NCAA apologizes to New Mexico State for travel woes
SAN DIEGO (AP) The NCAA apologized to New Mexico State and said it will evaluate its travel policy after the Aggies had to fly home in the middle of the night following their second-round tournament loss and were met by only one bus at the airport.
Athletic director McKinley Boston said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Monday that he received a call during the weekend from Dan Gavitt, vice president of the men's basketball championship.
"He said it was inconsistent with their effort to provide the full NCAA experience," Boston said. "He was disappointed that our experience wasn't a positive one and that they would do everything possible to evaluate it and try to make sure the experience going forward was adequate."
NMSU and San Diego State were told before Thursday's game in Spokane, Wash., that the loser would have to fly home that night. The game started later than scheduled because the North Dakota State-Oklahoma game went into overtime, and then the Aggies and Aztecs went into overtime before San Diego State won.
After Aggies coach Marvin Menzies and the players fulfilled their postgame interview obligations, the team, pep band and cheerleaders went back to the hotel 15 miles east of downtown Spokane and quickly packed while hotel employees prepared 70 box lunches. The Aggies arrived at the airport, which is west of downtown, at about 1 a.m. The plane departed at about 2:15 a.m. and arrived in El Paso, Texas, at around 7 a.m.
Only one bus was waiting. The team and some boosters were bused to Las Cruces, N.M., while everyone else had to wait for the bus to make the 2 1/2-hour round trip to pick them up.
"That part of it was probably the most disappointing thing for me, only because I knew that two-thirds of the plane was going to be disappointed that we'd flown all night, and now they've got to sit around for another two to three hours because at that point we didn't know very much information other than there was one bus," Boston said.
The matter might not have been a big deal beyond Las Cruces if not for SDSU coach Steve Fisher, who ripped into the NCAA in his postgame news conference.
"I'm going to do something I never do. I'm going to complain about the NCAA process. And I hope somebody writes it," the normally genial Fisher said, mentioning that neither team wanted to go home that night if it lost.
"It's disgraceful," said Fisher, who hired Menzies as part of his original staff at SDSU in 1999. "For the billions of dollars that we have here for them not to find a way to accommodate these kids, the student-athletes - You can't tell me they couldn't find charter planes. And that's what they told me. I shouldn't have to call the NCAA, and I did today to say, `Why?"'
Fisher even suggested that an NCAA administrator should have to fly home with a losing team "and see what it's like to get home at 5 in the morning. It shouldn't happen."
Boston was AD at Minnesota for part of the time that Fisher was the coach at Michigan.
"I've got a lot of respect for Steve," Boston said. "I know he's a passionate person. When I saw it on YouTube I was impressed. He's a standup guy. Always has been."
Mark Lewis, the NCAA's executive vice president of championships and alliances, said complaints were "fair and genuine, but the fact that we can even accomplish something like this is an incredibly complex task and if the policies are something we need to work on, we'll work on them. Other than the bus, everything worked the way it was supposed to."
David McCollum, NMSU's deputy AD, said he received an apology from the bus company. He said details about the Aggies' arrival time somehow hadn't been passed along to the company.
Lewis said a number of factors affect travel, including the number of planes available and new FAA rules requiring flight crews to have 10 hours of actual rest time instead of eight. He said the NCAA is moving more than 120 men's and women's teams, "and then you don't know who's going to lose, so you don't know who's leaving and who's staying.
"Our tournaments didn't shrink and the operation of a charter flight went down because the biggest constraint on us is supply," he added. "It isn't that we had a more expensive option and didn't use it, we didn't have other options to use. We are buying or renting every possible resource we can get access to."
As far as policy changes, "Do we want to go to a policy that no team goes home if the game doesn't end by 2 o'clock or something?" he said. "The counterbalance to that is you're missing class time because you're not getting home the day you played. The policies and procedures aren't decided by our national office, they're made by the membership."
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