A different kind of madness — and the students love it
Don't you dare complain about coming to Dayton for the First Four, especially not to Steve Lutz, head coach of the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders.
"If you’re complaining about coming to Dayton ... you’re messed up in my book,” Lutz said in a press conference Monday. “The First Four is fantastic. This arena last year was electric. The people here in Dayton are great.”
And I’d have to agree.
The First Four is amazing, UD Arena is always rocking and the players are great. What you probably don’t know is that many of the people helping to make the NCAA Men's Division I Championship First Four possible are University of Dayton students, volunteering to spent their spring break at the center of the action.
This year’s First Four operations included students attending as a part of a class, student workers in athletics communications and fellow student-athletes in various sports at UD.
This amazing opportunity for experiential learning is how four of my fellow UD Magazine writers and photographers and I were able to join in the madness of March at its start, right here in Dayton.
“The First Four feels almost as important for students like us as it does for the teams that are competing,” said junior communication major Kennedy Kish, my fellow co-worker and a UD Magazine student photographer. Kish photographed practices and games from the floor of UD Arena, where she sat alongside professionals from ESPN, the Associated Press and the Dayton Daily News.
First-year student Patrick Sableski is among those who works in the athletic communications department. When they asked if he'd forgo his spring break, he said he was quick to say his calendar was wide open.
“I’m learning a lot about what goes on behind the scenes of this because you just see it on TV, but you never really know what’s going on,” Sableski said between press conferences. “I’ve learned that’s there’s a lot more than you think.”
There are media packets to prepare, teams to escort, balls to corral, chairs to set up, stats to deliver and so much more.
Also helping with the press conferences was psychology major Jaret Fraley, who pointed out the networking opportunities the First Four provides.
“Every single year it’s going to be eight different schools that you could build relationships with — and maybe end up getting hired there,” Fraley added.
Seniors Matt DeMarco and Connor Bruce, student-athletes from UD’s tennis team, also got the opportunity to sit in on the player and coach press conferences, and even asked a few questions through UD’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, a group of student-athletes dedicated to serving as the voice for Dayton’s student-athlete population.
“Coming up toward March Madness there was an opportunity proposed in our meetings saying, ‘Hey, you can come volunteer for First Four March Madness,’ and us being in sports we jumped right on it,” shared DeMarco.
“March Madness is so cool. We are just glad we get to be a part of it.”
“We did media day last year, and we got to sit courtside and watch Indiana play,” Bruce said. “March Madness is so cool. We are just glad we get to be a part of it.”
Students have been helping with the opening games of the NCAA tournament since the playing field was expanded in 2001. Every opening round game has been played at UD since, except for the 2021 games that were played under pandemic protocols. By the end of the 2023 First Four, UD Arena will have hosted 133 NCAA tournament games — the most of any venue.
By the end of the 2023 First Four, UD Arena will have hosted 133 NCAA tournament games — the most of any venue.
I got my first First Four experience last year as a junior philosophy major, and the annual event has been a significant experience for me and my education. Last year I was unsure of myself and felt like I didn’t belong with what I considered to be all the "real journalists" covering the games, but coming back this year I felt much more confident in my abilities and that I have earned my spot to be here.
The First Four offered me many firsts, like getting to write my first sports story, going to my first major sporting event as a journalist, asking my first question at a press conference, walking on the court at UD Arena for the first time and sitting in media row.
All of these experiences, and those of my peers, are possible because of UD’s partnership with the NCAA.
So, as you get ready to watch the last two First Four games tonight, March 15, remember that UD students’ hard work is helping run the show. Watch closely and you might even spot a few. We’ll be the ones with the biggest smiles.