SPORTS COMMENTARY

NELSON: In the Middle of the Dance

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Well, Hello!

So, what did everyone do for the past year?

I grew a beard...

There were a few months of doing nothing, but I got paid back for that this past month when Divine Providence, good fortune or dumb luck dropped me into the middle of the NCAA Tournament.

With the size and scope of running the entire men’s basketball tournament in one city, I assumed I would be able to get a small piece of the stats work — the law of big numbers just had to make it so.

I had enough connections that there would be at least one production crew, even with CBS, a network I don’t work with that much, would need a hand.

So when that first call came, a couple weeks before the tournament, I jumped on that opportunity.

It was a production assistant in charge of hiring that made the first contact.

She emailed me and asked if I would be available to work some games.

Yes ma’am, I replied. That was my in.

A couple days later, a producer that I knew called and said he was doing games at Butler and was going to ask for me. 

It wasn’t more than another day that my first contact got back in touch and said that a couple other crews had asked for me and was making sure I was available.

I started making extra stats sheets.

I ended up doing stats for 23 games during the tournament.

It was the First Four and two games at Mackey Arena, then four days and a dozen games at Hinkle, two days and four games for the Sweet 16 at Bankers Life, all four Elite 8 games at Lucas Oil and then the championship game last Monday.

I was in town for the Suggs shot that won the semifinal game for Gonzaga, but the wrong building, as I was back at Bankers Life working the four high school boys championship games. 

Oh yeah, there were two Pacers games last week and another earlier in the tournament. If you want to add to the streak, there were two more this week, ending yesterday.

So I got my 30 games covered in less that a month.

And that was about how many sticks I got stuck up my nose. I was well-tested...

Plus, I found out that each arena has its own set of protocols, so I had to stay secure in each of their systems.

Just to be crystal clear on this — I am not complaining. This is to make you giggle that I had 30 sticks stuck up my nose. The ability to pull this entire operation off meant inconveniences for everyone, and I assure you that for me, it was well worth it. 

The one thing that the folks in charge did do for me at least was make some of the outside details easier.

I got a parking pass that was good from Assembly Hall through Indy to West Lafayette. My credential was set up that I could also get in and out of every building, so I only had one lanyard hanging from my neck (it had 30 testing stickers on it, but there was room).

Every arena had totally different routes to get in and out, or to the announcers areas. Some were close to where teams passed by, so sometimes we could go, and sometimes not. Sometimes it was easier to climb over some of the empty seats to get where we were going, and I had a good enough credential that security let me do that.

At Lucas Oil there were two courts set up, so we would have one game on the north court, and at the end of the game, I had to pack up my bag and hustle all the way around to the other side of the stadium and a completely different broadcast setup (with different announcers – I was the only guy racing through arenas...). With about 30 minutes to tear down, make the run, and set up again.

I got to work with six different sets of announcers and about a dozen different production crews. As it turned out, I had worked with all but one of those six announcers before, some in basketball and some through either college or NFL football, so that made things a bit easier, and fun. I got a chance to pass some hellos along to some of my own Fox crew from folks we never get a chance to see during the NFL season. We even had a chance to talk about the upcoming season and maybe how things might return to a little closer to what we had in 2019 instead of in 2020.

It was sad to have all the empty seats, but I was glad to see at least a couple thousand folks in the seats. We have come a long way in the year. 

The extra space also meant that the networks could build lavishly-sized broadcast “booths” for us to work in. I had space that I have never had before, and will never have again. There was actually elbow room.

I don’t know if I ever had doing stats for 23 games in one tournament on my bucket list, but it is checked off now.

It was quite an experience, and while I never had to run through an airport, it sure was quite a travel experience to go with the sports part added.

I truly hope and pray that each of you have been able to weather the storm of the last year, and that you and your families are doing well.

Safe travels.

Jeff Nelson works in national television.

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