With 56 seconds remaining Sunday in Arizona’s 64-48 victory over Pacific, an official from the WNIT’s Colorado headquarters phoned the UA with a very important message:
Arizona had been selected to play host to a “Sweet 16” game Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
Not that there was much suspense. The WNIT is part of a for-profit based sports promotion company — Triple Crown Sports — that has no connection to the NCAA and no neutral court settings.
Triple Crown Sports had bracketed the 64-team WNIT field into four geographical regions, and Thursday’s so-called Western Sweet 16 has been reduced to Arizona vs. Idaho and Wyoming vs. Pepperdine.
Who gets to play at home?
Arizona drew 6,829 in its first two victories. Idaho drew 1,545.
Follow the money. The Vandals will be at McKale Center on Thursday night.
Basketball in March is so difficult that you ache for any and every tiny advantage, and the sweetest words Arizona coach Adia Barnes could hear would be “take down the curtains.”
The dark blue, UA-logo adorned curtains that block off 4,000 upper deck seats at McKale Center have been on display during WNIT victories over Idaho State and Pacific, as they have been at every UA women’s basketball game since being installed many years ago.
But after the Wildcats drew back-to-back WNIT crowds in excess of 3,000, it’s not totally crazy to imagine a scenario in which Arizona beats Idaho and then plays host to Wyoming/Pepperdine on Sunday afternoon with interest and demand joining forces to draw 5,000 or — is it possible? — 10,000 for an “Elite Eight” game.
Times are changing. It’s not inconceivable that the UA women’s basketball team will soon — this month or in coming years — not need the dark blue curtains.
“We got a little under 4,000 today and it felt like 7,000,” Barnes said Sunday. When she walked to her office in the morning, a line had already formed at the ticket office.
“Our goal is to get 5,000 (Thursday),” she said. “I want to pack the lower bowl.”
The WNIT has a simple formula. Those wishing to be host sites of a first-round game pay about $9,000 to Triple Crown Sports. The price escalates per game, going to about $12,000 for a second round game, about $15,000 for a Sweet 16 and close to $20,000 for an Elite Eight.
In turn, Triple Crown Sports guarantees road teams that it will cover travel costs in excess of $12,000, no matter how many road games they play. It probably cost Pacific’s small traveling party about $10,000 for its trip to Tucson.
If your team advances to the “Final Four,” the cost to be a host climbs.
When Toledo, of all teams, won the 2011 WNIT, it was successful in bidding $51,000 to play host to USC in the championship game. Now it likely costs close to six figures.
After beating Pacific, Barnes talked about “as we get deeper in the tournament,” which, on paper, looks to be a sound bet. As UA junior Dominique McBryde, who scored 11 important points Sunday, said, “We all believe we can win this tournament.”
But it’s not likely Arizona — or anyone — will play host to all six games, even if it is fortunate to reach the April 6 championship game, televised on the CBS Sports Network.
UA athletic director Dave Heeke said that it’s customary for teams advancing to the championship game to play at least one roadie.
Nobody but Triple Crown Sports is getting rich in the WNIT; that’s not the point. But it has been an event to ignite interest in women’s college basketball, big and small.
In 2001, New Mexico drew 18,018 at the Pit to beat Ohio State in the championship game.
In 2007, Wyoming’s run to the WNIT title rallied support from all over the state; the Cowboys drew 52,541 for six home games. In subsequent years, Kansas drew 16,113 for a WNIT championship game at famed Phog Allen Fieldhouse, and last season the Indiana Hoosiers drew 13,007 for the WNIT title game.
Let your dreams run wild.
The only flaw in Arizona’s hope to roll the McKale Center curtains back is to get UA students involved.
Other than the pep band, there couldn’t have been more than 30 students in the Zona Zoo on Sunday, nor at last week’s 10-point victory over Idaho State in the first round.
What’s up with that?
“I don’t know what the solution is,” said Barnes. “It has been difficult (to get them here), and I don’t know why. My goal one day is to have a section that’s crazy. For $8 (per seat), it’s a pretty good product.”
Winning is usually the cue for any segment of the community to jump on a sports bandwagon. In recent days, the UA offered free pizza to those in the Zona Zoo, but so far few students have shown a taste for pizza or the WNIT.
Either way, they’ve been missing a good show.