This is the third part of a five part series by Thomas Northcutt chronicling his time as a manager for Auburn Men’s Basketball, a position he had held since Bruce Pearl’s first season in Auburn. If you missed the first two posts, be sure to go back and read them here and here.
The first two paragraphs today were originally designed to go on the end of yesterday’s post, so if you want the context to my rant, go back and read Chapter 2. You won’t regret it.
I’m going to use this as an opportunity to answer one of the questions I get the most behind “So what exactly do you do” and “What is *insert player/coach* like?” people always ask me what my favorite and least favorite gyms to travel to are, and there are two clear answers for Least Favorite, and now that my time as a manager is over, I think I can answer this.. Besides Vanderbilt (I’m sorry purists, it’s time for the baseline benches to go), the worst place in the SEC to travel to is the airplane hanger they call Coleman Coliseum. Taking out the fact that Bama plays there, it’s a logistical nightmare in games. The benches are set up weird, there is actually a row of seats behind the bench where I would normally work that is filled with the visitors fans and there’s only a small amount of space to work with. The seating is stacked really weird, the visitors locker room need help, it’s just not a fun place to work at.
On the opposite end, there are a lot of great places we got to play. Ole Miss and Tennessee have both recently renovated their facilities and are great buildings to work in. Murray State in 2017 had one of the best atmospheres to play in, small gym with fans excited to see their team host an SEC school. Then, of course, the big gyms like Bridgestone Arena or Scottrade Center, where professional sports are played, are amazing facilities to work at.
Even though the season wasn’t the prettiest for Auburn Basketball, there was one pretty solid thing that did happen in the 2016-17 season, at least for me. Over the last 3 years or so, there had been a growing interest in managers playing basketball games against other school’s managers, normally the night before the real game. Even we had gotten in on the trend, playing the first Manager Iron Bowl at Bama during my freshman year. And with a lot of manager teams making their own twitter accounts, it was starting to get easier to schedule these games.
So, before the season started, the Auburn Managers twitter account got a DM from a group called “Manager Games”. This group, made up of 2 managers and an associate AD (former manager) from Michigan State, was starting to become a sort of governing body for these late-night battles. They had actually had 4 teams travel to the 2016 Final Four to play at the Fan Fest to determine the first ever Manager National Champion.
While it wasn’t the reason that they reached out, I offered my services as a graphic designer to help make the official Manager Games logo. After we decided on that, I worked to put this new logo in over 150 schools’ official colors. Then it turned into a weekly Top 10 graphic. Then it turned into working on conference standings posts. Next thing I knew, I was flying out to Phoenix for the Final Four to help run the Manager Games Tournament. Over the course of 4 months, it went from a random Twitter message to seriously getting to help work an event at the biggest gathering of College Basketball fans on the other side of the country.
The 2017-18 season has also been great for us as well, as we’ve grown what we do even more. This year alone, we had over 400 Manager Game scores reported, and the NCAA has invited us back to the Final Four, where we’ve invited the Elite 8 teams from our own Manager Tournament to come and play for a National Title. If you’re reading this on the day it was posted, Wednesday March 28, 2018, I am heading to San Antonio tomorrow for this year’s games.
As someone who has been a manager for 8 years there is nothing more I want to do than help other managers. The manager community is incredible, there are so many hard-working people from different backgrounds all with the same goals in mind, and they all want to help see each other succeed, or if anything, help prevent getting yelled at by their respective coaches. There are so many great people across this mostly underground manager network who work their tails off for their own teams who get little to no love. Little to no love is the exact reason why I’ve loved working with Manager Games. With what we do, we get the chance to bring a little light and love to those who normally get stuck doing the behind the scenes dirty work. We all go through the same things, so being able to have a platform of sorts to help make the experience of other managers more enjoyable is something I could only ever hope for. So Ian, Novak, and KP, thanks for letting me stick around.
Back to Auburn Basketball’s 2016-17 season, fast forward to the last two games of the season. On Senior Day, we beat Missouri for the second time during the season, and our hopes of playing in some kind of postseason were still alive. I was hopeful to at least make the NIT, I wanted us to have some kind of postseason experience. It would be beneficial, and it would give us a chance to potentially host some games at home, which never hurts. I knew there would be some debate on whether or not we should play if it wasn’t the NCAA Tournament, but if I had a say, we’d play. Any chance for more basketball is always good.
But then came the SEC Tournament, a place that has not really been our friend since that first year. For the third year in a row, we were stuck playing on Wednesday, back in the bottom four. This year was the only SEC tournament I have missed at Auburn, and I watched from home. This is always the worst for me. I get a lot more nervous and stressed about the games when I’m not able to work, having no control on the situation. That was not what I needed for the way that game finished.
It’s hard beating one team three times in one season, and it showed. I’ll give it to Missouri, they wanted to fight for their coach who was gone after the season, but when they hit the buzzer-beater to win, every emotion hit me at once. Frustration from how the game had ended, disappointment knowing our hopes at even the NIT were gone. But the biggest one was the realization that I was entering my last year as a manager…
This was part three in a five part series by Thomas. Be sure to join us the rest of the week to see the rest! Also, be sure to follow Thomas on Instagram and on Twitter at @RealTCutt.