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Manual RedEye

Inside the underground college basketball league: “The Manager Games”

The+college+basketball+managers+created+a+league+to+compete+with+each+other.+Design+by+Emma+Tucker
Emma Tucker
The college basketball managers created a league to compete with each other. Design by Emma Tucker

College athletes are some of the most hardworking, dedicated people. Depending on the sport, they spend upwards of 40 hours a week in the gym, not including film, weight room and extra practice. 

However, most fans don’t realize how much work goes into keeping these teams’ practices running smoothly, cleaning their uniforms, making sure they’re fed and everything else that keeps a college athletics program running. So, who does all of this work? 

The managers. 

Ian May is the former manager of the Michigan State University (MSU) men’s basketball team. Through all four years of college, he was an integral part of the team, assisting with practice almost every day. 

“…You get out of class around one or two, you’re there to set up practice and then typically there till night time, then weekends and all that. So you end up being [there] 40, 50, 60 hours a week,” May said. 

These hours can consist of a range of roles, such as operating as practice players, setting up workouts and even being more involved in the technical aspects of the team. 

“Then the other half of our job was all up in the video room, everything from cutting games to… I actually wrote the newsletter to help with recruiting. Some guys got involved with the X’s and O’s and the plays,” May said. 

During his time at MSU, May discovered yet another aspect of being a college basketball manager that is unknown to many. Throughout the season, the managers, graduate assistants and some assistant coaches would participate in pickup basketball games against the managers of the teams they were playing. 

These games would often be played late at night the day before the athletes played one another, and took place in practice gyms or parks. It was an unofficial and casual league that had been running for decades, but a group of teams had begun to change that. 

“In 2014 [or] 15, one of the other managers had told me that the Big 10 managers were keeping track of who was playing… So I just took the existing standings and I put them in a Twitter account. We just did it for the first year as a Big 10 Manager league and then we expanded it to national and it was on from there,” said May. 

Soon enough, the unofficial manager basketball league had developed into something much more, known now as The Manager Games.

The Twitter account (@ManagerGames_) was founded in 2014 and has been growing ever since. May and his co-founders, Andrew Novak and Thomas Northcutt, use a computer algorithm to periodically determine and release rankings throughout the season and many manager teams have their own Twitter accounts where they document the scores of their games. There is even a postseason tournament in which the final eight teams are invited to compete for the Manager Games Championship during the NCAA Championship. 

While traveling with the team and getting to play basketball is the main aspect of the games, May believes that their growth has been beneficial for other reasons. 

“[You] have a manager game, even if it was contested and it was overtime, fouls would happen, and maybe there’d be little skirmishes, but nothing crazy. By the end of the game, everybody’s happy. It takes this group of people doing this very obscure job… it’s just so cool just to talk to them and hear their stories…[you] play each other over the course of a few years while you’re in school. You get to know people. It makes this small world of being a manager much bigger overnight,” May said.

On top of the sense of camaraderie that many managers find through the games, May knows that it’s an opportunity to develop new relationships and a great way to network. Many people that May knows through the games have found jobs by meeting and building connections that have led to opportunities down the road. 

“This is how you network and you meet people in similar shoes and years later, they might be somebody, and they’ll bring you with [them]. I think that’s probably my favorite part is just people getting to know each other through this funny underground basketball league,” May said. 

About the Contributors
Lydia Adams, Staffer
Lydia Adams is a sports staffer on RedEye. In her free time, she likes to run, read, and watch a lot of sports. Her favorite teams and Louisville and the Cincinnati Bengals. You can contact her at [email protected].
Emma Tucker, Staffer
Emma Tucker is a staffer for Manual RedEye. You can contact her at [email protected].
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