WATERLOO | If Selection Sunday is all about learning where your favorite college basketball team will play for postseason NCAA glory, the day after is devoted to figuring out how to get them there.
Each year, that job falls on the shoulders of a Waterloo company, Short’s Travel Management.
“We went into full swing last night (Sunday) about 5 o’clock, and we’ve been busy ever since,” said Ryan Dohmen, president of STM Charters, a division of Short’s charged with the task of reserving flights for all NCAA postseason qualifiers.
Monday was perhaps the busiest day of the year for Short’s, which handles travel arrangements for the NCAA men’s and women’s sports championship tournaments as well as the NIT basketball competition.
“Most people see it as just Division I men’s and women’s basketball, but we’ve also got Division II and III, and the NIT also flows through our office, as well as the smaller sports,” said Dohmen, who heads up a staff of 30 to 40 Short’s employees who take bids from all commercial airlines and arranges flights.
It all happens in a hurry.
“For the men’s bracket and potentially the women’s, too, everybody will have their travel plans arranged by end of today, so it’s a 24-hour turnaround,” he said Monday. “It’s truly March madness.”
Things got busy in a hurry as soon as the basketball bracket was finalized late Sunday afternoon.
“We receive the brackets from the NCAA and immediately go to work from there,” he said.
The process is more complicated than simply booking flights.
“It’s looking at travel preferences of the teams, how many people they’re anticipating are going to travel,” he said. “We are required to research commercial options, but when you’re booking 75 to 100 people per flight for men’s and women’s basketball, the space isn’t there commercial.”
That means booking charter flights.
“We send bid requests to all major carriers in our database and charter carriers as well,” he said. “We put that all together and start piecing that puzzle together.”
Game dates figure into travel preferences. Iowa State University, for example, will play Alabama-Birmingham Thursday morning in the first round of the South Regional of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Louisville, Ky. The men’s teams from the University of Northern Iowa and University of Iowa are both scheduled to play Friday in the opening round of the West Regional in Seattle. Fifth-seeded UNI will play No. 12 Wyoming at 12:40 p.m., and seventh-seeded Iowa will play No. 10 Davidson at 6:20 p.m.
Balancing needs and preferences of each team is part of the job at Short’s.
“For the most part, we’ve been able to meet the travel preferences,” he said. “We have to move some teams around or shift them to maybe a different airport that might work better for positioning.”
It isn’t easy, though, he said.
“The toughest challenge from our standpoint is just getting the whole puzzle put together," Dohmen said. “This week, Wednesday is gonna be the biggest travel day for March Madness. We’ll have men’s and women’s teams traveling and some NIT teams traveling as well. That’s the biggest challenge -- just finding the aircraft and making everything fit in a reasonable fashion.”