Bob Carney is the most unruffled person you could imagine managing the madness that is the NCAA Tournament. He speaks in measured tones and casts an aura of calm even as he counts down the days to the tournament, which will bring thousands of fans, hundreds of media outlets and eight elite college basketball teams to Boise.
Carney was working on the event long before November 2014, when the NCAA announced Boise would host the first round of the tournament, which begins Thursday, March 15. The tourney hasn't been in Boise for nearly 10 years, and Carney was instrumental in bringing it back.
What was the secret sauce of winning the bid to bring the tournament back to Boise?
I honestly don't know if there's a real answer.
Experience must have something to do with it. Boise State has hosted the men's tournament eight times, but Boise hasn't hosted since 2009.
What helped us this time is that the NCAA changed some of the seating requirements. They used to require a venue that seated 12,000 people, but when we reconfigure Taco Bell Arena for the tournament, our capacity drops to about 11,700. They changed the rule to a minimum of 10,000 seats after any reconfiguration. So, we immediately put in a bid and won the tournament for 2018. We'll host again in 2021.
Do you have a sense of how many people will be helping you out behind the scenes?
We'll have about 50 staff, plus 120 volunteers. When you add in parking, security, concessions and all the rest, we'll be in the 200-350 range.
Let's talk about the externals. We're told that as many as 30,000 fans—some from Boise but many supporting visiting teams—will be in town. It's a good thing we built as many downtown hotels as we did.
We work closely with the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau, so our partnership with a lot of those hotels was critical.
As we get closer to the tournament, give me a sense of what's still on your to-do list.
We're finalizing some traffic-flow items. For instance, how do we deal with an emergency situation? How would we get fire trucks in? How do we facilitate students' access to their dorms?
That's an important point. The first day of the tournament, Thursday, March 15, is a school day.
It's a lot of coordination and communication. Parking notices have been sent out. We'll sell some parking spots in the lot west of the stadium, but the lot between the arena and the stadium is going to be for the media.
Give me a sense of where you'll be at game time.
I'll be sitting courtside, joined at the hip with personnel from the NCAA. Of course, my ear will be plugged into our radios. Hopefully, you'll never know about the back-of-house issues. Our goal is to make sure the fan has a great experience. We have venue coordinators, team coordinators, even band coordinators. It's really an orchestra where everyone has their own small part to play, so that the whole thing comes together.
Why is Boise an ideal host for such a high-profile event as March Madness?
This is a really good basketball community, but it's really about showing off how fantastic the city of Boise is. People come to the tournament, plus they have a great time downtown. It turns out that the tournament in Boise is really a great vacation compared to the hustle and bustle of, say, cities like Detroit or Los Angeles.
Do sports run through your blood?
Ironically, no. Previously, I worked for outside companies with huge government contracts. Thirteen years ago, we moved here, and I landed a job with Boise State athletics. I'm a fan, but not a huge fan, which actually allows me to do my job really well. I focus on behind-the-scenes instead of what's going on in the game. Sure, I enjoy watching Boise State play, but when I'm in my element, I'm smoothing things out around the game instead of focusing on what's happening on the basketball court.
Do you drink a fair amount of caffeine?
I drink a lot of coffee, yes, but I actually think caffeine mellows me out more than anything.