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How Syracuse moved a women’s basketball game to the Melo Center in under 60 minutes

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On December 2nd, 2020, the Syracuse Athletics staff were able to adjust and achieve a live basketball game despite a location change in under 60 minutes. This is their story.

Tiana Mangakahia in transition
12.2.20 | Tiana Mangakahia in transition Photo by Michael J. Okoniewski
Photo by Michael J. Okoniewski

On a normal game day at the Carrier Dome, issues can arise that will cause players, coaches, and game day staff to adjust. Players may get hurt during warmups, the game clock may not function correctly, live stats may be down. All of these issues have been seen before by Cedric Solice, Morey Mossovitz, and Olivia Coiro. However, the events that occurred last Wednesday prior to the Syracuse Orange’s contest against Lincoln was one they had never experienced.

The Orange were scheduled to play Division II Lincoln at 6 p.m. ET in the Carrier Dome for the team’s 2020-21 home opener. Minutes away from tip-off, a game official spotted a few droplets of water on the court. The following day, it was found that the moisture was a result of condensation from the roof.

Statement from Syracuse University Senior Associate Vice President for Communications: “Over the last several hours, our team, as well as outside engineers have conducted a full review of what caused a game official to spot a few droplets of water on the court at the stadium last night. We have determined that the moisture was the result of condensation, not a leak from the roof. This is the first winter with our new roof, as well as a new heating and cooling system, and we are still fine-tuning the management of this system. We have resolved this issue and are ready to host the men’s basketball game this evening against Niagara.”

To ensure the safety of the game, officials made the decision to move the contest down the road to the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center, the Syracuse Basketball practice facility. In less than an hour, around 6:50 p.m., Syracuse and Lincoln tipped off at Melo.

So, what happened in those 50 minutes? A story of passion, commitment, and teamwork from the Syracuse Athletics staff. Here is their account of that momentous night.

Cedric Solice, Assistant Coach & Director of Program Management and Development

Solice handles a wide variety of tasks for the women’s basketball program, including serving as a liaison between the coaching staff and the different departments in athletics and campus units. He also oversees student-athlete welfare and development, team travel, and non-conference game scheduling.

Solice, who has been a part of the program since 2006, describes last Wednesday as “one of the most amazing things that I’ve seen at Syracuse University in 15 years.”

It was a multi-pronged approach because there were a lot of things that had to happen,” Solice said. In addition to getting the teams to the Melo Center, the staff needed to find Lincoln a designated ‘locker room’ where they could change, get dressed, have a half time, etc. This also included smaller details like getting their postgame meal moved from the Dome to Melo.

“Everything that you could imagine that was supposed to happen in the Carrier Dome, somebody had to conceive a plan in a very short fashion to get that shifted over to the Melo Center.”

Solice gives credit to Dan Shworles, the assistant equipment manager of the Syracuse Basketball programs since 2001, for Wednesday night’s success. Shworles directs the equipment room at the Melo Center and strategized the moving of both team’s equipment from the Dome to Melo.

“Kudos goes out to Dan Shworles because he just went to work to make sure that the athletes had absolutely everything they needed to be able to compete at the highest level and to make sure that both teams were taken care of.”

An important piece of every college athletics team is the student managers. Handling a variety of practice and game day tasks on a daily basis, the managers were even more integral on Wednesday night.

“We called them all in and they were asking OK where can I best help, where do you want me? They were eager to help. They were eager to work. They were eager to get it done and they really just put their noses to the grindstone and did everything that was asked of them and more.”

The managers’ tasks included helping set the gym up for social distancing and moving player equipment from the Dome to Melo. After tip-off, the managers switched to their normal in-game responsibilities.

“They were an integral piece in the process of being able to move the game and get ready to go immediately.”

One major part of sports that the public does not get a chance to see often is the behind-the-scenes work of the game day staff. This team includes the stat crew, the shot clock, the game clock, the announcer, the instant replay for the referees, the TV/Radio live stream, and the social media/digital media crew. These roles are crucial to hosting a live basketball game at any level. Without the game day staff, there is no game. Solice needed to find space for the staff as well as any equipment they would need at the Melo Center to perform their duties.

And in case you may have forgotten, we are currently in a pandemic. Another key component of any sporting event in 2020 is ensuring the environment follows COVID-19 protocols. These protocols can take time to strategize and implement. Luckily, Syracuse Athletics was already prepared at the Melo Center to provide a sterile and clean environment.

