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Getting back from March Madness

Tobin Low Apr 6, 2015

Large tournaments like March Madness mean equally large logistical challenges. The numbers are staggering when you consider that 68 teams also means 68 coaches, 68 marching bands, 68 cheerleading squads. The numbers made Marketplace listener Angela Barker curious:

How do teams, which include support staff and pep bands, arrange their flights home? Most teams go home the day after they lose. Figure 50-75 plane tickets per team. That’s a lot of seats to have the airline hold over multiple days.

Short answer: The NCAA arranges and pays for all travel. Or most of it, rather. Here are the numbers behind getting teams from campus to court.


NCAA Division I rules pay for travel and a per-diem stipend for parties of up to 75 for preliminary games. Aside from supporting staff, that number allows for 15 players, 29 band members, 1 band director, 12 cheerleaders, 1 cheer coach, and 1 mascot.

If teams make it to the Final Four, that number goes up to 100.

350 miles

If a team is traveling under 350 miles to a game, they have to take a bus, which is arranged by the NCAA. And that’s a hard rule, even if a team is traveling, say, 347 miles.

467 buses

That’s how many bus trips will be organized by the NCAA. This number includes buses involved in transporting teams to and from airports (these trips are organized by the NCAA, but are paid for by the schools).

214 flights

That’s how many flights will be arranged by Short’s Travel on behalf of the NCAA. As soon as the bracket for March Madness is announced, Shorts launches into action — coordinating flights, making deals with charter companies and mapping out airports as rapidly as possible.

3 PM

Which brings us to Barker’s question: When a team loses, how is it that they manage to fly home so soon after the game?

The answer: charter flights.

Over at the NCAA website, they’ve got an exhaustive explainer on how Short’s Travel figures out how to get each team where they need to be. The process involves non-stop communication with charter plane companies to the point that Shorts representatives refer to the airlines by the gender of their representative. These planes exist on a “what-if” schedule — prepared to drop or pick-up flights depending on who wins and loses.

Those organizing flights don’t pay attention to the game so much as they wait for the buzzer to make a round of calls about who is flying where.

Three o’clock in the afternoon is a crucial time: if a game’s tip-off is before 3 p.m., the losing team flies home that night. If it’s after 3 p.m., flights are arranged for early the next day. Shorts handles travel arrangements for all of these flights, with the NCAA reimbursing for the personnel counts listed above.

90 percent

But some argue that with the amount of money the NCAA makes on March Madness, it could be doing a better job helping schools out with expenses. After all, 90 percent of the NCAA’s $800 million revenue originates in television and marketing-rights fees for the men’s basketball championship alone. 

In a recent article for Forbes Magazine, Robert Tuchman points out that those 75- and 100-personnel allotments barely cover costs when you factor in extra staff, band members, and cheerleaders who are also traveling to an away game. And if a university has a smaller program, they don’t necessarily have the money to cover those extra costs. It can add up, with some schools barely breaking even on participating in the tournament. (Though, Tuchman also says schools can earn back lost money through increased visibility from making it further into the tournament).

Which leads to the last number:


That’s how much the NCAA will give each of the players on Final Four teams. The stipend is meant to cover travel and housing costs for family to make it to the final games. It’s a pilot program for this season — many expect an announcement soon about whether or not the NCAA will choose to continue paying out the stipend.

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