April 20th – A few little things while we pray that the spring warmth stays with us permanently…
First? Back in March, as the annual stories were being written about the ongoing struggle for NCAA women’s basketball to have the same public prominence as the men’s tournament, Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant had a quote that caught my eye.
“What’s on TV in May? Not much besides softball,” Merchant said in a CNHI Indiana Sports story. “I think they’re looking for content, but for Big Ten, ESPN, Fox Sports, all these TV opportunities, I think there’s just so many windows, and if we’re constantly competing against the men and hockey and at the same time a little bit Basketball early, a little football early, should we as women think about something maybe unique and different?”
I’ll forgive Merchant for the coaches’ typical short-sightedness – May is pretty busy, including the postseason for almost every NCAA spring sport, not to mention the NBA and NHL playoffs, here in Indiana the Indianapolis 500 is pretty important, etc. – while confirming her general conceit.
Why does the women’s tournament have to take place in March?
May is probably not the right time. Then? Most fans would have to be convinced to be in a college basketball mood. It’s (mostly) warmer and people want to do things outside.
However, what would be wrong with April Madness?
Seems to me it would be an easy move that would greatly benefit women’s basketball in a month when there isn’t a marquee to compete with — the Masters and baseball opening days are at the beginning of the month.
It wouldn’t be too difficult to do either. The season would of course start a month later. That would also have advantages. The games could begin after schools finish exams. The holiday season could be a holiday tournament window, much like Thanksgiving for the men’s schedule.
As a matter of fact? Men’s tournaments, currently taking place in late December, could be encouraged to avoid the holiday season to give women’s basketball a chance to take the spotlight. That could happen anyway if the conference dates for both genders stretch into December, as is the case with the current calendar.
Conference games would start in mid to late January, there is no Christmas break to bypass thus eliminating the problems with child attendance being on break in early January.
Both conference tournaments and the NCAA tournament itself would have the month of April to showcase women’s basketball without trying to fight for oxygen in the busy month of March. Media attention would be significantly higher, as would occasional attention from fans.
And most importantly for the schools and the NCAA? The TV deal could be more valuable if the women had a month of their own to showcase the sport. This brings money into the sport, which narrows the financial gap between the two sexes.
At the end of the day? Most who follow collegiate sports are fans of schools first. That sounds elementary, but how did Indiana women’s basketball prove itself, and which Indiana State women’s basketball proved itself in the 2000s and early 2010s? Fans will flock to the team colors when the team wins.
So, give women’s basketball the calendar so fans can flock there without having to split their allegiance of ticketing and watching TV two different ways. An April window for the women’s basketball tournament would give the sport the spotlight it deserves.
April Madness…bring it on.
— No Excuses Work — Indiana State baseball coach Mitch Hannahs was hot, to say the least, after the ISU’s 12-6 win over Illinois at Bob Warn Field on Tuesday.
Yes, a win in six heats, but it needs an explanation. ISU went into the ninth inning 12-1. The Fighting Illini scored five runs in the ninth and had the bases loaded when the game was finally stopped by ISU closer Joey Hurth.
If you’ve read the game’s story, you’ve seen Hannah’s quotes about the Sycamores’ maturity.
“It’s part of our immaturity. The game is never over and you try to make the boys understand that I don’t care if it’s a 12-1 or a 2-1, you expect the same guy to go to that mound every time, but our immaturity comes out in the ninth, boys go and don’t come out. It is frustrating. We need to fix this immediately,” Hannahs said.
The heart of what Hannahs said lies in the “You expect the same guy to go up that hill every time” part of the quote. In other words, the same level of competency is expected regardless of the role.
By the time Illinois had started its rally? Several starters had been removed from both teams. But that means nothing to Hannahs. Bringing in benchers or pitchers midweek isn’t suddenly an excuse for a lower level of performance – he leaves that judgment to fans and media types like me. If anything, playing in these situations is a chance for these players to show their allegiance.
Hannah’s words are at the heart of why ISU baseball has been so successful under him. I’ve heard so-called no-excuses coaches come up with excuse after excuse over the years, but I never hear it from the ISU shelter. And it shows in the ISU’s annual qualifier, or competition, for an NCAA regional spot.
The Sycamores could be back. The ISU leads the Missouri Valley Conference, sixth best in the nation, with one game in the early stages, and the RPI is hovering around 70. Not good enough for an overall bid, but opportunities to increase that RPI lie ahead of the Sycamores .
It starts on friday. A much-improved Evansville team comes to Bob Warn Field for a three-game set. The best RPI teams in MVC follow: home series against Missouri State, away against Bradley and a good Southern Illinois team, followed by a tantalizing home finals series against Dallas Baptist, currently ranked second in the nation in RPI. May also have good mid-week road opportunities in Illinois and Vanderbilt.
When the MVC tournament kicks off in late May, the Sycamores could be where they normally are and fighting for a chance to make the NCAA tournament. If it happens? You can thank the lack of apology in the dugout, because the ISU expects nothing less.
Todd Golden is the sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or email@example.com. Follow Golden on Twitter at @TribStarTodd.