Catching Up With Morale Entertainment Dir Mike Whalen About The Carrier Classic
Friday marks the inaugural Quicken Loans Carrier Classic between the Univ. of North Carolina and Michigan State men’s basketball teams on the USS Carl Vinson. Mike Whalen, whose Morale Entertainment Foundation is organizing and executing the game, discussed the dynamics of what he hopes to be an annual event.
Q: Where did this idea come from?
Whalen: (Michigan State AD) Mark Hollis, (CBS Sports Producer) Steve Sheer and I got together at the Charter House in Indianapolis for a Navy game and we started thinking about it. We drew it on a table cloth and figured out we could do it; I thought we could do it. And that’s how it started.
Q: You literally drew it on the table cloth?
Whalen: Yeah. Seems pretty wacky. I don’t know if you ever saw it, but we did the 11/11 logo. Mark Hollis had a package of saltines with red, white and blue stuff and that’s where the idea for 11/11/11 with the red, white and blue came from.
Q: If you were Mother Nature for a day, what would be the ideal forecast?
Whalen: Sixty-eight and sunny prior to the start of the game. Then maintain 68 degrees to the end and low to zero winds. A gentle breeze would be nice.
Q: What’s the biggest operational challenge of the flat deck?
Whalen: Getting equipment to it, it has to be lifted. We are about 75 feet above the pier so the bulk of our equipment has to be lifted by crane.
Q: Are you testing or prototyping the court? How?
Whalen: We’ve already done that. We put panels on the flight deck and observed the time of the day and weather conditions. We did that about two months ago when we selected our court vendor.
Q: Will there be on-ship hospitality for the 7,000 guests? What kind?
Whalen: Not for all 7,000. There will be concessions and merchandise and limited hospitality for the VIPs of the schools, the Navy and sponsors. The Secretary of the Navy has a tent. It’s going to be for members of Congress, the leadership of the schools, some of the sponsors, some of the broadcast people from ESPN.
Q: What is the most unusual request you’ve gotten for the event?
Whalen: Somebody wanted to do a long ball golf ball hitting contest. Now how that ties in with basketball, I don’t have a clue.
Q: The stands have to be wrapped in fabric to block wind, courts and seats are tied down rather than bolted, what other elements must you account for from a traditional basketball game?
Whalen: The scoreboard is incorporated into the large video screens. But no, I’m not going to have a helicopter lifting a scoreboard.
Q: What added measures do you have to cover with President Obama in attendance?
Whalen: That scenario I can’t go into. The normal protocol for a presidential visit will be observed. Secret Service is in charge of that, and I can’t go into any details. I’m a Republican, I invited the president and I am thrilled that he is coming. He’s the Commander in Chief and I have some of my friends who are Democrats trying to convert me -- probably not going to happen.
Q: President Obama is known to enjoy a game of hoops, has there been any request for him to be able to play on the court?
Whalen: I don’t know. I’m hopeful he is going to address the crowd. I think that will occur before the game. He is now coming for the entire game. … He’s the president, as far as I’m concerned he can do what he wants.
Q: Is there a plan to continue this?
Whalen: Yes, next year we have memorandums of understanding with UConn and Arizona, although the Pac-12 has come out and said they have the television rights. I told them to go jump in the lake. So we either get it resolved or I’ll replace Arizona. There are a number of schools, we’re chomping at the bit. I would love to have Arizona, but if the Pac-12 wants to be idiots then Arizona will be off the table and most likely we’ll go with Illinois. Also next year we’re anticipating the Ohio State women playing the Notre Dame women. We have 2013 already booked, but I can’t talk about that yet.
Q: Will this be expanded to other sports?
Whalen: We’re working on something called Allies, which we go to different countries and do stuff with different sports. For example, in Canada an NHL game with hockey, Britain would be a Premier League soccer game on a military base, Japan then would be a baseball game. Australia would be an Australian Rules Rugby on an Australian air force installation. Germany would be a football game, Italy and France would be cycling, Finland would be a hockey game. Korea would be a jiu jitsu contest. So we’ve got about 15 venues that we are looking to expand to. The concept is Allies. I leave five days after the Carrier Classic to go to England to talk to the Minister of Defense. In each country we would take what is recognized as a national sport or close equivalent and present a game on a military installation. The NFL is not in the cards right now, we’re talking about international affiliations. So 2012 is far more likely to a project in Canada, a project in England and potentially one in New Zealand and Australia.