"Will your next article feature the women's Tourney and your picks?" asked reader Brenda Fite after my men's NCAA Tournament preview Thursday. "Remember, you said you would make an effort to cover women's sports. No time like March."
Obviously my next column was about the first day of the men's Tournament. There's no way I can follow them both simultaneously. I already have no life just from paying attention to the men.
And that leads me to conclude that the NCAA makes a terrible mistake in scheduling the women's Tournament to run almost simultaneously with the men's. The first round began Saturday and happened at the same time as the men's second round. The women's second-round games are Monday and Tuesday.
The men's Tournament, especially the first weekend, is pretty much the most talked-about sports event in North America while it's going on, excepting the Super Bowl and, in even years, the Olympics. It seems to me that scheduling the women's Tournament to start the same weekend is a misguided attempt to assert that the women's game is just as good, just as worthy, just as important.
Well, philosophically and all that, sure, but the fact is, putting the women's Tournament on at the same time as the men's is like scheduling your sports event on Super Bowl Sunday: It might feel empowering but it's also just plain bad business. It's almost as though to prove a political point about equality, the NCAA is daring fans of the men's game to watch the women's Tournament, daring the media to pay sufficient attention.
Fans of the women's game are going to tune in no matter when the Tournament happens, and likewise haters aren't. But fans of both, who would pay attention to the women's Tourney if it weren't simultaneous with the men's, are hard pressed to follow them both. And forget about drawing the curious fan of the men's game. There just aren't enough hours in the day to try something new in the midst of a basketball blizzard.
Would it be so tough, such a painful acknowledgment of reality, to start the women's Tournament a week earlier, so it could use the popularity of the men's Tournament to help itself rather than trying to compete directly with a juggernaut?
Here's what I would do if they put me in charge: I'd back the whole women's season up by a few days, conference tournaments and all, so we could start the women's Tournament on what's now Selection Sunday for both, and let the first two rounds run on that day and the three days before the men's Tournament gets underway. In other words, this year, the women's Tourney's first two rounds would have been last Sunday through Wednesday. That way the first two rounds would fill up four dead days on the calendar when fans are hungry for basketball.
I would also lobby the major men's conferences that have their conference tournament finals on Selection Sunday to back it up a day, which, as we saw this year, would aid their champion in the seedings anyway.
The first day of the women's Sweet 16 round would overlap with the last day of the men's Round 2 -- that would have been this past Sunday. But that's just one day of competing, rather than four, as happens now. The next three days would belong to the women again, the Sweet 16 round finishing Monday, then the Elite 8 playing on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The semifinals and finals would be played on Friday night and Sunday of men's Final Four weekend, each round happening the day before the same round on the men's side. The way it works now is the semifinals are on Sunday, and the Championship Game is Tuesday night, the day after the men's final.
Again, moving this round up would capitalize on fans' anticipation and excitement over the men's semis and finals and give them basketball to watch when they're hungry for it. I think the current schedule allows that energy to diffuse. When the buzzer sounds on the men's Championship Game on Monday night, fans of the men's game are sort of mentally done with college basketball for a while.
I don't think there's anything to be gained from women's basketball competing directly with men's basketball. They're both great games. Give fans a chance to watch both. But it's silly to think they're going to abandon one for the other.
With the second round finishing up Tuesday night, I'll say what I say every year: If you're not watching the women's Tournament, you're missing some good games. I'll also add that if you're not watching because you find women's hoops lacking, you don't have to write in to tell me that. I get it: They don't run as fast or jump as high.
I picked 26 out of 32 right in the first round, nailing one upset (No. 10 Tennessee-Chattanooga over No. 7 Rutgers in the Midwest), and missing the other one I picked (10 North Carolina State over 7 Auburn in the East) as well as the five I didn't: 13 Middle Tennessee over 4 North Carolina and 11 UC-Santa Barbara over 6 Colorado in the East, 9 Marquette over 8 Old Dominion in the Mideast, 9 DePaul over 8 George Washington in the Midwest and 12 Maryland over 5 Miami in the West.
I'll probably take a bath in the second round, where I've picked No. 5 Notre Dame in the East, No. 6 Ohio State in the Mideast, No. 6 Stanford in the Midwest and No. 7 Villanova in the West as upset winners, along with the higher seeds in all the other games. My Elite 8 is Penn State, UConn, Duke, Kansas State, Tennessee, Stanford, Texas and Georgia. My Final Four is Duke over UConn and Texas over Stanford, and my champion is Duke.
If I win your office pool, send me the money.
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Salon Pool o' Experts [PERMALINK]
In my office pool, the Salon Pool o' Experts, the leaders after two rounds are Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News and the NCAA Selection Committee, for whom I fill out a bracket using the higher seed as the winner of each game, each with 460 points, based on 10 for each first-round winner, 20 for each second round. The committee is doomed, though, because Kentucky and Stanford, half its Final Four including the champ, are already gone. So be glad you didn't fill out a bracket picking all favorites. I'm third with 450, but I had Kentucky winning too, so I'm dirt.
Entered in this pool again is my son Buster, the coin-flippinest 1-year-old in America, who finished last a year ago. This year I've modified his flipping method so that once he's picked an upset in a bracket in a given round, the coin has to favor an underdog twice in a row for him to make the upset pick. That's made for a much more rational bracket than last year, when he had East Tennessee State going all the way. In fact, he had three top seeds in the Final Four, his only oddball entry being BYU. His champion is Duke. And who else among you had both Xavier and Vanderbilt in the Sweet 16? Huh? That's my boy!
After a great first morning -- only he and John Salley of "The Best Damn Sports Show" went 8-0 in the first half of Round 1 -- Buster has settled into last place with 360 points. But that's a mere 10 points behind Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated and only 40 points behind Alexander Wolff of S.I., both of whom have already lost their champion, Stanford. Grant Wahl, Salley and CBS.SportsLine.com's Tony Mejia, the defending champ of this pool, are only another 10 points ahead. Buster has a chance to beat all of them, as he has a good shot at beating Seth Davis, S.I. writer and CBS studio host, who has lost both of his title game picks, Stanford and Gonzaga.
Keep all of this in mind the next time you're listening to some nationally known expert chatter away about the Tournament: His picks might not be much better than those of a 1-year-old flipping a coin.
I'll keep you updated throughout the Tournament. Watch out for CBS game announcer and Sporting News radio host Tim Brando, the only entrant whose Final Four are all still alive. He's got Georgia Tech going all the way. The prize, as always, is dinner at my house, home cooking not implied. The number in parenthesis is the highest score still possible for that entry. Wins over the last four rounds are worth 40, 80, 120 and 160 points:
1. Mike DeCourcy, Sporting News: 460 (1,060)
1. NCAA Selection Committee: 460 (900)
3. King Kaufman, Salon: 450 (970)
4. Seth Davis, Sports Illustrated/CBS: 440 (840)
5. Tim Brando, Sporting News/CBS: 430 (1,390)
6. Tony Mejia, CBS.SportsLine.com: 410 (1,250)
6. John Salley, Fox Sports Net: 410 (1,170)
6. Grant Wahl, Sports Illustrated: 410 (1,010)
9. Alexander Wolff, Sports Illustrated: 400 (1,040)
10. Stewart Mandel, Sports Illustrated: 370 (850)
11. Buster, Coinflip Fancy: 360 (1,120)