I didn’t take a photo by the giant bracket on the side of the JW Marriott in downtown Indy. This is the second time they’ve done that – it’s excellent and brilliant in every way – but honestly I just didn’t get over there. And most of the time in the 2015 Final Four in Indy I wasn’t at the JW until night anyway.

But I wanted to measure my NCAA Tournament experience by output, and to provide some thoughts on this great event from an industry point of view. I started writing this post before/during the tournament so it may not always make sense now, but trying to finish it then was a silly endeavor considering the late nights and time required to work this thing and also have a day job and kids. It was a tremendous experience and a great showcase for the 16th largest city in America.

Below is a recap of my thoughts on the tournament, my experience working 16 games remotely and 3 in person and a couple comments on some issues in the news.

Media Coordinator at Bankers Life Fieldhouse

I was fortunate enough to be in a position to participate in this very unique tournament in Indianapolis as co-media coordinator for the 16 games played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. My employer was the host institution for those games, and a group of four of us and some table crew workers teamed with the great Pacers Sports & Entertainment to staff one-quarter of the tournament’s games.

However, while in this role, I ended up not seeing a single dribble or hear a single whistle in person. Two hours before the first game of the tournament, there was a positive COVID test on staff and I was ruled a close contact. Weeks of work and prep – and I was sent out.

(I tested negative that day, again 3 days later, 5 days later, and 7 days later. I’m now 50-0 in COVID tests, better than Rocky Marciano.)

So I walked back to my hotel room, had a Zoom with the Pacers staff to guide them what to do in-arena, and went to work. Three games each day for the first four days of the tournament, and then four more games in the second weekend. Here are my stats, from March 16-29:

At least as far as I can account for … and this doesn’t include any Zooms!

And that’s just one guy sitting in the Embassy Suites for five days, then at his house for the regional weekend. Kudos to all of the media coordinators at the venues and the NCAA staffers who put in the work (and the cellular data) to figure this thing out. Being a part of the tourney is always great, and I valued the chance to be around this weird one. But here’s to a normal tournament in 2021!

Evaluating The Bracketologists (Sorry I’m Late)

I started this site in March 2018, and one thing I’ve done each year (save last year) was select a few Bracketologists and score their accuracy. I was crazy busy this year with the stuff above so I didn’t get a chance to get to this before the games. Apologies. But I did the work and still want to share it.

I’ve always tried to take the approach that they should be scored on what people who work with the actual teams would want to know: Are we in? What seed? Where we going? At Butler and North Carolina State, those were the things I wanted to know. Every year is a little different, and there were no destinations to grade this year.

So here’s what I did. I selected these 6 Bracketologists:

  • Joe Lunardi, ESPN
  • Mike DeCourcy, Fox Sports
  • CBB Heat Check
  • Patrick Stevens, Washington Post
  • Jerry Palm, CBS Sports
  • Haslam Metrics

I graded them the night of Selection Sunday, as I have done since 2018. And here’s how I graded them this year:

  • 1 point for each team correctly placed in the field
  • 1 point for placing a team in the right region (usually I would care about location, but that wasn’t a thing this year)
  • 1 point for getting a seed right, (-1) for being 2 seed lines off, (-2) for being 3 seed lines off
  • 2021 Bracketologists Standings

    View The 6 Brackets Here (if anything looks off, let me know!)

    1. Patrick Stevens: 145 points (67 in, 27 right region, 51 seed points [2 teams 2 lines off])
    2. Joe Lunardi: 134 points (67 in, 26 right region, 41 seed points [3 teams 2 lines off])
    3. Heat Check: 130 points (67 in, 18 right reg, 45 seed points [3 teams 2 off, 1 seed 3 off])
    4. Mike DeCourcy: 126 points (67 in, 21 right reg, 38 seed points [1 team 2 lines off])
    5. Haslam Metrics: 126 points (66 in, 20 right reg, 40 seed points [3 2 lines off, 1 team 3 off])
    6. Jerry Palm: 116 points (66 in, 16 right reg, 34 seed points [7 teams 2 lines off])


    Tournament Media Relations Notes & Observations

    IN 49 STATES, THEY’RE JUST MEDIA COORDINATORS: Much was made of the great basketball venues in Indiana during the tournament, and rightly so. Mackey and Hinkle are legendary and among the best places to see any game. Assembly Hall has cachet because it’s Indiana. Bankers Life is among the best NBA arenas and recently had a facelift, and Lucas Oil is world-class and was built 15 years ago with Final Fours in mind. The Indiana Farmers Coliseum is a good mid-range venue that’s been improved in recent years. But another factor of having it in Indy is the tremendous media staffs we had at each venue. Guys and gals with tons of tournament experience from decades of hosting tournaments and also working with participating teams. We had people at every venue who knew the usual drill, and that made it easier to adjust to the circumstances of 2021.

    NUN OF OUR FAULTS: So, the Loyola student beat writer viral tweet happened at Bankers Life, where I was working. I appreciated seeing the behind-the-scenes responses and results that came from it – a lot of good diplomacy required. I’d just say that it was the biggest Zoom press conference to the tournament at that point and nobody associated with host media had anything to do with anyone not having a chance to speak. There are processes in place that help guide that. There are different ways to approach perceived missed access, and hopefully a young journalist learned that.

    VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR: I remain very curious about local radio broadcast listener data. Many schools did not travel a school radio broadcast, including Baylor. Video feeds were made available to broadcast games remotely. That will probably become more of a thing moving forward across the sports industry.

    LIMITLESS PAPER IN A PAPERLESS WORLD: At the 2006 Final Four in Indy (the George Mason one), I remember thinking the mountains of printed paper (quotes, notes, news clippings, etc) seemed a bit much. I felt then much of that could be trimmed down by uploading things somewhere for media to access. This year, that came true as the NCAA had a storage site that housed videos, documents and photos for everyone to access. I still feel like some things just need to be printed, but I’m guessing the amount of things printed moving forward will decrease.

    Probably The Best Game I’ve Ever Seen

    I drove home from the national semifinal wondering if Gonzaga-UCLA was the best basketball game I’ve ever seen. It probably was.

    When considering the quality of play and shotmaking, the stakes, the storylines of both teams and how it ended, it was probably the best basketball game I’ve ever attended. It was a masterpiece. The funny part was I was able to watch it from a suite where media from UCLA were supposed to sit but they didn’t show. Imagine applying for credentials to that hame and then not going. The final shot came right at me in slow motion. Pretty cool.

    BTW, I rank it ahead of Butler-Duke only because of the quality of play. Butler-Duke was a 61-59 final, this one was 93-90. Probably more guys that will stick in the NBA in Gonzaga-UCLA too. But the atmosphere and intensity of Butler-Duke was unmatched. If Gonzaga-UCLA had more fans, it would’ve been even more spectacular.

    A Cool Tournament Acquisition – 2020 Edition

    The night before the tournament started, I acquired a polo from the 2020 Final Four. The shirt doesn’t fit and I wasn’t at that tournament. Nobody was. But a polo from a tournament that was never played – I’m a sucker for neat relics like that! Pretty cool.

    On the curtain at Lucas Oil Stadium that separated the two courts, the NCAA placed all of the logos of previous Final Fours in Indianapolis. Always cool to see. Adding the 2020 Atlanta logo (may it rest in peace) was a nice touch.

    As Always, End On A Joke

    I loved this SNL song. And as I recently got my first dose, thought it’s a good joke with which to end this post.

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