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In March, you never know what might come between the teams and the tournament

Nor’easters. Charter company mergers. Traveling tubas.

Each spring is a new adventure for the NCAA travel staff, who are charged with moving not only 20,000 Division I men’s and women’s basketball players, coaches, staff, band members and cheerleaders throughout the country, but also competitors and coaches for the other NCAA spring championships. Some challenges come with the expected territory of March Madness air travel — lining up baggage handlers on short notice, for instance, or working within the confines of Federal Aviation Administration rest regulations for flight crews.

But others are unique to the year, giving the travel staff a new dynamic to add to the logistical puzzle of championships travel in March.

“There is never a dull moment,” says Juanita Sheely, NCAA director of travel, meetings and events. “Every year teaches us something new.”

Among the challenges in 2018: NCAA travel staff members were more diligent about enforcing how much band equipment is allowed to accompany teams on planes. The rule restricts bands to two tubas and one drum set, but in recent years some teams have stretched the limits, creating heavier planes, which necessitates extra fuel stops and jeopardizes flight arrangements for the next team awaiting that plane.

As a result, Sheely says, she “heard from more band directors than directors of operations this year.”

Meanwhile, four Nor’easters ravaged New England in 18 days in March, canceling flights throughout the Northeast and especially affecting travel to Boston while it was hosting a regional round of the Division I men’s basketball tournament.

In one situation, a Division III men’s and women’s swimming and diving team from a Northeast school nearly didn’t make it to the championships. Sheely found herself on the telephone with the Division III national office staff, which manages the budget for those students’ travel. “OK, here’s what our options are: chartering them to North Carolina, and then flying them commercial to Texas,” Sheely told her colleagues, “or these 12 student-athletes don’t get to compete.”

The swimmers and divers got where they needed to be, as did everyone in the travel parties of the Division I men’s and women’s basketball teams and the thousands of others in March NCAA championships.

Among those competitors are wrestlers, fencers, skiers and the runners, jumpers and throwers participating in indoor track and field championships — each one a reminder that in March, the travel madness isn’t limited to basketball.

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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