Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why Was It Here?

The MSU Women's Basketball win over Duke on Tuesday night was a classic game that will be remembered for a long time, not only because of the dramatic victory, but because of the stories involved: McCallie returning to the school she ditched, the improbable victory of a #9 seed beating a #1 seed, and Duke having been to 11 consecutive Sweet 16's.

Not lost in the discussion of MSU's victory was this question: Why did #1 seed Duke have to play at their opponents home court? McCallie insisted that the game location could not be blamed for the loss, but it still raises interesting questions of fairness and logistics. According to ESPN:

The women went to a field of 64 in 1994, with all games in the early rounds at the better-seeded team's gym. The next year, the setup for the first two rounds was that the top four seeds in each region would host. So four teams would play at 16 sites, with home-court advantage being rewarded because of your seeding. The only time that didn't happen was if a school had a conflict with its home arena or some problem with hotel-room availability. But those circumstances were rare.

Then, in 2003, the system was changed to make the first 16 sites predetermined. The reason given was supposedly to allow schools to market the subregionals all year, rather than waiting until they knew for sure they were hosting when the bracket came out.

However, promotion of games was far less a factor in having big crowds than just plain having the host team playing. There was no evidence that predetermination did anything to boost attendance.

What it did do -- and the reason behind its being used still -- is to pave the way for television to broadcast all 64 games of the tournament. It was neither logistically nor financially feasible to do that if TV had to wait until the bracket came out to know where the 16 sites were.

In 2005, a switch was made to try to create more neutral games: having eight sites with eight teams each. That system stayed for four seasons, but it had a negative impact on early-round attendance.

So this year, the tournament went back to 16 predetermined sites, and that's why there was a situation where a No. 1 had to play on a No. 9's home court. At the time bids are accepted for schools to host future games, it's obviously unknown whether their team will even be in the tournament, let alone where it might be seeded.

So basically the NCAA has to weigh fairness for the schools against paid attendance and television contracts. And while fairness is great, it doesn't pay the bills...

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