“Our staff over here does a great job of keeping this facility safe and healthy, so kudos to them first and foremost for having a facility that was ready to go from a protocol standpoint.”

“The unique thing about dealing with the COVID environment is you have to be flexible. Every game, whether it’s home or away, is a new experience for everybody, so the constant is the game. Once the ball goes up in the air, we have a responsibility as a program to compete, play hard, and represent our institution at the highest level.”

From a player’s perspective, having to switch venues right before game time can knock you out of competition mode, especially for the home opener. But, Solice says the team was able to keep themselves ready to play despite the changes and delay.

“I think one of the big contributing factors to being able to get right into it was really being able to launch that game in about 50 minutes. Once we made the decision to move the game, it was just a matter of getting the teams into their transportation and immediately getting them on the court, back into the mindset of warming up, ready to compete. It was a really smooth transition.”

In times of uncertainty, people look to their leaders to guide them. Solice gives a lot of credit to Head Coach Quentin Hillsman for keeping his players calm through the venue transition.

“All attitudes reflect leadership and his attitude in the whole process was very calm. He was just very focused on making sure that the team is OK and making sure Lincoln was OK. I think that the athletes and the staff really embodied that as well.”

Once the game finally tipped off, it was business as usual. The team dominated Lincoln with a 90-39 win. The freshmen, who were playing in their first game in Syracuse, were all over the stat sheet. Newbies Kamilla Cardoso and Priscilla Williams earned their first career starts and combined for 49 of Syracuse’s 90 points with 25 and 24, respectively.

In her first game in Syracuse since March 2019, Tiana Mangakahia tallied eight points, eight assists, and two steals. The Australian native missed last season while undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Obviously everybody wanted to play in a Dome, but especially for our new players, this is their first game in Syracuse and they were just super excited to be able to play. There was a lot of energy when we were warming up in the Carrier Dome and there was a lot of energy when got to Melo. I don’t honestly think that there was a whole lot that the coaching staff had to do to keep them locked in because they were just really excited to play.”

Coaches John Marcum and Cedric Solice
12.2.20: Coaches John Marcum and Cedric Solice Photo by Michael J. Okoniewski
Photo by Michael J. Okoniewski

In a year where games aren’t guaranteed, it was especially important to the Syracuse Athletics staff that they showed their student athletes they want to give them the best opportunity to compete as often as schedule allows with the best facilities that they can do it in.

“If the Melo Center wasn’t built the way it’s built, we wouldn’t have been able to do it. Because we have both courts sitting side by side, we could set up the bench fully social distance and the game staff table on one court and use the other court with all the markings to play official games. Syracuse University investing in the building of this facility was everything because without it there’s no game. A special thank you to Lincoln as well for being so flexible because without them OKing the whole thing it doesn’t happen.”

Throughout the rest of the season, there will be challenges where teams will be missing players due to positive tests and contact tracing, venue changes, and/or game date changes. After Wednesday night, Syracuse Athletics will be ready for anything.

“The teams that can rapidly adjust are the teams that are going to have the greatest success this season. I think that our team adjusted very well and we had a lot of success as a result.”

Morey Mossovitz, Associate Athletics Director/Facilities and Event Operations

A member of the athletics department since his undergraduate studies starting in 2008, Mossovitz supervises the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center, as well as other athletics facilities on campus. He also provides administrative support to University Vice President and Chief Facilities Officer Pete Sala.

When the droplets of water were discovered and it was decided the game could not be played at the Dome, Mossovitz was looking for other ways the game could be salvaged. It was originally the Atlantic Coast Conference’s idea to move the facility.

“The ACC was actually the first to bring up an alternative location. When it was decided we could not continue with the Dome, this other opportunity came up that was something everyone felt like we had the right group to make sure the student athletes had the opportunity to play,” Mossovitz explained.

After the decision was made to move the game, it was time to get the ball rolling and make this change happen quickly and efficiently, while following COVID-19 protocols.

“COVID-wise, we have a credential system that we’ve been utilizing at the Dome to separate the access to the floor and the locker room. Kevin VanDerzee, who’s my secondary game manager, went over to the Melo Center before the teams did to enforce the credential system there. Basically, we recreated the same environment we’ve implemented at the Dome over at the Melo Center.”

To provide an opportunity to both teams to count the contest as an official game, Mossovitz was in conversations with the ACC to ensure that the set-up would be acceptable for operations to accomplish an official game.

