joan scott

The Maven of March Madness

By Rachel Stern

JoAn Scott started her week in New York. She will end it in Detroit, with short stints in Dayton, Dallas, Charlotte, Pittsburgh, and Detroit in between. She will juggle plane delays, broken-down buses, bad weather, hotel reservations, and, you know, whatever other logistical challenges might pop up when managing a 68-team basketball tournament. Such is the life of the NCAA’s Managing Director of Men’s Basketball Championships. Short on sleep, long on stress.

But Scott, who got her MBA from Butler in 2005, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“There are definitely a lot of moving parts, and our goal is to make sure everything is buttoned up and that teams have as few distractions as possible,” Scott says. “I don’t get much sleep this month and my phone is constantly ringing as we try and put out the fires that come up. But I have the most rewarding job. I love seeing the players taking selfies next to the March Madness logo. The best part is really seeing everything through the eyes of the players.”

Scott oversees Division I, II, and III men’s basketball tournaments. On Selection Sunday, she is in the seeding room. She does not vote on seeding, but walks everyone through the process and explains to everyone who does vote how things work. Scott describes her role as “air traffic controller.”

But Scott, who got her MBA from Butler in 2005, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Selection Sunday is the most stressful day,” she says. “There is simply no room for error.” Going into Selection Sunday there are about eight different brackets, depending on which teams won Sunday, she explains. Not only are there several scenarios to plug in, but then there are graphics to prepare for the live show, all under the tight time crunch of a live television broadcast. But March Madness is much more than just a one-month a year job, she says. Typically, the first two months after the tournament are spent analyzing how things went and what could be done better. The rest of the year is spent plotting and planning the next tournament.

Scott grew up a hoops fan in Nebraska. She played for one year in college at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. After graduation, she spent a year working for a brokerage firm, then answered a newspaper classified ad for what was then called Amateur Basketball Association of the United States of America (now USA Basketball). That job included incredible experiences, she said, including traveling with the 1992 men’s basketball “Dream Team.” After 10 years, she took a job with Nike, where she spent 17 years. During that time, Scott decided to get her MBA at Butler. “I knew a lot of the sports side and I knew personalities,” she says. “But once I got to Nike, I felt like I didn’t know the business side. I loved school and I soaked it in. I still talk to my Butler professors.”

Scott is a Butler men’s basketball season ticket holder. But when it comes to March Madness, she is “Switzerland,” she says. “This time of year, I wear a lot of gray, white, blue, black, because I really cannot cheer for anybody,” she says. “I am just a huge basketball fan.”

Since she oversaw her first NCAA Tournament in 2015, the biggest thing that has changed is the evolution of social media, Scott says. Now, people can watch tournament games in the car, at their desk, basically anywhere they are, she says. And with the increased presence of social media, comes increased awareness of those logistical challenges. “We have learned that the social world can certainly teach us some things,” she says. “We have learned what isn’t going well from Twitter. When a team innocently tweets about a plane delay, often times, that is how we hear about it. With social media, everything is visible.”

Which inevitably leads to more sleepless nights for Scott. But she’s OK with that.