The Team Behind the Team: Ball State men’s basketball managers play games of their own

The Ball State men's basketball managers stand mid-court March 8 at the Stroh Center at Bowling Green University. Ball State Athletics, provided.
The Ball State men's basketball managers stand mid-court March 8 at the Stroh Center at Bowling Green University. Ball State Athletics, provided.

“It’s an elite league”

While Division I men’s basketball teams prepared for their games this season, their manager staff was preparing for a game of its own. For years, there has been an “underground manager league”, and the players take it very seriously. 

The league’s players aren’t limited to managers, though. A lot of teams include walk-ons, graduate assistant coaches and other team staff. In the few days leading up to each contest between the varsity rosters, their managerial rosters communicate with each other via Instagram or X. 

Then, the night before the official matchup, there is a ‘dark’ match, often in the training facilities but sometimes on the main arena floor. 

“It gets intense. It's two 20-minute halves [and they’re] really intense, [with] some close games,” Ball State senior head student manager Tytus Witt said. “We had, I think, three overtime games this past season.” 

Witt has been managing since his freshman year and credits the role with making him a better person. 

“Being a part of a team and really seeing the benefits of managing and everything like that because a lot of good things have come out of it…” he said. “You get to really build a bond with not just your managers, but also different managers as well meeting different people, building your network connections and stuff like that, and I mean, at the end of the day, we hooping.”

However, hooping is not the primary responsibility of the managers. As junior Kyle Gilchrist put it, ‘We do everything really’. 

“At practices, we're handing out waters, cleaning up the floor, setting up for practice filming, doing clock, things like that different duties and also just taking care of all the players and anything else that the coaches need,” Witt said. “[On] game days we’re behind the bench helping support, but also doing anything else that the coaches need.”

Gilchrist says that for some of the managers, the games bring out a deep sense of competition, but fun always comes first. 

“It's kind of as competitive as you make it… We're smacking the floor. We're diving on the floor. We're having fun with it.” Gilchrist said. “I would say it's very competitive but I think all of us enjoy the competitiveness and having fun with it. 

It’s not only friendly competition between managers, though. They keep scores and records, and there is even a national ranking that is updated with scores from each matchup. At the end of each season, there is a bracket that sees the teams with the most fan votes advance until the final eight teams are revealed. 

Those last eight teams compete for the championship simultaneously as the Final Four.

Ball State's manager roster had a pretty good season, ultimately finishing 12-3, and ranked in the top 15. 

“It's a great, great opportunity and kind of a great lesson for people, especially for the managers being able to play in that…” Gilchrist said.  “Being able to go out and compete and have fun with it and it's cool all the rankings and stuff. We even have our own little tournament. Very grateful to be a part of that.” 

Witt echoes Gilchrist’s appreciation for the opportunities managing has brought him. He knows that the bonds and memories he’s made during his time will last him a lifetime. 

“Even if it isn't real college basketball, being able to just hoop at a college level on the court and stuff like that, it's an enjoyable time,” he said. “It's just a blessing to even be a manager but to be able to do something like that and be involved in something like that. It's really cool and it's a brotherhood.”

Out of all the things managing has taught Gilchrist, this was the most important. 

“How to work with people, how to get things done together,” he said. “Everyone's gonna have a role. Everyone's gonna have some time that they have to do something but working as a group, it pushes you and it takes you a long way.”

Although the Ball State managers fell to Kansas in the first round, losing the fan vote on X, Gilchrist has one thing to say to any doubters. 

“Come see,” he said. That's really all I gotta say.”

Contact Derran Cobb with comments at or on Twitter@Derran_cobb.


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