CLEVELAND —- The Colonial Athletic Association’s first three-bid year in the NCAA tournament has a mildly unanticipated side effect.
Lots of frequent flier miles for commissioner Tom Yeager and deputy commissioner Ron Bertovich.
The pair have gone from Dayton to Washington to Cleveland in the last 48 hours, and they’ll fly to Chicago shortly after George Mason’s date with Villanova at Quicken Loans Arena.
After all, Virginia Commonwealth-Georgetown awaits tonight.
“It’s been exciting,” Yeager said. “It hasn’t been all that difficult. Fortunately, we’re in relative proximity with good airports. It’s been short nights and getting out and about. We’re going to leave here and try to get to Chicago. But it’s much better than being at home watching it on TV.”
Indeed, that isn’t a problem this week. Old Dominion earned the league’s automatic berth, and George Mason fell safely into the field as an at-large pick.
But when VCU earned one of the spots in the two play-in games for the final four at-large teams, it created both a significant event in league history and the chance to see all of it in person.
“This is what we’ve worked for all year,” Bertovich said. “To have three teams in and VCU advancing, we’ve been lucky with the schedules. Knock on wood, the flights have been on time. That’s why we’re in this business right now.”
The toughest turnaround so far was Thursday. VCU’s victory over Southern California ended around midnight in Dayton, and Old Dominion’s round of 64 meeting with Butler tipped off early in the afternoon.
“It was a lot easier with a win on Wednesday,” Yeager said. “A loss might have made it less thrilling. It was a short time, but it was easy. We slept on the flight, took the train down, hooked up with the ODU guys, had breakfast, got out of there last night and got here. It’s been fun.”
Today brings another tricky development. George Mason’s game won’t end until late afternoon. VCU tips off near 10 p.m., but it still could be a tight squeeze.
“We should have about an hour once we get there,” Bertovich said. “I don’t think they’ll hold the game up for us. I don’t think they’re sending a police escort for us, either.”
Both Yeager and Bertovich acknowledge such a close call is still more ideal for the purposes of being able to represent the conference on site than having a team in, say, Denver or Tucson. The pair would have split up if it was impossible to catch all the games.
So far, it hasn’t been a problem. And it’s turned one of the CAA’s finest weeks into something even more enjoyable for the conference’s leaders —- a stretch both men would like to see continue beyond Friday.
“The fact that three got in, the fact that all the criticism was leveled at VCU and VCU won and advanced, but we had a crushing loss yesterday, and we get keyed up for two games today,” Yeager said. “You’ll never take the fact we got three in away from us, but at this point we want to keep going. There was a real disappointed locker room yesterday. Sooner or later it comes for all the teams except one. I’m just hoping it goes for a while.”
—- Patrick Stevens