The first time my sister and I decided to go to the NCAA women’s Final Four in 1997 it was a tough ticket. I was working for a newspaper and was able to get a press pass to cover the event. My sister joined the WBCA and paid $200 to sign up for their convention in order to earn the right to buy a ticket. Otherwise, tickets for the common fan were sold out and being scalped for top dollar.
Contrast that with the Final Four in New Orleans this past April, where you could hardly give away tickets to the championship game (and I know because I had an extra one). Maybe it was because Baylor, the defending champion, hadn’t made it to the Final Four (having lost to Louisville in the regional semifinal). Maybe it was because a relatively unknown team (the University of California, Berkely had defeated Georgia in double overtime to earn a berth) was among the foursome. But maybe it also had something to do with the timing of the event. In 1997, the women’s Final Four championship game in Cincinnati was on Sunday instead of its current Tuesday placement, which was instituted in 2003 to avoid competing for media attention with the men’s championship on Monday night. Better to have the women’s championship game once the men’s games were over, was the thinking at the time.
But Friday-Sunday games made it possible for many working people to make a long weekend out of the trip. For many people, Sunday-Tuesday games cut too deeply into the work week.
This is why I cheered when I read Val Ackerman’s white paper on changes that need to be made to reverse sagging attendance stats in women’s college basketball. Her suggestions are wide-ranging and run the gamut from offering fewer scholarships at individual schools (to create more parity) to lowering the baskets (a controversial idea at best). She posits several proposals for changes to the timing of the Final Four — primary among them is reverting to the Friday-Sunday format as early as next year in Nashville.
“…a shift would create a better championship feel,” Ackerman writes in the 52-page report, adding, (“as a point of fact, even most coaches routinely leave the Womem’s Final Four after the semifinal games on Sunday).”
Ackerman also suggests moving the Final Four to the weekend after the men’s tournament — when there would be no competition for TV viewers (except from the Masters golf tournament, which for most people I know is like watching paint dry until the 18th hole of the final day).
This change couldn’t occur until 2017 because the next three Final Fours have already been awarded to cities that presumably cleared the decks of other convention conflicts before making their bids. In any event, these two changes would go a long way to putting more people in the seats at the Final Four. Even though it might make the games a tough ticket again.