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Gonzaga’s Mike Roth has tunnel vision on game days

UPDATED: Wed., March 22, 2017, 11:36 p.m.

Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth watches the Zags defeat South Dakota State from the tunnel area last Thursday in Salt Lake City. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth watches the Zags defeat South Dakota State from the tunnel area last Thursday in Salt Lake City. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

SAN JOSE, Calif. – It’s game day for Mike Roth.

Gonzaga’s athletic director has put in the preparation and planning. He never misses a play, and that will be the case again Thursday when Gonzaga faces West Virginia in the Sweet 16 at SAP Center.

But Roth won’t be in his assigned seat a row or two from the court. Since the 1999-2000 season, he’s watched every GU game that he’s attended in person – home, away or neutral court – from a tunnel, preferably near Gonzaga’s bench.

Sitting doesn’t agree with Roth’s nervous energy. Neither does eating close to game time. There’ll be time for food after the game.

“It’s worked for a long time,” said Roth, the Zags’ full-time AD since 1998. “It allows me to burn off energy. If I’m sitting in the stands I can’t pace around, can’t yell into my hand. Pregame I’m in the stands, up and down, on the concourse. Halftime I’ll meet and greet and do those things and also postgame.”

Roth gets to know the ushers at the various arenas and informs them of his quirky viewing habit. His staff and many of his colleagues know the drill.

“Last week in Salt Lake, the first thing University of Utah athletic director Chris Hill said to me was: ‘Mike, you figure out what tunnel you’ll be standing in?’” Roth said.

And at GU?

“Our IMG staff, we have a number of new people, and general manager Mark Livingston was telling them before the season, ‘You can stand here and here, but just stay out of the tunnel Mike stands in,’” Roth said. “So they started calling it the forbidden tunnel. We have fun with it.”

When Roth is at his house watching GU road games during the regular season, he rarely sits in front of the television. The Zags’ numerous blowouts this season have made it a little easier on his insides.

“I relax a little more, but I still get up and pace,” said Roth, who was an assistant coach at Big Bend, Community Colleges of Spokane and Gonzaga, the latter under Jay Hillock, before entering athletic administration. “My wife Linda is watching upstairs, I’m watching downstairs and I’m yelling and screaming.”

Roth’s vantage point at NRG Stadium in Houston in 2015, when Gonzaga reached the Elite Eight, wasn’t ideal because it’s a football facility. The SAP Center is primarily a hockey arena so the tunnels are farther away from the court.

Roth loves New York’s Madison Square Garden but it can be tough on a tunnel dweller. There’s only one tunnel and it’s near center court behind media tables.

Roth said he knows it doesn’t make a bit of difference, but he’s changed viewing spots if a game isn’t going Gonzaga’s way. When GU struggled in the first half last Thursday against South Dakota State, he moved from the right side of the tunnel to the left. The Zags soon heated up to win 66-46.

“Such an influence on the game of course,” he cracked.

Roth stayed put during the Northwestern game in a tense second half because every time he considered moving Gonzaga put together a nice spurt.

He saves one location at home games when the Zags absolutely, positively need to make a free throw.

“I step back so all I can see is the rim. I can’t even see the shooter,” Roth said. “That’s when we need one to go down and they haven’t been going down. I have to get to my spot.”

Roth smiled, and added, “It’s pretty crazy, I know.”

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