What is the twist to this year's NCAA Tournament selection? Only two of the best words ever put together: rooooooad trip!
You know about March Madness, so now get to know "Mark Madness." This year's NCAA Tournament selection chair is Mark Hollis, athletic director at Michigan State and five-year committee member. He's the guy you'll see getting grilled on CBS after the field of 68 is revealed on March 12, otherwise known as another two-word phrase that's even better than road trip: Selection Sunday.
This is Hollis' last year on the committee. You had to figure he wouldn't stick to the routine of past chairs. Hop on some commercial flights and grind it out on red-eyes? That's not cool. You know what's cool? Blasting the Matchbox Twenty while dodging speeding tickets on I-81 as you make your way to catch a VCU game in person, something Hollis will do on Feb. 17. (Hollis also lists the "Hamilton" soundtrack and pop-rock act One Republic among his go-tos.)
Need I remind you that Hollis was the guy who first thought to put big-time hockey games outside, organized basketball games on aircraft carriers (I was a fan!), and the catalyst for a regular-season Final Four-type setup more than a decade ago, when Michigan State hosted Kentucky at Ford Field. Now, a new idea. Simple Americana. On the road again.
"Sometimes I have a habit of throwing something out there and have to live with the consequences," Hollis said. "This may be one of those cases."
He's going to gallivant for almost two weeks, traveling through 12 states, covering more than 3,800 miles across this great nation, and catch a lot of basketball in the process. Hollis is eating up vacation days while doing this, too. How many people reading this right now are envious of that vacation? Cruise the open road, visit all these cities and small towns, get good seats and watch college basketball for free?
Sign me up.
No, seriously, Mark: I might meet you in Philly and just cruise for a day or two. Is it cool if I bring my Pearl Jam bootlegs? I get the sense you underrate that '98 tour.
Hollis isn't doing this alone. This trip has been a two-man plan from the get-go: he and Michigan State assistant athletic director Kevin Pauga. They plan on meeting up with fellow selection committee members, some folks in the media, NCAA staff, and pretty much anyone that's a good hang and can take the time to gab on hoops, catch a game or two.
I can picture it now. Hollis just arriving in a city, inviting folks into the van, Dumb and Dumber style, the tires peeling out, off to the next game. He'll be taking a GMC van, one that's used by Michigan State for recruiting, and it comfortably fits six. He'll have satellite television, WiFi capability and a conference table to use, all while the wheels are spinning.
"We make some very difficult decisions during the selection process, sometimes splitting the smallest differences between two teams," Hollis said. "Throughout my career, I have been on both ends of winning and losing -- expected and the upset -- excitement and disappointment. It was important to me to see those emotions from a number of teams right before entering selection week."
The experience will be educational, interactive, unprecedented and, of course, memorable. Hollis wants to do it this way so he can get to games early, get to talk with coaches, managers, even fans. That's something that constantly traveling by plane can obstruct.
"I had an opportunity to do that already this year out on the West Coast, to a point," Hollis said. "I went to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and hit a couple of Big West, Pac-12 and [WCC] games. It was a great to see the teams out there -- Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and UCLA -- but it really gave me an opportunity to determine what's most important for this trip."
Hollis will also have the capability to flex schedule. In fact, he was uncertain he'd start his trip with the North Dakota State-Fort Wayne tilt on Feb. 15, but as of Wednesday morning, that is a go, and will be the first destination. Weather is also the great unknown.
"You can say all 351 teams have a chance with their conference tournament, but we want to structure [the trip] with teams that have a really good chance to get there so I can speak about those teams when we get to the selection room," Hollis said. "More importantly, it's about me getting out there to talk, and listen, that's the most important component. That proved to be very successful out West."
The expenses for the trip will be relatively low, and Hollis said he's not sure how much will come out of his pocket and how much the NCAA will pay for. His position as tournament chair is a voluntary one, for the record.
Hollis is going to bring the NCAA trophy, an official tournament game ball and wants to get photos and videos at every stop. If you see him out there, you're gonna get a photo op and have the chance to tell Hollis everything he simply needs to know about all the bubble teams.
"While most visits will be planned, it will be fun to take the trophy that 351 teams want to take back home with them from Phoenix into elementary schools, restaurants, playgrounds and other impromptu stops and watch the smiles develop and the cameras click," Hollis said.
He's also reached out to a youth basketball group in Philadelphia, will be talking in classrooms at Radford and East Tennessee State, and more community-driven events are in the works. He's even going to stop at Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio's old elementary school in Zanesville, Ohio.
"We could be anywhere from a Buffalo Wild Wings to a gas station," Hollis said.
And here's how it wraps up: Hollis' trip formally will end on Feb. 25 back in East Lansing for Michigan State's senior day.
"It was important for me to return to East Lansing and be available on the court for our team's senior celebration," Hollis said. "The celebration and watching our guys kiss center court is one of the emotional traditions at Michigan State University. I will not miss that."
Hollis has already seen dozens of games in person this season, but never before has a committee chair been this proactive, and interactive, in the big lead-up to Selection Sunday. Here's the Mark Madness road trip/tour schedule, which is subject to change.
- North Dakota State @ Fort Wayne
NCAA Headquarters, Indianapolis
Nashville Youth Club
- Texas A&M @ Vanderbilt (7 p.m.)
- North Florida at Lipscomb (7:30 p.m.)
- Eastern Kentucky at Belmont (8 p.m.)
- Morehead State at Tennessee State (9 p.m.)
East Tennessee State University Campus Visit
Radford Campus Visit
- VCU @ Richmond
- Notre Dame at NC State (noon)
- UNC-Asheville at Campbell (2 p.m.)
- Virginia at North Carolina (tip-off time TBD)
- Wake Forest at Duke (1 p.m./flex option)
NC Central Campus Visit
U.S. Capitol Visit
Youth Club Visit
- Holy Cross at American
Howard Campus Visit
- Texas at West Virginia
Penn Campus Visit
- Rhode Island at La Salle
Philadelphia Youth Club Visit
- St. Bonaventure at Saint Joseph's (7 p.m.)
- UCF at Temple (7 p.m.)
- Butler at Villanova (9 p.m.)
Zane Grey Elementary School (Zanesville, OH)
- Memphis at Cincinnati
Taft Elementary School (Cincinnati, OH) Visit
Cincinnati US Bank Club Boy's & Girl's Club Visit
- Valparaiso at Wright State (7:30 p.m.)
- MAC Wildcard Game
- Florida at Kentucky
- Northwestern at Indiana
- Wisconsin at Michigan State