The NCAA has its own rules, regulations and expectations for postseason games-revolving mostly around arena setup, adjusted seat locations for Irish season ticket holders, plus the challenge of back-to-back games and the quick turnaround from game one to game two.
Says DeWeese, “Our Notre Dame team is playing at home, yet it’s the NCAA’s venue and we’re here to run the event.
“We want to hear people say this is one of the best sites the teams and their fans have been to. That’s what we’re striving to accomplish. If someone notices something, we want to hear it. The NCAA site rep sends in observations, we monitor the events from our end and the teams and administrators have the chance to evaluate as well.”
DeWeese joined the Notre Dame administrative staff in August 2013 as event management program coordinator after two years at Ball State as a graduate assistant for athletic administration and operations. He’s owner of two degrees from Ball State in sports administration. During the Irish athletic year he serves as game manager for volleyball, fencing, women’s basketball and men’s and women’s lacrosse.
“We’re all in it together,” he adds.
“We want to put on the best athletic event that anybody has been to.”
Purcell Pavilion-and in its earlier life as the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center-actually has NCAA basketball history dating back to 1971 when the recently built facility played host to a first-round NCAA doubleheader that featured Marquette/Miami (Ohio) and Jacksonville/Western Kentucky matchups. That Western Kentucky team, led by 6-11 Jim McDaniels and on its way to the NCAA Final Four, defeated a Jacksonville squad paced by 7-2 Artis Gilmore. The Irish also played host to NCAA men’s basketball games in 1988 and 1985.
Beginning with a first-round game in 1994, McGraw-coached Irish women’s teams have been good enough that Notre Dame has been the host for 34 NCAA contests, including Sunday’s Irish-Villanova clash.
As long as the NCAA sticks with its current format of allowing the top 16 seeds in the women’s basketball bracket to play host to the first and second rounds, Notre Dame is likely to have more opportunities to perfect its approach.
DeWeese and his staff are anxious to give it a shot.