RCW: #OneTeam - Madi Vannaman
In the epitome of an example of how one will never know the extent or the size of the doors that can opened, or made available, just by opening a previous door. For Madi Vannaman the door she opened to become a substitute on the Kansas women’s basketball bench crew paved her way to the game-clock operator seat in Tampa, Florida, for the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
Q: When did your love for sports develop?
A: Probably from my dad. Back in the day, we only had one TV and he would commandeer it and watch sports. I don’t ever remember him training or teaching me, but he had to answer my constant barrage of questions because I know a lot about sports. It seems inherent now, but it must have been from him training me.
Q: Did you compete in sports at all?
A: I did not compete in sports and I regret that. I compete in other ways now, through my volunteer work.
Q: So when did you have the opportunity to start working at University of Kansas athletics events on the bench crew?
A: Those opportunities started because of my husband, Robbie. At the time, he was working for internal audit and was doing some audits in athletics. At the time, they needed a sub for the men’s JV (junior varsity) team back when they used to have JV teams. He started on the men’s crew back then. Mark Turgeon was the JV head coach, so this was back in the early 1990s. Robbie then started to also work on the women’s bench crew and when he did that I started substituting on the women’s crew and eventually on the men’s crew. Robbie also worked the on the “chain gang” for football and an opportunity came up to run the play clock for football. He recommended that I do it because I love sports, but I love warmth too so this would get me out of the weather. I started doing the play clock at that time as well.
Q: Do you remember when you became a full-time member of all three crews instead of a sub?
A: Wow, I don’t really remember when that was. It just evolved. With football, I started working with the Big 12 in the early 2000s. There was a situation that arose in a Big Ten football game where a home clock operator disadvantaged a visiting team (2001 Michigan vs. Michigan State football game, also known as Clockgate). (After that season), the Big Ten took over game operations and started using former referees (to run the clock). The Big 12 followed suit and brought in former officials to run the game clock and I was still running the play clock. Then they decided they wanted to run the play clock as well, so (the Big 12) invited us to become independent contractors and I have been doing that since 2008. Then in 2010 or 2011, I was moved to game clock and that’s what I do.
Q: Working football and men’s and women’s basketball have you ever considered the number of games you have worked?
A: Oh my gosh, and I am one of the youngsters on the crew. No, I have not thought about that.
Q: Tell us how you were given the opportunity to run the game clock for the 2017 College Football Playoff Championship Game?
A: Walt Anderson, who is an NFL official, is the supervisor of the Big 12 officials. We obviously work with the Big 12 officiating crews. I was in Hobby Lobby looking for Christmas ornaments and my phone rings and it says “Walt Anderson.” Ten thousand things run through my head. He said, “Madi, (you) had a pretty good season this year.” I said, “Yeah, thank you for the opportunity to work Big 12 football games.” He followed with, “Well, the Big 12 was chosen to officiate the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Normally, the facility that hosts the game supplies a clock operator, but this year the Big 12 was asked to bring their own clock operator. I would like to check with you to see if you would be interested in that.” I said, “Of course I would, that would be great.” He said, “Well, I didn’t know about your schedule, so I wanted to make sure.” I said, “I don’t even have to look at my schedule – I’m going.” That’s how that went.
Q: This isn’t your first postseason experience is it?
A: No. The KU men’s crew used to do the postseason men’s games at Kemper (Arena). The women’s crew also did a women’s Final Four at Kemper. And I also did the Big 12 Championship Games.
Q: That being said, where does the opportunity to work the College Football Playoff Championship Game rank for you?
A: This is probably the pinnacle. It will probably never happen again. It was totally out of the blue and totally unexpected. It is a rare and wonderful opportunity.
Q: Did you ever think that the journey you started back in the early 1990s would lead to this?
A: I have KU to thank for that, because KU gave me the opportunity to become a play clock operator. (Thinking back), I had a colleague tell me that when the crew I was going to be working with was first told I was going to be the new play clock operator at KU their reaction was, “A woman?” So, I’m glad that they gave me the opportunity and accepted me. I would also (like to thank) the Big 12 for allowing me to do this too, because back in the day when officials would come we would have to go meet with them before (the game). I would be the only one outside the locker room and (I would) knock on the door, the door would open and (the officials) would look out, see me, and close the door because I was not what they expected. I had to bite my tongue a lot (early in my career), because the officials would ask, “Have you done this before?” I so wanted to say, “I can’t wait to see a home run hit” or something facetious like that. (For me), it has always been about doing your job and doing it well. It is more comfortable then.
Q: Are there any nerves heading into the big game?
A: It is kind of a “Hoosiers” movie-type moment. Because, this is the national championship game. The biggest stage. The field is the same size, the officials are the same, the rules are the same, so I just have to remind myself of that. Put it into context that way.
Q: What is the recurring nightmare of a game-clock operator?
A: That I will make a mistake and the officials will have to announce it and the clock will have to be reset because of an error I made. Sometimes other things happen that aren’t my fault where they reset the game clock, but my recurring nightmare is that I would make multiple errors in that vein.
Q: Since this story is being printed after the game, we will know if we did not hear that announcement during the game that you knocked it out of the park right?
A: Yes. I have to be there for my team, who are the field officials.
Q: Any more, there is so much at stake with the college game – they aren’t just games, do you think about that at all?
A: If I take care of my job, and focus, I don’t have to worry about that other stuff.
Q: Are there any regrets about getting involved in the bench crew?
A: I have so much fun doing this, my only regret is that I don’t get to see KU football games. I obviously cannot work KU football games because I’m a graduate, I work here and I donate. I get to work one nonconference game at the beginning of the season. This year my off weekends were when KU football was out of town. That is my only regret, because I want to support our team – especially now, so that is my only regret.
Q: Who would have thought that watching sports with your dad would have led to this?
A: My dad passed last December and I think, “How proud he would have been for me?” It’s come full circle.