Duquesne's 'army' is taking care of NCAA Tournament logistics

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012

Police escorts for the buses• Check.

Hotel ballrooms large enough for an informal practice, just in case a coach gets an urge• Check.

A ladder — emblazoned with the appropriate sponsor's logo — to help the victors cut down the nets• Check.

Those are just three of the necessities on Duquesne associate athletic director Phil Racicot's list, as he prepares for the sold-out second and third rounds of NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament from March 15-17 at Consol Energy Center.

For the third time in the past 16 years, Duquesne University will host to one of the crowning events on the U.S. sports calendar. And it's the responsibility of Racicot, his employees and volunteers to make sure everything goes according to plan.

"We have to have an army of people to manage this," he said while leafing the NCAA's 363-page tournament manual, which is always within reach.

Consol is the venue for the tournament for the first time after the first two were staged at Mellon Arena in 1997 and 2002. Pitt hosted women's subregionals at Petersen Events Center in 2007 and '10.

Planning began four years ago when officials at Duquesne, Visit Pittsburgh and Consol decided to submit a bid to the NCAA. In the spring of 2009, the bid was finalized; a few months later, it was accepted.

Duquesne receives 10 percent of ticket sales and plenty of national exposure, Racicot said.

"It certainly allows us (an) opportunity to (enable) fans to see NCAA basketball at its highest level," he said.

But why Pittsburgh?

Consol, less than two years old and offering "all the bells and whistles," according to Racicot, was the chief attraction for the NCAA. David Worlock, associate director for media services, said Pittsburgh also met the NCAA criteria for plentiful hotel rooms, convenient transportation and proximity to the airport.

Teams will be housed in six Downtown hotels, which have reserved between 150-175 rooms each for players, coaches and other officials.

With the tournament coinciding with St. Patrick's Day, most restaurants and hotels in the Downtown area are preparing for increased business.

"It will be like back-to-back Steelers games," said Tim Zugger, general manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton and president of the Greater Pittsburgh Hotel Association.

Zugger expects the DoubleTree, located one block from Consol, to sell out its 333 rooms for four days, and possibly a fifth if the two teams scheduled to stay there decide to arrive Tuesday. He said restaurants city-wide can expect a 50 percent increase in sales.

"It's very good for business for the DoubleTree and the City of Pittsburgh," he said.

Selling tickets to the game was no problem, thanks to Pittsburgh's reputation as a big-event town, Racicot said. Added Worlock: "We know there is an appetite for basketball, especially on the collegiate level."

The NCAA sold all seats through its website, triggering the process in April immediately after the 2011 Final Four. That initial sale was limited to Duquesne and Penguins employees and season-ticket holders, and Consol business partners, Racicot said.

"We sold the most number of tickets of all the (eight) NCAA venues across the country," he said, noting Pittsburgh edged Omaha, Neb., for that distinction by selling 13,000 tickets. Another 2,000 were sold in October and were gone in three hours, Racicot said.

Consol seats 18,450 for basketball, and sellout crowds are expected both days. Duquesne has issued credentials to 88 media members — not counting Turner and CBS — and expects many more applications before the Thursday deadline.

Tickets were sold as $234 and $210 packages that entitle holders to attend four games March 15 and two more March 17 (tip-off times to be determined by television). There is no walk-up sale, but returns may become available on the website on game day if schools can't sell their allotments.

"We get calls every day," said Racicot, noting scalpers may ask for twice the face value. "It all depends on what teams are here and how badly people want to see those teams."

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