As men's Final Four ends, ASU gets ready to host 2024 event
Athletics officials tour the 2023 championship in Houston in preparation for handling many of the behind-the-scenes details next year
HOUSTON — It was midafternoon Friday, in the media work room at NRG Stadium, when J.D. Loudabarger and Mike Chismar could finally sit down and talk.
For much of the day, the site of the 2023 men’s basketball Final Four was a cacophony of sounds and sights. The teams — San Diego State, Miami, Florida Atlantic and Connecticut — had practiced in front of their fans and their bands. Hundreds of media members milled about, looking for good quotes and great stories, and thankful that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were on the snack table.
Coaches told stories, players assessed their chances of winning it all and everyone looked forward to the games on Saturday.
But Loudabarger, Arizona State University’s associate athletic director of athletic operations and facilities, and Chismar, the senior associate AD for operations and facilities, weren’t in Houston to follow the bouncing basketball or appreciate the sound of a finely played trombone.
As they took a tour of the stadium wearing credentials that read “Future HOST,” they were thinking ahead to 2024, when ASU will be the host school of the Final Four and responsible for many of the behind-the-scenes details that are needed to put on an event of this magnitude.
“Oh, man,” Loudabarger said. “It’s hard to even say (how many). But it’s a lot.”
What does a host school do? Let’s put it this way: It’s much more complicated than laying out welcome mats and opening the doors to State Farm Stadium in Glendale.
“The Final Four the last number of years is a lot bigger than just three basketball games,” said David Worlock, the NCAA’s director of media coordination and statistics. “All the ancillary events, the community initiatives to leave a long-lasting impact, the planning that goes into all those types of things.
“It takes an army.”
That’s why Loudabarger, Chismar and members of the Final Four organizing committee got on a plane and headed to Houston. They were here to ask questions, learn what has changed from the last time ASU hosted the Final Four in 2017 and add to their to-do list, which will grow exponentially as calendar pages are torn away and the games themselves — the semifinals will be played on April 6, 2024, the championship game two days later — grow closer.
“It’s just a great reminder of what we need to do,” said Debbie Johnson, co-chair of the organizing committee and an ASU alum. “It’s all about making sure that we’re up to date. We want to make sure that we have the best event possible for the student athletes, the fans, the alumni, everybody who’s going to be in Arizona.”
Nobody realizes how many people it takes to pull something like this off.
— Doug Tammaro, ASU’s senior associate athletic director for media relations
For that to happen, ASU — as Worlock said — will need an army.
Loudabarger estimates 25 to 30 people from Sun Devil Athletics will be directly involved in the event. ASU must provide practice sites for the Final Four teams — Desert Financial Arena and the Weatherup Center in Tempe will be available, and, as in 2017, ASU will take care of “running the floor,” as Loudabarger put it. That entails providing a scoreboard operator, a shot-clock operator and a game-clock operator.
Marching band director Jim Hudson will be the liaison for the Final Four bands, and during the games, he’ll wear a headset “so they’ll know when they’re supposed to play and when they’re not,” Loudabarger said.
Doug Tammaro, ASU’s senior associate athletic director for media relations, said he’ll employ 40 to 50 volunteers, including 15 to 20 students from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, to gather quotes and distribute them to the media. Other volunteers will be responsible for things like credentials, the photo boxes holding photographers at each end of the court and transporting players from the locker rooms to the interview rooms.
“It’s sports information stuff that you do normally, but it’s at the highest level,” Tammaro said. “Nobody realizes how many people it takes to pull something like this off.”
ASU’s experience in hosting the 2017 Final Four is a template for 2024, but as Chismar and Loudabarger learned Friday, the intervening years have created new responsibilities for the host school, like X-ray machines that are now used to help teams check in.
“I think just technology is probably the biggest impact,” Loudabarger said. “We’ll definitely ramp up and make sure that we’re doing it to their (the NCAA’s) standards.”
ASU’s involvement will transcend the athletics department. Worlock said he expects the W. P. Carey School of Business to be involved in marketing and branding the event, and other schools to help out with events that will take place in downtown Phoenix.
“As an ASU grad, I love that they play a role in this,” Johnson said. “I love their commitment to it. You may not see them front and center everywhere, but they’re there. They’re looking out for the schools, the student-athletes, the NCAA program and the Final Four as a whole.
“To have them as part of the organizing committee is critical. To have their voice into what happens and what’s going to take place, and how we as Phoenix and Arizona want to be represented is really important.”
It’s also an opportunity for ASU to showcase itself.
“The last time we did this (in 2017), the (NCAA) committee came out here for a basketball game, and we threw out some Final Four T-shirts,” Chismar said. “As we get into the basketball season and things start to heat up, there’ll be (opportunities) that continue to shine the light that says ASU is the host of the 2024 Final Four.”
On Monday morning, Loudabarger and Chismar were scheduled to participate in a three-hour future host school meeting. On Monday night, the moment the championship game ends, ASU is on the clock.
“Get a checklist together,” L.J. Wright, the NCAA’s director of men’s basketball championships, said as he concluded Friday’s tour of the stadium. “I look forward to being at your door soon.”
Ready to get tickets for the 2024 Final Four? Find the option to apply for random selection (purchase not guaranteed) at the NCAA website. Deadline to apply is May 31, 2023.