Women's tourney host UI taking Carver prep work in stride

Matt Cozzi
Facilities Service Coordinator Mike Patterson prepares Carver-Hawkeye Arena on March 18, 2015, for the women’s NCAA Tournament by affixing a logo to the court.

Each of the last two seasons, Carver-Hawkeye Arena hosted the first and second round of the women's NCAA Tournament. In both instances, the announcement was made in October, giving University of Iowa personnel five months to prepare.

This year? Four days.

For the first time since 2003, the NCAA has gone back to rewarding the top 16 seeds with home games for the first two rounds.

The Selection Show was Monday night, giving 16 schools less than a week to prepare their facilities for the postseason. Iowa, a three-seed, will play 14-seed American at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Carver. Washington, a six seed, and 11-seed Miami (Fla.) also play Friday, tipping off at 11 a.m.

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Despite the short turnaround, UI facilities service coordinator Mike Patterson remains confident. If this were the first time UI hosted the tournament, he likely would be feeling more frazzled.

But there's a comfort level with this being the third consecutive year Carver has played host.

"We're lucky that we've hosted the last two years," Patterson said. "Basically we're doing everything that we've done in the past two years. We have a record of all that stuff, so it's easy for us to look back on what we did last year and we know the time frame it takes to get everything accomplished. We feel really good about what we have to do in the time we have to do it."

A planning meeting took place at 8 a.m. Tuesday, and various UI staff have had meetings throughout the regular season to rundown the possibility of hosting again.

Most of the moving and shuffling is done Wednesday and Thursday, including overhauling the court and surrounding area to NCAA standards. That includes placing NCAA logos on the hardwood and building a seating perimeter for media.

The marketing department also is busy this week.

Director of marketing Lisa Pearson said communication via email and social media began Monday night, including ticket information. Pearson had Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder record a message for a mass phone call that reached out to any fans who purchased Hawkeye women's basketball tickets within the last two years.

Radio spots for the tournament began airing statewide Tuesday, while print and digital advertising will be running all week. Digital billboards in Cedar Rapids are promoting the tournament, as well. The early game times could present a challenge to fill the arena. Average attendance this season for the Iowa women's basketball team was 5,213 per game.

Pearson also helps coordinate in-game production with the NCAA. Signs, video board content and public address announcements will need to be fit to script. Pep bands from each school will be getting direction from Pearson, as will on-court promotions and halftime entertainment.

"We started conversations (with the NCAA) within the last couple of months," Pearson said. "They told me what budget they would be providing in terms of marketing, so I sent them back a marketing plan and how I would want to spend that. As soon as we found out Monday night, we needed to be able to move forward with everything.

"This year it depended on being one of the top 16 seeds, but the reason why we've been able to host so much is that we've done such a great job of being able to put on the event. The NCAA knows that they can rely on us to put on a good event for them."

Josh Berka, UI assistant director of event management, didn't hesitate when asked what the biggest challenge is this week: Time.

"Time is of the essence in virtually every area to try to make this happen," Berka said. "One advantage we do have is hosting the last two years, just knowing our plan and knowing it worked extremely well the last two years. We don't have to reinvent the wheel by any stretch."

Even if there are only four days to get ready.

"Everybody is excited about it," Patterson said. "It means a lot (to host). We always want to provide the best environment for our team to be successful in, and hosting the first and second round again is as good as it gets for these ladies. It gives them all the confidence in the world to be able to play at home in front of their fans.

"We like to put on big events. The regular season almost gets routine for us sometimes, so it's fun to get challenged once in a while."

Reach Matt Cozzi at mcozzi@press-citizen.com or 319-887-5409, and follow him on Twitter at @matt_cozzi.

Five jobs to get Carver-Hawkeye Arena ready for the NCAA Tournament in four days:

1. Branding: All the NCAA logos you could ever want. On the court. On the video board. On the concourse walls.

2. Cleaning: Fans from four teams will be attending games on Friday and two on Sunday. Carver will need to be in shape.

3. Concessions: Even though tip-off time is early Friday (11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.) and could present a challenge to get people into seats, it will be lunch time.

4. Promotion: The UI marketing department not only anchors promotional efforts leading up to the games, but also once you walk through the turnstyles for in-game bits and halftime entertainment.

5. Parking: Because competition will be taking place during business hours Friday, there are limited options for parking around the arena compared to a regular season game on a weeknight or weekend. But there will be a variety places to park. More information can be found on hawkeyesports.com.

NCAA Tournament in Iowa City

When: Friday (First round) and Sunday (Second round)

Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena

Who: No. 6 Washington vs. No. 11 Miami (Fla.) 11 a.m. Friday; No. 3 Iowa vs. No. 14 American 1:30 p.m. Friday; the winners of both games will play on Sunday, time to be determined.

How much: Single day tickets on Friday are $30. Youth (ages 18 and younger) are $12 and senior (50 and older) are $18. UI student tickets are $5. Tickets will be $18 Sunday for general public, $8 for youth, $13 for seniors, and $5 for UI students.