One thing that most people understand about March Madness is that this is a tournament that needs a lot of work and preparation. The time and effort that everyday punters put into following the games and working out their bets suggest that hosting an event like this can be a logistical nightmare and this is definitely something that is coming to the fore for the big event. The NCAA will no doubt have plenty of last minute panics and worries to contend with but rumours of an airplane shortage is going to cause a lot of concern for the organisers and teams of this year’s big event.
After Selection Sunday, there is a very busy run of days for the travel office at the NCAA as they try and pull together the travel plans for all of the teams involved with the event. As the Vice President of Championships for NCAA, Mark Lewis, says;
The people that run our travel department are our heroes. They’re miracle workers to pull this off every time.
Flights are in high demand
The annual campaign to make sure everyone is on a plane and travelling in style has become much more difficult due to a drop off in the availability of planes that are suitable to carry the entire travelling party of teams in the March Madness event. This isn’t just the team and the coaching squad; it will often include administration staff, family members, cheerleaders and pep squads.
Teams need to get to where they need to be
The fact that travel plans can only be put into place from Sunday only adds to the chaos and there is an argument for having more time between Selection Sunday and the first games, if only for logistic purposes. Mark Lewis continued by talking about the negotiations they have with major airlines, saying;
We’re constantly showing them our needs and seeing if they can submit a proposal to handle those flights. American Airlines alone used to provide about 40 legs or more and US Airways provided a number of legs, and we’re told not to expect the combined company will provide as many legs but we won’t know that until we get to the tournaments. Same with AirTran and Southwest. It’s a tough time for them. It’s spring break so the need for private travel or businesses traveling is at a peak, and at the same time it’s our tournament so their commercial flights are really busy and they need the planes, but we’ll still rely on them for a lot of segments. We can pick those up early morning or late at night before they get into some of their regular legs.
Some flexibility is being asked of teams that lose with teams that lose in the second round of games with a tip-off point before 3pm being asked to fly back that evening while losing teams that play after this time have been asked to hold on for another day before travelling home.
As much as there are proper plans being put in place, it often comes down to a simple factor of supply and demand, as Mark Lewis, says;
We have standards for safety we’ll never drop below, but anyone that’s in that pool of operators and equipment; if they have a solution for us, we’ll put it on the table. We’ve put deposits down earlier than ever before. We’ve pre-paid for use of aircraft just to make sure we have as much availability as we could. We’ve never refused an opportunity because of cost.