Perfecting MEAC Tournament All About Details
Planning for the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference basketball tournament is a job that never ends. Organizers spend 52 weeks a year perfecting every last detail, and when one tournament is finished, another is waiting.
Conference Commissioner Dennis Thomas calls it a “labor of love.” Sure, pulling together a major college basketball event comes with its share of headaches, but each March when thousands of fans descend on Norfolk, Virginia, everything must be flawless. That means organizers spend a considerable amount of time discussing everything from travel arrangements to decoration of the Scope Arena.
“It never stops,” said Thomas, who is in his 13th year as MEAC commissioner. “When you talk about planning, you have to understand there are the hotels, restaurants, shopping and entertainment. All of those things play into whether fans have a good experience, and if they want to come back they’ll bring someone with them.”
Appearance is everything, especially for nationally televised tournaments that need to convey a sense of excitement for the fans at home. The MEAC works with BigSigns.com to fill the arena with “wraps, vinyl banners and popup banners.” Thomas said the train system and busses also carry wraps displaying the tournament logo.
“We need to have that look for TV, and the arena is well designed graphically and it matches the symmetry of the arena,” said Thomas. “We ask Big Signs to have a site visit to measure and make sure that everything is as detailed as possible. We need to make sure that when they’re putting up the wraps, there won’t be any slippage in terms of the measurements.”
MEAC teams are known to bust brackets every once in awhile, a triumph that’s a great source of pride for the conference. A 15 seed has knocked off a two seed just seven times in NCAA Tournament history, and three of those upsets have come at the hands of MEAC programs, most recently in 2012 when Norfolk State beat Missouri.
Thomas estimates that nearly 41,000 fans passed through the doors of Scope Arena during last year’s conference tournament. He said attendance has doubled since he took over as commissioner in 2002, and the growing interest means conference officials inherit more responsibility when it comes to putting on a first-class event.
That’s something Thomas understands, and it’s why planning cycle has no end. The MEAC tournament must impress fans, student-athletes, coaches and administrators, so the conference works with nearly a dozen different groups to make it all possible. That includes the city, arena personnel, media partners, communications companies and the chamber of commerce, each sharing their thoughts on the best way to create a memorable tournament.
As Thomas puts it, he’s looking for the “wow factor,” and that means everything from the design to the color scheme has to come together just right.
“You have to organize every detail,” Thomas said. “No detail is insignificant and no detail is too minor — sweat the details. If you sweat the details you won’t have unexpected, minor problems turn into major problems.”
Thomas’ list of details is a long one. The players need to come out of the tunnel at just the right time, and teams need to be standing in just the right spot during the championship presentation.
Who makes the announcements? What’s to be included in the souvenir program? These are all decisions that must be made by the conference and its steering committee long before spring rolls around.
High school and college athletic administrators never have to worry about organizing an event that rises to level of the MEAC basketball tournament, but the challenges are similar. It requires cooperation, intense planning and an eye for detail, and those are all things Thomas said event organizers must take seriously. One misstep could lead to major errors that leave fans and student-athletes with a bad taste in their mouths.
“Involve the people that need to be involved,” Thomas said. “That’s the key. There should be a game plan and you must make sure you involve only those who are supposed to be involved.”
Organizers also should create deadlines and constantly verify that tasks are on pace to be completed on time.
Like Thomas said, sweat the details and the rest tends to work itself out just fine.
“We just make sure that everything arrives on time and it’s going to be here when it’s supposed to be here,” he said. “You don’t want to find out in February that something isn’t going to be ready because you didn’t check in November or December.
“One unviewed detail has a reverberating impact on all other events. No detail is too small.”