West Virginia Associate Athletic Director Matt Wells is well-versed in conducting those road visits. He's a veteran of many of them on behalf of the Mountaineers, and knows all of the bases that have to be covered in preparing for a road game or a neutral site contest. Still, as with any major effort, one of any number of details can crop up to create a problem.
That was the case when the Mountaineers traveled to Atlanta, Ga., for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic against Alabama in 2014. Wells and his crew had a plan in place for every moment of the trip, but a simple misunderstanding nearly led to the Alabama and WVU teams both marching into the Georgia Dome though the adjacent World Congress Center at the same time. While that wouldn't have necessarily led to any problems, putting a pair of teams right next to each other in the run-up to the game wouldn't have been optimal.
“There were some tense moments in getting that worked out,” Wells admitted. “I know it was tense on our end between me and the organizers of the game, and I'm sure that it was the same between my Alabama counterparts and them. We got it corrected, but that's the kind of thing that can happen.”
That such events are few and far between are a testament to all the advance planning done by Wells and a group of West Virginia staffers. Travel Coordinator Tammy Cavender, Associate Athletic Director of Football Operations Alex Hammonds, Assistant Director of Football Operations Robert Glowacky, Senior Associate Athletic Director Mike Szul, Assistant Athletic Director April Messerly, Ticket Manager Debby Travinski, band director Jay Drury and Associate Athletic Director Michael Fragale are variously involved in trips to new venues or neutral sites, including this year's visit to FedEx Field in Landover, Md., where WVU will face BYU on September 24th. A smaller group typically handles repeat visits, such as to Big 12 road games.
The larger advance party for this year's game against the Cougars was partially dictated by the fact that it's West Virginia's first visit to the stadium in four years, but also because WVU will be the home team in this game. That means WVU will have additional responsibilities, ranging from the keeping of statistics and press box operations to overall game management. Each staff member has oversight of their particular areas of responsibility, and uses the visit to get a firsthand look at everything at the game site, as well as a chance to coordinate with everyone that will be involved on game day.
There are items large (meals, lodging and team transportation) to small (the location of the locker rooms and the path to the field). There are ticket issues (West Virginia's assigned areas, band location and field access, handicap accessible areas), parking (where to put the buses and the equipment truck) and a thousand and one other details that must be ironed out to assure a smooth experience on game day.
“We walk the facility and line out all of our obligations,” said Wells, who noted that there is a good bit of coordination to be performed with the Washington Redskins staff, which will assist with preparations and game day ops, and with Russ Potts Productions, the game coordinators who set up the contest and locked down the venue. “The things we have to do will differ from site to site, but it is helpful that we had the James Madison game over here in 2012. We go over to Washington, D.C. so much that there were no real surprises in the area or with what we had to accomplish on this visit. But there's still a lot of work to perform.”
There was one major change, however, from that game with the Dukes, which the Mountaineers won 42-12.
“That game was our Tier III game to broadcast and this one won’t be,” Wells observed. “So, there won't be as much to set up in that regard. But there are still communications, internet, our radio broadcast, and coordination with IMG, along with the setting up the photo rooms and all of the game operations.”
- For the game, WVU will take home a guarantee of $2.25 million. While there are no escalator clauses that will give WVU or BYU a greater cut if more tickets are sold, there are also no minimum ticket amounts that must be sold to realize the guaranteed payout. West Virginia typically nets at least $1.5 million for a home game.
- Russ Potts Productions has staged events and conducted sports moarking for more than 40 years, and has done events on both the college and professional levels. The company is also producing the 2017 West Virginia - Virginia Tech game at Fed Ex Field. The Mountaineers will be designated as the road team in that contest.