PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – Bill Hancock doesn’t have an official title with the United States Olympic Committee. He saves that for his other job.
At the Olympics, Hancock is the media ticket guy. He handles high-demand tickets for special events that require more than a credential, such as Opening Ceremony and Closing Ceremony, figure skating competitions and medal-round hockey games. On average he distributes around 100 tickets per day. These are his 13th Olympic Games, winter and summer.
Hancock either confirms or denies ticket requests based on specific criteria. Occasionally, media outlets get turned down or forget to request tickets and can’t get into venues, and they inevitably complain to Hancock.
He’s a pro in that department.
In his day job, Hancock serves as executive director of the College Football Playoff. He often hears from angry fans of teams that don’t make the top four when the selection committee releases the bracket.
“When people say they want eight, I always say why?” Hancock said during a break from his ticket duties. “They say, ‘Well, it would be easier for the committee.’ It would not be. Team 9 would be every bit as unhappy as Team 5.”
Hancock has held leadership roles in college sports’ most visible and profitable ventures. He was the first director of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the first director of the Bowl Championship Series, and now first director of the playoff.
So which job has been the most challenging?
“Giving out Olympic tickets,” he said with a smile.
That is Hancock in a nutshell. Disarming with a quick wit. The Oklahoma native who married his high school sweetheart is well-regarded in college athletics and Olympic circles as a genuinely nice person in a high-stress job.
A personal tragedy changed his perspective on life and any criticism that comes with his job.
“Nothing bothers me,” he said. “I’ve seen the darkest thing that can ever happen.”
Hancock’s son, Will, was one of 10 people associated with the Oklahoma State basketball program killed in a plane crash returning from a game in 2001. Will, 31, was the team’s sports information director.
Hancock was director of the Final Four at the time, which was held at the Metrodome two months after the crash. Hancock said he was “paralyzed” by grief and remains deeply appreciative of the support he received from the Twin Cities community, especially former sports executives Bill Lester and Jeff Schemmel.
“My friends in Minneapolis carried me through that,” Hancock said. “I could not have been in a better place than Minneapolis.”
Will and his wife had a 2-month-old daughter at the time. She’s now 17 and president of her high school class.
“We talk to her about her dad all the time,” Hancock said. “She loves hearing about him. She knows him really well.”
Hancock found healing in adventure. He already was an avid runner, having completed 15 marathons, including New York and Boston twice.
He has climbed Mt. Rainier (“Cold and miserable,” he said) and twice backpacked the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim (“Pretty challenging,” he said).
He had always dreamed of riding his bike across the country and his grief pushed him to start pedaling.
“I said, ‘I’ve got to start living again,’ ” he said.
He started in Los Angeles and finished in Savannah, Ga., 36 days later. His wife, Nicki, drove the car along the route, towing their pop-up camper. They slept in campgrounds. He rode six days a week, resting one day.
Hancock chronicled his experience and coping with Will’s death in a book titled “Riding with the Blue Moth.”
He said he thought about his son a lot during his daily 10-hour rides.
“There was one time when I just started talking to him,” Hancock said. “I don’t know if he heard me or not. We’ll find out someday.”
Hancock made a different bike ride in 2003. He started in Mexico and ended in Canada, a 17-day trip. Shorter ride but harder, he said.
“You’re riding uphill all the way,” he joked.
Nicki has been by his side every step of his remarkable journey. They started dating in high school in tiny Hobart, Okla., where Hancock’s dad was publisher of the town newspaper.
“Her dad was the family lawyer, my dad was the publisher,” he said. “Her family was Oklahoma State people, we were Oklahoma people. They were Southern Baptist, we were United Methodist.”
He paused. “But we pulled it off,” he said, laughing.
Nicki joins him at the Olympics now and works in the USOC office, too. Hancock, 67, has two more years left on his contract with the College Football Playoff. He doesn’t have definitive plans after that.
Whatever it is, he won’t be bored. He’s always up for an adventure.