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Hosting NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Brings Fans, Money and Sometimes Levity to Milwaukee

Mitchell Leff, Getty Images

Milwaukee will host an opening round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament next week.

Marquette University is in charge of coordinating the eight teams and sometimes, their mascots.

Jim Nasiopulos wanted to be in charge one final time - he even came out of retirement, to do so. He's named special assistant to Marquette University's athletic director and will manage the NCAA rounds in Milwaukee on Thursday and Saturday, for his fifth time.

He has fond memories of past tournaments. He says the NCAA imposes stricter rules than during the regular season, and they sometimes cause confusion, even among team mascots.

"I had a rogue mascot, that didn’t understand where they should be, where they could be, where they couldn't be. You can imagine that a lot of the mascots, they're in costume and many of them have the large foam heads. I saw this mascot running up into the stands, running out onto the court when they shouldn't be. So, here I am chasing this bird around the arena, finally catching the bird. And here's me, face-to-beak, yelling at this mascot and the mascot's just like shaking its head," Nasiopulos recalls.

At times, Nasiopulos says he's had to reason with more than mascots.

"Here's this coach before his first game of the tournament, and he's just going ballistic with one of our student interns. He couldn't understand why his team could not get on the floor for their pregame warm-up. The rules and regulations are a lot more intricate than we would have in a normal game. In this situation, they mandated that the teams could not take the floor until 45 minutes before their game. It was explained to him the day before. Fortunately, his own coaches grabbed him and said coach, you're wrong. This was a hall-of-fame coach, by the way," Nasiopulos says.

Of course, there’s the serious side of overseeing eight teams, six tournament games and hordes of media.

On Sunday, after teams learn where they’ll be playing, Nasiopulos has to coordinate travel and hospitality for those heading to Milwaukee. Then come practice sessions and press conferences, and pre-tournament meetings. But Nasiopulos says it's all worthwhile.

"Yes, we do bring in some income, but I see it as well as strengthening our partnership with the BMO Harris Bradley Center, because it brings in business for them. We play there; we want them to be strong and healthy. And then also, I think it does help Marquette University with the hotels we work with and those other entities. And one other thing that you may not think about, for the younger professionals who are working this tournament, I think that we are growing them professionally. So, it's kind of a teaching tool," Nasiopulos says.

The broader community should benefit as well. Visit Milwaukee expects 15,000 people to travel here for the tournament. They’re expected to pump more than four-million dollars into the local economy and $300,000 in taxes.

Adding to the hype in Milwaukee next week - the UWM Panthers have won a spot in the tournament. They will learn Sunday evening, where they'll head for the opening round.

Listen to Lake Effect's sports contributor Howie Magner discuss the Panthers' progress this season.

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