This is March.
It’s a common phrase you often hear among sports fans this month. It’s a phrase that perfectly encapsulates the beauty and madness that is the third month of the year.
It’s brevity may not be fully understood by the uninitiated, but for sports fans, “This is March” is the best way to sum up the sheer amount of sports that we have on our viewing schedule.
Between college basketball, the NBA, NHL, Spring Training baseball, college baseball and softball, European soccer and much more, March is a sports fan’s most action-packed month.
For Mizzou Athletics, it’s no different.
“When you overlap winter and spring sports there’s always a lot of congestion going on,” Mizzou Associate Athletic Director Tony Wirkus said.
Wirkus serves as Mizzou’s Director of Event Management, and gameday is his biggest workday.
Wirkus makes sure that stadiums are ready, parking isn’t crazy, and that fans have a good time. When March rolls around, that job becomes a problem of logistics.
“Some of it comes down to facility conflicts, there’s parking, there’s staffing,” Wirkus said. “You’re gonna need to shift, whether it’s some of your part time staff, some of your parking, police, EMS, all the different resources we have.”
Many times, a game day in March will see events taking place at the exact same time, which can cause troubles for Wirkus’ team.
“One of our police officers that helps a lot with traffic always jokes that the worst thing we can do for events is when people are coming and going at the exact same time,” Wirkus said.
Wirkus plays from behind the eight ball when it comes to managing when people come and go, as many of the start times for Mizzou’s games aren’t dictated by Wirkus, but rather by the SEC and TV Networks.
“We take the things we can’t control and we have to make the best of it,” Wirkus said.
These challenges arise every year. But of course, as with everything, this year is much different.
COVID-19 has led many of Mizzou’s fall sports to participate in unique spring seasons. The Tiger Soccer and Volleyball squads are playing games in March, which means that Wirkus has extra events that require police, EMS, and parking.
The weekend of March 26 gives the best example of how crowded the calendar is for Wirkus and his crew.
On Friday March 26th: Tennis host Alabama, Softball host Auburn, and Baseball take on Vanderbilt. These games start at different times but may experience some overlap.
Saturday, March 27 is a bit of a breather, as Softball plays at 11 a.m. and Baseball plays at 5 p.m.
Sunday, March 28 is jam packed again as Tennis, Soccer and Softball all play within just a few hours of each other.
All of the staff for these events have to go through a strict COVID-19 protocol to ensure everyone involved is safe.
“Any of our staff that have direct contact, whether they’re on the field or on the court, that group also has to get tested,” Wirkus said.
Wirkus has had to cut staffing numbers and be extra careful to avoid infections among both athletes and staff members, just another piece of his big logistical problem.
“You’re trying to balance this puzzle of moving competitions that are taking place, and then also certain testing windows,” Wirkus said.
Competitions have moved a lot for Mizzou this year, in all sports. Soccer, volleyball, football, men’s and women’s basketball have all experienced some sort of postponement or cancellation to games within the past year.
While these cancellations may seem like a weight off of Wirkus’ shoulders, that is not the case.
“If a game isn’t taking place when you planned it to take place, there’s a good chance it’s taking place at another time when you’re not prepared to do that,” Wirkus said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown an even bigger piece into Wirkus’ ever-changing puzzle, forcing him and his team to be quick on their feet.
“We have to be flexible and be ready for whatever comes our way,” Wirkus said.
Flexibility will be paramount this month, with so much on Wirkus’ plate.
Because this month is going to be action-packed.
Because this is March.