“We needed to make sure that we were doing everything safely and then also trying to make sure that we covered everything we needed to have a game be operational and be counted as an official NCAA event.”

An important part of making the game an official event was providing the right equipment at the Melo Center. This included bringing game balls over instead of Melo’s practice balls, transferring the precision timing systems, and setting up the statistics systems.

“Everything that we were able to basically take from the Dome and bring over to make an event happen at the Melo Center we did. This included some of our staff actually physically picking up those items and just putting it in a car and driving over to the Melo Center.”

As the team’s official headquarters, the Orange were already familiar with the space in Melo. They have their locker room, coaching space, catering space, etc. Lincoln, the visiting team, did not. Mossovitz converted the extra locker rooms in the Melo Center to accommodate the officials and the visiting team to make them as comfortable as possible.

“We actually have four locker rooms at the Melo Center; each of our teams has a locker room, but we also have two locker rooms for our female and male coaches upstairs. So, we put Lincoln in one of those staff locker rooms and then used the other one for the officials. For safety reasons, we kept people out of our men’s locker room so that we did not cross mix their space.”

Lincoln, a Division II team located in Pennsylvania, was very open to the changes according to Mossovitz.

“Lincoln knew where to go because they practiced in the Melo Center the day before so it was as easy as saying ‘Hey, just meet us over there where you were before’. Both teams were super professional about the situation.”

In all sports at every level, games are being moved, postponed, and canceled due to COVID. It was extremely important to the Syracuse Athletics staff that the game was not canceled or moved, but played that night.

“Everyone was working tremendously hard to try and make the Dome available. Once the game was moved, everybody from Athletics wanted to make sure everything was working. Even the Dome staff came over and helped us at the Melo Center. We did everything in our power to give the opportunity to compete to these student athletes.”

Olivia Coiro, Assistant Director of Athletic Communications

Coiro, who joined the Syracuse staff in 2018, is responsible for the communication efforts for the women’s basketball, field hockey, men’s rowing, and softball programs. Her duties include print, web, media requests, and social media efforts, as well as game day management.

On a typical game day, Coiro manages the stats crew, media relations, photography and videography, and social media content.

“From the athletic communications perspective, as discussions were underway regarding the game and the possible move to the Melo Center, we knew that we had to make arrangements to have official statistics kept during the game and social media coverage to stay connected with our fans,” Coiro said.

Despite the quick turnaround, Coiro and her team were able to provide both live stats and live tweets for fans on Wednesday night. Attendance at sporting events is not allowed in New York State due to COVID, therefore, digital media has become an even larger aspect of college and professional sports.

“We mobilized quickly to have our statistics crew, photographer and videographer get to the Melo Center and set up to cover the game. During the game, we shared in-game updates, photos and video on our social media channels as we do for all games.”

Associate head coach Vonn Read with the team
12.2.20 | Associate head coach Vonn Read with the team Photo by Michael J. Okoniewski
Photo by Michael J. Okoniewski

______________

Teamwork is equally important off as it is on the court. Without the collaboration of the athletics staff and the university as a whole, Wednesday night’s story would be a very different one.

“When the final horn sounded at the end of the game, it was awesome to look around at everyone’s faces and realize what we pulled off -- all in an effort to provide a great experience for our student-athletes. The administration, especially Morey, were exceptional behind the scenes,” Coiro said.

“Kudos goes out to so many people. Olivia, Morey, Kim Keenan-Kirkpatrick, Kevin VanDerzee, Pete Sala, Dr. Andrew Goodrich, and so many other people contributed to this and really showed the true spirit of Syracuse University and Syracuse Athletics,” Solice said.

“The Dome, Athletic Department, and university staff really wanted to give our student athletes and Lincoln’s student athletes an opportunity to compete, especially during this difficult time of COVID,” Mossovitz said.

“Wednesday was a perfect example of what makes our Syracuse Athletics staff so special — our student-athlete experience is always the priority. In this line of work we are programmed to adapt on the fly for a multitude of situations, but until last Wednesday I had never seen something so incredible as moving an entire basketball game to a different facility in less than an hour,” Coiro added.

The Syracuse athletics staff on December 2 showed passion for the women’s basketball program, a commitment to putting on the game in uncertain times, and teamwork amongst all departments. The result? A live game in a new location in under 50 minutes. What the Syracuse Athletics staff pulled off last week is nothing short of incredible, thanks to the work of countless unsung individuals.