A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

The Best Seat in the House

By Damian Cristodero on October 28, 2016


There was a moment as Tim Groseclose watched the Mason’s men’s basketball team face Northern Iowa that he believed he was about to cost the Patriots a point.

Standing from his seat at the end of the bench near the baseline to get a better look past also-standing 6-foot-7 forward Michael Rudy, the economics professor encroached several inches onto the EagleBank Arena court.

“It occurred to me this might be a technical foul, so I immediately backed up,” Groseclose recalled. “I thought, ‘Oh, man, that would really be bad if I got a technical.’ ”

Mason history professor T. Mills Kelly served as a "sideline coach" during the 2016 Homecoming men's basketball game. Photo by Ron Aira

Mason history professor T. Mills Kelly served as a “sideline coach” during the 2016 Homecoming men’s basketball game. Photo by Ron Aira

Especially after coach Dave Paulsen gave Groseclose some pretty specific instructions as part of his Sideline Coaching program.

“I tell them,” Paulsen said, with a laugh, “their job during a game is the same as a corpse at an Irish wake—dress well and remain quiet.”

The Sideline Coaching Program allows one Mason faculty or staff member per game to get an insider’s view by attending team meetings, practices, and meals, having access to opponent scouting reports and being in the locker room before games and at halftime.

The topper, though, is being on the bench.

“One of the top-20 experiences in my lifetime,” Groseclose said.

Paulsen brought the program from Bucknell, his previous coaching stop. The idea, he said, is to “bridge any perceived divide between the athletic and academic world” by helping faculty and staff “gain a better appreciation for how hard the players work and appreciate that what we’re doing isn’t academic but unequivocally educational in terms of discipline, structure and focus and attention to detail.”

Mason psychology professor Lou Buffardi, a Patriot basketball uber fan, says, "What fan could resist this opportunity?" Photo by Ron Aira

Mason psychology professor Lou Buffardi, a Patriot basketball uber fan, says, “What fan could resist this opportunity?” Photo by Ron Aira

More than 80 people responded when the program was announced at Mason, but because the team plays just 15 home games an open practice was held for those who signed up and a lottery filled the coveted slots.

For participants, the trick is to observe but not intrude. That’s easy when watching practice or a meeting.

“But when it’s game time,” Groseclose said, “and we’re about to come out of the tunnel, you see the cheerleaders in front and the players and coaches, it’s kind of like a dream and I’m part of them.”

“You certainly get caught up in the emotions,” said Frank Strike, director of facilities management who watched the game against Wagner. “You find yourself much more engaged than if you’re in the stands [when you’re] giving high-fives to the players.”

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