Emmert Embraces March Madness

March 12, 2012

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The uncertainty of March Madness is what makes the month of basketball so great. Is your team in the tournament? Who will they play? The same uncertainty that makes it one of the best months in collegiate athletics can also wreak havoc on a teams’ planning schedule. For the University of Iowa women’s basketball team, that’s where Abby Emmert steps in.

Emmert, who is in her third season as director of operations for the Hawkeyes, is responsible for turning the uncertainties into bullet proof plans. She takes care of all the essentials when it comes to travel; flight plans, bus transportation, hotel reservations and meals. When the calendar flips to March, Emmert’s job becomes even more important.

Take this year’s Big Ten Tournament for example. Emmert and the Hawkeyes had to wait until the very last game of the season to find out where they would finish in the standings and what seed they would receive for the conference tournament. Iowa ended up receiving a first round bye and played on Friday, but a loss in the regular season finale could have meant playing a day earlier.

Even though 24 hours doesn’t seem like that big of an adjustment to the casual fan, try scheduling flights and meals for a travel party of over 30 people on short notice.

“The Big Ten Tournament is always a little more difficult,” Emmert said. “Game times are based on seeding and we usually don’t know the initial plan until after the final game. You also have to think ahead, win or lose, and those plans need to be done ahead of time. If you don’t win, you need to figure out, in advance, when you are headed back home. If you win, you need to have things like meals, scouting reports and practice schedules set.”

Just like any Hawkeye fan, Emmert is most concerned about the result of the game. She thinks about the upcoming contest and wants to see her team succeed. That doesn’t make her job any easier.

“It’s hard because I really like to focus on the game instead of the ‘what if’s,'” Emmert said. “But in this position, I need to know all the ‘what if’s’ to make everything go as smoothly as possible.”

Emmert is one of the best in the business at making team travel go smoothly. It’s not easy arranging travel and meals for a party of that size, but travel is hassle-free time and time again.

Those skills make the stress of a quick turnaround for the NCAA Tournament seem almost second nature. Iowa won’t know its opponent, game time or location for the Big Dance until Monday night between 6 and 7 p.m. The team could leave as early as Thursday.

Emmert knows the routine and has it down to an exact science.

“Usually within an hour after the selection show we receive a manual that notifies us of our hotel at the location we are playing,” Emmert said. “We usually charter fly to the location, and we work with the administration and the NCAA on setting up departure and arrival times. “Once we find out our hotel, I’ll get an email out to our contact at the hotel and get them our rooming list and start planning meals and meeting spaces. That will be taken care of right away Monday night.”

Sounds like the job is done, right?

“The other part of the NCAA Tournament is meeting with coach Bluder and figuring out what we want to do with the team,” Emmert said. “Do we want to eat at a local restaurant or stay at the hotel? If we win, are there any sights around the area that we could visit in between games? What time do we want scouting report? We can’t set those schedules until we know where we are going and what time we are playing.”

Emmert played at Iowa and experienced March Madness as a student-athlete. She never realized what went into the planning until taking over as director of operations.

“As a player, you have no idea the communication it takes to have everything go the right way,” she said. “Little things like landing at an airport and having a bus waiting for you. Someone had to set up that bus, pay for that bus and communicate with the bus driver. You are pretty blind as a player, but our athletes are extremely appreciative. They probably understand that aspect a little more than I did.”

Emmert credits her ability to make trips go off without a hitch to the attitude of the players and coaching staff.

“Our travel party is extremely easy-going,” Emmert said. “That makes my job a lot easier.”

Most people would dread dealing with so many uncertainties during such a crucial stretch of their jobs. Emmert not only welcomes that aspect, she knocks it out of the park year after year.

Emmert’s talents make March a little less maddening for the Hawkeye women’s basketball team.