Last week’s NCAA Final Four was one of the most exciting in years, and as a hometown co-host, Rice University students, faculty and staff played a vital role in many aspects of the tournament’s success.
“This year’s Final Four in Houston will be remembered for many things, including one of the best national championship games in tournament history and the great work done by the Houston Local Organizing Committee,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men’s basketball championships. “This year was particularly special since it marked the first time the NCAA had three host schools — Rice University, the University of Houston and Texas Southern University.”
“We were thrilled to co-host such an iconic event in Houston,” said Joe Karlgaard, Rice’s director of athletics and a member of the local organizing committee. “The Final Four is way more than three basketball games; it is really a citywide movement. For us to be involved was an honor and great publicity for our university.”
More than one-third of students in Rice’s Sport Management program worked the Final Four, some as part of a course project for either SMGT 362 (Sport Marketing) or SMGT 466 (Sport Public Relations).
Sport Management students played a vital role in the Final Four “Social Media Hub” at the George R. Brown Convention Center by directly interacting with fans in real time; they left a lasting impression, as they were the eyes and ears of the city and helped the NCAA in spreading the official message through its Twitter handle.
“When major sporting events come to Houston, our faculty always works with organizations like the NCAA, NBA and NFL to make sure our students are involved,” said Clark Haptonstall, chair of sport management. “It is an excellent opportunity for our students to see how complex hosting these events can be while also gaining important work experience at that level.”
“The Final Four is one of the largest sporting events in the United States, so any opportunity for Rice and its students to get involved is a great one,” said Becca Koval, who will graduate in May after studying abroad in 2015. “Working for the Houston Local Organizing Committee has been an amazing experience that has shown me what it takes to put on such a large event and all of the people who are needed to make things happen. The involvement of the Rice Sport Management program made a large difference in the social media for the week of the Final Four. It is great to see that Rice took advantage of the opportunity to get involved with the Final Four and be a part of one of the most memorable Final Fours to date. Without the help of Rice and the Sport Management program, we would not have the opportunity to work and experience events of this scale.”
At NRG Stadium, where the games where played, Rice Athletics had its hands full keeping the more than 1,600 credentialed media informed with the latest updates on and off the court through news conferences and by providing transcripts of all of the player breakout sessions and teams’ locker-room availabilities. The effort also included Rice staff members managing the Final Four media relations copy center. And “runners” kept the media updated by distributing the latest news to reporters courtside, in the media center and press boxes.
“The Final Four is a massive undertaking, and the NCAA has always relied on host schools to provide much of the support,” said Chuck Pool, athletics communications at Rice. “Each time this event has come to Houston, it’s allowed each school to offer students an unmatched back-of-the-house view of the role of media coordination for a major event. At the same time, it allows our full-time staff the chance to make an impression on the national media as well as on those covering each team. While staffing the Final Four certainly is a major add-on to our already busy schedule, the benefits far outweigh the demands, no matter what happens on the court.”
What happened on the court at this year’s championship game is being heralded as one of the best finals ever. In a matter of 4.7 seconds, fans saw two clutch three-point shots, one by University of North Carolina to tie the game, and the other by Villanova at the buzzer to win the game 77-74.
Rice Athletics’ marketing department played a role on and off the court as well. As a member of the Houston Local Organizing Committee, the department sent staff to participate in monthly meetings to help market the events surrounding the Final Four, including the large public FanFest. The department scheduled Rice students, spirit groups and fans to help with various events leading up to and during the Final Four. At the games, Athletics’ marketing worked on in-game management and assisted the NCAA with in-game production, including presentations, groups, on-court promotions, the national anthems and sponsor activities.
Rice’s Sports Medicine staff coordinated the administration and supply of the training rooms used by the four teams, as well as providing staffing to assist each team’s medical personnel throughout their stay in Houston.
Rice also hosted three of the four teams (Villanova, Syracuse and North Carolina) on campus for practice sessions at Tudor Fieldhouse.
The two-session (April 2 and 4) Final Four attendance totaled 149,845, the second-highest attendance in men’s Final Four history, right behind Dallas’ 156,682. The championship game attendance of 74,340 was also the second highest in championship game history. It was the third time Houston has hosted the Final Four.