At 10:26 p.m. on Monday, March 21, Steve Bisese offered all undergraduates the opportunity to take a university-subsidized bus to San Antonio for the Sweet 16 basketball game. More than 3,000 students received the email, and only 11 responded.
Bisese, vice president for student development, sent the offer after a three-day scramble to come up with an idea that would provide Richmond students the opportunity to travel to Texas for a feasible price.
After holding emergency meetings with various members of student development, Bisese said they had been able to amass enough money to cover the cost of a bus trip, but each student would have been responsible for the cost of the game ticket and hotel accommodations-estimated to be about $255.
Tom Roberts, director of recreation and wellness, said they had decided to make the bus sign-up a lottery.
Everyone was positive there would be more student interest than seats available, he said, and that first come, first serve would be unfair to students with early morning academic responsibilities.
So on Tuesday, March 22, when only 11 students had signed up and a 30-minute window to do so remained, Roberts said he had asked a few students what they thought had happened.
Students said they couldn't miss class, didn't want to sit on a bus for 50-plus hours and didn't want to put out that kind of money, Roberts said.
Administration understood why students couldn't commit to the trip, Roberts said, but the students who did sign up seemed to be the most disappointed by the turnout.
After the lottery idea was abandoned, Bisese said, they decided to give students who had signed up a $400 voucher to help pay for airfare to the game, which would cover about half the cost of a plane ticket.
Out of the 11 students who signed up for the lottery, he said, six took advantage of Richmond's final offer.
Senior Caroline Vincent said the voucher had made the trip undoubtedly easier. She said she had been disappointed by the poor student turnout, but she understood why many students had opted not to go.
Vincent said Richmond students were so driven by academics that many did not want to miss three days of classes. The bus ride scared a lot of people too, she said.
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"The NCAA is supposed to put you in regions that are somewhat close to where you are from," she said. "We were two states away from Kansas and halfway across the country from Richmond. It was great to see so much red around us in the stands, but it was definitely a blue-out."
Vincent said the actual game had been her favorite part of the trip. Even though only six students had used the voucher to get to San Antonio, she said, a number of students made their own travel arrangements to get there.
It was really fun to bond with the students who did come by making posters during time outs and trying to get on television, she said.
"I think the trip reinvigorated my love of watching Spider sports," Vincent said. "It's so easy to be apathetic to something if you don't go, but when you do something like this, which is so monumental for our sports teams, it just revives everything you loved about the game."
Junior Omari Bailey said although the game's outcome had been somewhat of a disappointment, the tournament's atmosphere had been well worth the trip.
"I loved being in such an energized crowd," he said. "The stadium was rocking. People were going crazy just cheering and yelling. Imagine a Richmond basketball game times 10."
And the trip wasn't only about basketball, he said. Some of the most memorable parts of the trip for Bailey had been going to the famous San Antonio River Walk, taking a boat tour and perusing Market Square, which houses authentic Mexican shops and restaurants.
Bailey also received a voucher, but he and three other students took a two-part trip that started with a drive to Charlotte to catch the cheapest flight possible. The trip still only took 12 hours, he said, even with the additional driving.
Freshman Lucas Virnig said he had used his voucher toward a 4 a.m. flight out of Richmond on Friday, which enabled him to attend his Thursday classes.
Virnig said he had been disappointed by the lack of student presence at the game. There was a pretty decent Richmond crowd, he said, but it was mostly composed of alumni and two crazy Canadians who chose to root for Richmond on a whim.
The ride back was probably most memorable, he said. After flight delays, engine trouble and a missed connection in Atlanta, Virnig said he and two other students on his flight did not return to Richmond until 2 a.m. Sunday, about eight hours later than originally anticipated.
It may have been less of a hassle to take the 24-hour bus ride, he said, and then laughed. Taking a plane there was great, he said, but he really wished more students had signed up for the trip.
"I think a lot of people saw the $250 price tag as literally just a number and didn't really consider what all went into it," he said. "The university provided an amazing deal."
Bisese said he had appreciated hearing the positive feedback from the "die-hards" who had been able to make it to San Antonio. Even the students who couldn't make the trip, he said, undoubtedly shared their enthusiasm on campus.
"I went to all of the games at The Cellar," he said, "and the spirit was clearly there."
There's just not that much advanced planning you can do for a Sweet 16 game, Bisese said, and chartering a plane would have been too expensive.
"Believe me, we looked into it," he said. "But I do think that in another year, just by the roll of the dice, we probably will have an easier chance of getting to play somewhere closer."
Contact reporter Kaylin Politzer at email@example.com
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