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Thursday, April 9, 2020

Men's Basketball

Manager Games: an underground world where UH student managers are among the best


When Houston's student managers aren't busy being the 17th-ranked squad in Manager Games, a league made up of support staff teams across the country, they can be found assisting the Cougars in practice and more. | Courtesy of UH athletics

When UH’s student managers aren’t busy being the 17th-ranked squad in Manager Games, a league of over 150 support staff teams, they can be found assisting the Cougars in practice and more. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Being a student basketball manager is a lot of work. 

Student managers put in countless hours each day charting stats, rebounding for players, helping coaches as needed, doing the team laundry and completing many other tasks.

Despite all the work and time they put in, many still find time to have fun — especially on the court.

Manager Games, a league made up of teams of student managers in college basketball, has become a popular and competitive pastime between programs across the country. 

“I love playing (in Manager Games) just because it feels like I’m back in high school playing for a team,” freshman manager Jake Van Alstine said. “We take them pretty serious, so it makes it more fun.”

For typical games, one team of managers reach out to the managers of the opposing program coming to town via Twitter, set up a time to play, normally the night before the two programs’ game.

After the conclusion of each game, scores are sent to the official Manager Games Twitter account. Each week, the Manager Games Twitter account releases an intricate ranking of all 155 teams through KPI Sports, an analytics-based index similar to RPI.

UH ranks among the best managerial teams in the nation at No. 17.

Many, including league co-director Thomas Northcutt, believes it’s a way of thanking those who do a thankless job.

“They are the most important people you’ve never heard of, and they deserve some love and praise,” Northcutt said. “This is the way we give these hard-working individuals the love they deserve.”

Junior manager Jay Silver finds the games bring a unique combination of competitiveness and talent.

“I enjoy the competitive spirit in the games,” Silver said. “It can be hard to find that competitiveness along with a decent spread of talent.”

That talent is shown off at the end of the season when the league’s Twitter account ranks the top 64 manager teams, seeds them and pits them against each other in a March Madness-style bracket.

For obvious logistical reasons, there is no way all these manager tournament games can be played, so Manager Games uses Twitter to help decide the outcome of each game. 

This has led to “no real ‘fight’ for seeding,” Northcutt said.

To decide the outcome of each matchup Manager Games uses KPI Sports’ regular season stat tracking to calculate the projected score if the two squads were to play.

Accounting for 50 percent of the score, the KPI Sports data is supplemented by the will of Manager Games’ fans, who get to vote on the other half of the total for which team they want to advance on the league’s Twitter page.

This process is repeated until eight manager teams remain.

As for the strategies that teams employ to get fans to vote for them, it’s a toss-up.

“Anything,” said Northcutt of the wacky tactics used by teams. “Lots of getting big-name grads to get fans to vote… I lose track of all the names sometimes; it’s pretty surreal.”

When the final eight manager teams are offered the opportunity to go to the Final Four Fan Fest to compete for the Manager Games Championship. 

The final eight teams then square off in a single-elimination tournament until a champion is crowned.

How seriously do teams take it? 

“Pretty serious,” Northcutt said. “It’s a real game to them. It’s all real to us.”

But off the court, Manager Games offers a chance to meet others, especially in a business in which most participants wish to stay in after college.

“I really like the networking opportunity manager games brings,” freshman manager Owen Gray said. “It’s always cool connecting and meeting other managers from around the nation.”

Northcutt, who started with Manager Games in 2016-17 as a student manager at Auburn, said he has also built relationships, personal and professional, on and off the court, through the league. 

“It definitely builds a community,” he said. “Everyone is so willing to help each other out, so it gives that contact for both work purposes and beyond.”

But on the court, Northcutt said, one thing is for sure.

“You never know what you’re gonna get out of a manager game.”

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