Seymour natives adjusting to NCAA changes due to virus threat


Americans were disappointed to hear the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were canceled because of coronavirus and COVID-19.

Each year, March Madness results in fans packing into arenas or watching the games at restaurants, home or work, being thrilled by the upsets and seeing how their bracket predictions hold up.

This year, though, the term “March Sadness” has been coined since the games won’t be played.

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Fans aren’t the only ones disappointed. Those working for the NCAA, including Seymour natives Jennifer Rodgers and Lauren Fife, also are sad they will miss out on all of the action and are adjusting to a different work environment.

Rodgers, a 2000 graduate of Seymour High School, is the associate director of media coordination and statistics, while Fife, a 2007 SHS graduate, is the coordinator for men’s basketball championships.

“My initial reaction was disappointment and then complete shock about spring championships also being called off,” Rodgers said. “My group had been working at a furious pace to accommodate the no fans/limited access piece while trying to properly handle scheduled contests in our stats database, and it all came to a halt.”

Fife said the initial announcement about no fans attending was disappointing because the atmosphere would be completely different, and she was sad for the teams that would be competing.

“At that time, the good news was we were still going to play the games. When the tournament was canceled altogether, it was completely devastating,” Fife said.

“So many teams wouldn’t get the chance to compete for a national championship, and our partners in our host cities would not get to see all of their hard work come to fruition, knowing we work year-round to create experiences that would last a lifetime for student-athletes and they work for years for this opportunity,” she said.

On March 11, the NCAA announced all winter championships would go fan-free, including some already in progress, like Division II swimming and diving and Division I indoor track and field.

“Our entire championships group was called together in a meeting area in the late afternoon, and the news was relayed by staff leadership shortly before it was announced to the public,” Rodgers said.

On March 12, Rodgers and the other 15 members of the media coordination and statistics staff were busy revising media policies and procedures for what they believed would be winter championships with limited media access.

They also were working to update winter and spring schedules in the statistics system with all of the incoming cancellations and postponements.

“Shortly after 4 p.m., a meeting maker was sent out, and our group was called together at 4:15,” Rodgers said. “The decision to cancel winter and spring championships was shared minutes before the news broke publicly.”

Fife’s work completely changed, too. Following the fan-free announcement, the staff began updating all future communications to the teams that would complete the March Madness field.

“We were working to identify what essential staff meant and who would be needed in these buildings across the country to pull off games in a safe manner,” she said. “We were working to find backup venues as certain states started coming out with rulings about how many people could gather in buildings. The 4:15 meeting on Thursday relayed the decision to cancel as the news went public.”

Based on recommendations from the state and the NCAA COVID-19 panel, the national office in Indianapolis suspended building operations through April 3. All employees are now working remotely. This also was done to help staff accommodate other changes, such as school cancellations, Rodgers said.

Since the announcement, Rodgers said she has been working primarily on statistics to accommodate the growing number of canceled and suspended seasons.

“I oversee the national statistics for Division II women’s basketball and softball,” she said. “I ended up finalizing season stats for women’s basketball on Friday, the day the first round of the NCAA tournament was scheduled to be played for Division II.”

In the coming weeks, she and the staff will focus on how to handle spring statistics and records books for fall and winter sports.

“I also help oversee the creation and distribution of NCAA credentials for most championships, so we’ll be halting current production and working to get credentials and media supplies back from each championship site,” Rodgers said.

She said she already has canceled nearly 30 days of scheduled travel for the men’s basketball Final Four and men’s baseball College World Series.

Fife said first, she and her staff have to figure out how to wrap up the 2020 season.

“A lot of equipment had already been shipped to sites, hotels were under contract, services were lined up, etc., so there is a lot to unpack and untangle,” she said. “The next few weeks, we will take a deep dive into our processes and evaluate how we do things and see what we can do to make things run more efficiently.”

Fortunately, through it all, NCAA leaders have done an excellent job of communicating updates, Rodgers said. On Friday, an all-staff video conference was conducted so President Mark Emmert could personally address the situation and a growing number of questions about how this would affect staff.

“Luckily for my department, a majority of our work is handled online, so we can continue to work from remote locations,” Rodgers said. “Our media coordination and stats staff will meet Monday using Microsoft Teams so we can start to define work responsibilities and priorities.”

Also, the leadership staff has been sensitive and practical about employees as people, Rodgers said.

“Yes, there is work to be done and some needs handled immediately, but they understand that we also need to address concerns at home, like school cancellations,” she said.

Looking to the future, Rodgers said she doesn’t think they will be back into a normal routine as a staff until July.

“We hopefully can start a normal academic year routine with fall sports and championships,” she said. “From a personal standpoint, my three boys are out of school until April 13 — two weeks of spring break, plus two weeks of eLearning — so we’re quickly trying to figure out a new norm at home.”

Fife said she’s not sure when things will be normal again.

“Typically, we do a big tournament download when we return from Final Four in April to see what went well and what didn’t,” she said. “We spend a good amount of time making updates for the future based on how the tournament went this year.”

One thing both are excited about is the 2021 men’s basketball Final Four is scheduled to take place in Indianapolis.

“Hopefully a year from now, we can get back to March Madness as we know it,” Rodgers said. “I absolutely love being onsite at championship events, from being behind the scenes during setup times to seeing the student-athletes excited to compete. Fans are walking into the venue with huge smiles on their faces, and it’s such a satisfying feeling seeing the staff’s hard work come together seamlessly to put on a world-class event.”

Fife said being on-site for March Madness and the Final Four is the best part of the job.

“To work for an entire year on this one championship, it is a great feeling to see the reactions of teams, student-athletes and coaches as they make their way through the tournament. That will be sorely missed this year,” she said. “I think there will be an extra layer of excitement around the Indianapolis Final Four after this year’s cancellation.”

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