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NCAA flirting with bad idea

Sun., Sept. 29, 2013

Gonzaga fans helped the Zags upset Miami in the 2012 NCAA women’s tournament. (Dan Pelle)
Gonzaga fans helped the Zags upset Miami in the 2012 NCAA women’s tournament. (Dan Pelle)

Tuesday: There was a summit held in Indianapolis on Monday addressing the future of the women’s basketball tournament. The 35 attendees don’t have any power to make changes, per se, but it’s obvious the NCAA will use their suggestions as cover if they do want to alter the postseason format.

“We’re only doing what the women’s basketball leaders want,” the NCAA will say. Hogwash.

The main suggestion of the group, and the one suggestion that will probably be acted upon, is to move the first- and second-round games back to the homes of the highest seeds. Instead of picking a site in advance, and marketing it, as has been done the past few years, the first- and second-round games would return to the top schools’ ownership, as was the case for years.

The problem with that plan is obvious. The arenas don’t fill up. They never did before and they won’t in the future. Sure, Tennessee, UConn and maybe Baylor will fill the stands. Those are places women’s college basketball is a big deal. But most of the first- and second-round games will be played in front of half-filled mausoleums.

Sorry to be blunt, but it’s true.

Contrast that with the excitement of the past few tournaments. With schools like Gonzaga hosting the opening rounds, the arenas have been full, the noise has been deafening and the games exciting. And that’s the problem – at least for some. The big schools would rather have the advantage of playing at home – or at least not the disadvantage of playing on the road.

Take a couple of years ago as an example, when Gonzaga eliminated Rutgers and Miami. If the system had rewarded the top seeds, the games would have been in Coral Gables. At least 945 people would have been in attendance, most of them wearing Miami gear. And the Hurricanes probably would have moved on. They were the most talented team in the pod. Instead, there were two incredibly emotionally charged games – pretty good TV as I recall – and the Zags, fueled in part by the power of their fans, upset the Hurricanes and moved on.

The only folks who win in the suggested scenario are the power schools, as they can have more assurance they’ll be third-round bound and will rake in all the peripheral benefits that come with that.

So why would a group of NCAA women’s basketball leaders, as were gathered in Indianapolis yesterday, want that? Take a look at the participants. All but one are from a usual women’s basketball power, from the schools that, under the new plan, would be expected to host games.

Remember, this group can only recommend, it doesn’t have the power to make changes. Only the NCAA, with a vote from the schools, can do that. Let’s hope they don’t.

Women’s basketball has made some steps forward the past few years and the excitement of the current format – and the upsets that have occurred due in part to it – has helped that process. It would be sad if it took a step back.

Thursday:  Eric Wedge feels as if he’s “ hanging out there“ due to his contract status with the M’s.

OK, I get that – despite Wedge’s 212-271 record in three years with Seattle. He’s been a  good soldier and  followed the plan. However, he  sounded a bit whiny with his comments (Wednesday).

Here is what I would have said if I were in Wedge’s spot:

“You know what bothers me? That I am still waiting to figure out what my status is for next year and Jack (Zduriencik) has already been given a contract extension. You know what I mean? After all, I’m his second manager here and the first guy didn’t win either. Think that’s a coincidence?

“He’s the guy who has been supplying me the players. You think I wanted Chone Figgins or Jack Cust? I had Nick Swisher all fired up about joining us and Jack low-balled him. Look what the Indians are doing now. And the young guys – heck, some of them don’t even know how to catch a popup correctly. What the heck are we teaching in the minors anyway? That’s on Jack. Why do you think I had health problems? If the organization is going to renew his contract, it damn well better renew mine.”


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