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Super regional format creates logistical challenges for both teams and staff during March Madness

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Whitney Swab says she is the type of person who makes lists for everything and is perhaps over-organized, something that’s very helpful as logistical coordinator for the NCAA’s Albany super regional.

It was her job to make sure things ran smoothly in Albany for the second year of the format in which the regionals have been consolidated into just two sites.

On semifinal Friday, she was coordinating four shootarounds, four practices and two games, all on the same court. That’s eight teams coming in and out of MVP Arena from around 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. sharing four locker rooms. She had about an 18-hour workday before doing it all again on Saturday.

“I like to call myself organized and logistically methodical,” said Swab, who also is the senior associate commissioner and chief operating officer for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. “I will have a punch list of the items that need to get done. And we have some really great volunteers who are here to help us and make sure that everything gets set up very nicely and presents well for the teams when they come for the first time, even though we’re on a short time crunch. So my words today have been speed and accuracy.”

That means getting locker rooms turned around in about 30 minutes — cleaned, with new signage and nameplates. Staff must make sure they are restocked with things like towels and drinks, and players and coaches know their media and other obligations.

Swab became an expert at this sort of thing while coordinating MAAC Tournaments, where the 11 schools had both men and women playing in the same venue.

“We learned that communication with the team’s director of basketball operations is really important to make sure that they can either stay in the hotel or on the bus if their locker rooms aren’t ready,” she said. “Because the student-athletes need to stay resting. You don’t want them standing at the team entrance waiting or standing around outside of a locker room waiting to get in. So any communication that we can give to the teams to make sure that they know ahead of time before they even get here is really important.”

In Albany, locker rooms were reserved for teams with practices and games. Those coming in for shootarounds came dressed and occasionally stretched in the corridors while waiting for the court to become available.

Things ran smoothly on Friday. The first two shootarounds, which began at 6 a.m., were canceled when the teams decided that sleep was more important. Four morning practices finished in time to get everything set up for the two afternoon games.

But while things ran smoothly on the court and in the arena, some coaches questioned other aspects of the format, including teams flying in from the West Coast (Oregon State and UCLA) and being scheduled for early news conferences and practices.

LSU’s Kim Mulkey also worries there is a fairness issue when it comes to accommodations for eight teams.

“When you bring in eight teams, do you have eight hotels that are all of equal value, that are all the same? Probably not. I don’t know how many cities do,” she said. “That’s a concern, is that when you get to a Sweet 16, some people won’t ever go past a Sweet 16. It’s a big deal.”

And Iowa’s Lisa Bluder said having everyone travel to just two sites has made it harder for fans of some teams to get to games, especially when those sites are on opposite coasts as they have been in the first two years. The other site this year is in Portland, Oregon, and last year the games were played in Seattle and Greenville, South Carolina.

“We play some pretty good basketball in the Midwest, too, and we’d love to have the opportunity to showcase women’s basketball at its finest in the Midwest, as well,” Bluder said.

That doesn’t mean the coaches thought things went poorly in Albany.

“I thought this region did an excellent job at hosting all the teams, the hotels, the gym was very accommodating to us — I can only speak on us,” South Carolina’s Dawn Staley said. “So really appreciate it, and I hope if you make a bid for it again, you’ve got my vote.”

Changes are scheduled to be discussed in 2025, though some are pushing for the topic to come up during this offseason.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

By PAT EATON-ROBB
AP Sports Writer

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