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Swept Off His Feet

Mark Hollis, now at the top of college men’s basketball, couldn’t have started much lower

Mark Hollis’ journey to playing the most influential position in college basketball started with a broom.

Magic Johnson had just led Michigan State University to a national championship when Hollis arrived as a freshman and, like many eager students, asked coach Jud Heathcote if he could be a team manager. Heathcote treated him like the others.

He shut the door.

But Hollis came back – six more times, in fact – until Heathcote presented a life-changing offer. He handed Hollis a broom.

“Go sweep the floor,” the coach said.

Hollis shared that story in 2013 for an NCAA Champion magazine profile of the imaginative Michigan State athletics director who has conceived some of college sports’ most wildly innovative events. At the time, Hollis was a newcomer to the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, fulfilling one of his career dreams. But it was only a start.

This past summer, Hollis was announced as the next committee chair, arguably the most influential role in college basketball. He will serve as vice chair this year and take the helm for the 2016-17 season, when Phoenix hosts its first Final Four in 2017.

But all that success traces back to Heathcote’s broom. “Had I not been a basketball manager,” he said, “this wouldn’t have happened.”

Through that broom, Heathcote set the direction for Hollis’ career. Hollis nurtured his passion for college sports as he managed the team’s finances on road trips, organized summer workouts with NBA stars and roomed with current Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo.

So he stayed in college athletics as his career budded, and his alma mater benefited as the events he conceived became national curiosities. The Cold War hockey game, played in the Spartans’ football stadium, drew 74,554 fans and a national television broadcast. Then the Basketbowl, played on the Detroit Lions’ home turf at Ford Field, attracted a record-setting crowd of 78,129, a number surpassed only after the Final Four adopted a similar format. And the Carrier Classic, played on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson in front of President Barack Obama, set imaginations alight.

But Hollis has a practical side that is bent to serve. He has chaired the NCAA’s Amateurism Cabinet, leading efforts to define amateurism and address related issues in modern college sports. And he’s served on the Men’s Basketball Committee for the past three years, spending 60 nights on the road last year alone at Final Four site visits, planning meetings and, naturally, the tournament selection meetings.

Now, in leading the committee, he’ll assume a greater level of responsibility.

“Now,” he said, “I get to sweep the floor in Phoenix.”

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.