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A Worthy Sacrifice

Relocating championships proves necessary — just not easy

Making the right choice often entails making the difficult one.

The NCAA Board of Governors decision in early September that championship events scheduled to be held in North Carolina in 2016-17 would be moved in response to a new state law that limits communities’ ability to prevent discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community proved to be no exception.

Two days after the NCAA’s announcement, the Atlantic Coast Conference declared it would follow suit, relocating 10 championships scheduled to take place in North Carolina. Two weeks after that, Division II’s Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association said it would do the same. By mid-October, all three groups had unveiled new sites for 27 championship events.

Pulling that off, however, required more than a handful of board meetings and news releases.  

“It sounds easy, but it’s easier said than done,” says Marcus Clarke, CIAA senior associate commissioner for internal operations and business administration. “There are little things that folks may sometimes not take into account.”

At the NCAA, for instance, the process of seeking and awarding bids that usually takes place over several months was condensed to two weeks. For the NCAA and conferences, finding new sites entailed a mix of reaching out to potential venues and fielding calls from members eager to help. The Division III Women’s Soccer Championship, for instance, typically struggles to draw bids but had a handful to choose from after the board’s action.

As committees rushed to find new sites, representatives from North Carolina schools and cities losing championships needed to be informed. Though they had poured untold hours and resources into preparing to host, members on the receiving end of those calls proved understanding, not combative. “We’ve been to North Carolina a number of times, and they’ve been terrific hosts and hopefully will be in the future,” says Jeff Jarnecke, NCAA director of championships and alliances. “Our members are there, and many valued partners along the way. There’s certainly an impact that’s tough for everybody involved.”

Once new sites were selected, committee members and staff at the NCAA and the two conferences had to arrange trips to see them. Ensuring that the quality of the event wasn’t hampered by the shortened time frame was Clarke’s primary concern. That meant, for instance, the conference’s new cross country championships site in Richmond, Virginia, needed to be examined and measured to ensure new signs for the finish line could be printed instead of relying on materials that already had been made for the event originally slated for Charlotte, North Carolina. The branded footballs for the conference championship? Those had to be tossed aside and replaced with new ones. “Don’t harm the student-athlete experience,” Clarke says. “That was our charge.”

Only four days after the NCAA announced new sites, Mary Berdo, the NCAA associate director for championships and alliances who oversees the championships for Division I women’s soccer and Division I women’s lacrosse, was on a plane to San Jose, California, which had secured hosting duties for the soccer championship a mere 54 days before the event was scheduled to take place. There, Berdo gathered with 25 representatives from the San Jose Sports Authority, the West Coast Conference and Avaya Stadium to begin planning. New logos for use on signs and the web needed to be created within a few days. New soccer balls needed to be ordered, as did new gifts and awards for student-athletes. Broadcast partners needed to be consulted. 

After selling 7,500 tickets to the event in Cary, North Carolina — all of which were refunded — Berdo and her team started from scratch to drum up interest 3,000 miles from the original venue. They held a presale and marketed aggressively, selling about 1,000 tickets in the first 48 hours. Despite the condensed time frame, the Dec. 4 championship match hosted more than 6,600 fans.

“It’s certainly uncharted territory for any of us to have planned a championship in 40 or 50 days,” Berdo says. “Is it perfect? Probably not. But it’s the best that we can do. What’s important to our student-athletes is that there are people there to watch them compete.”

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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