Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wednesday Night Green Beer: Is NCAA Wrestling a Better Deal for Omaha Than Basketball?

Funny thing is about to occur in Omaha over the next three days:  the NCAA is bringing a national championship event to Omaha, and except for a few blips in the World-Herald, there's no buzz about it locally.  Too bad, because there are about 15,000 people spending the next few days in town.  The event is sold out and apparently 80% of the tickets are from folks out of town; that means the hotels and restaurants in Omaha will be busy.  Yesterday, the Wisconsin team bus passed me downtown, so they're in town.  (It's almost a stereotype, but shortly after the bus passed, it smelled just like a bratwurst.  Is it possible to power a bus on brat drippings?)

If you ask me, an event like the NCAA Wrestling championship is a bigger coup for Omaha and MECA than getting the NCAA basketball tournament.  Wrestling brings visitors in from out of town and increases tourism.  Basketball merely lines the pockets of greedy Creighton fans who hoard and scalp tickets.

Speaking of Creighton fan, they had to play their CTI game at the Civic Auditorium since the Qwest Center was being set up for NCAA wrestling.  So how did they get their devoted fans that pack the Qwest Center to squeeze into the much smaller Civic?  Turns out that wasn't an issue; only 4,348 tickets were sold, and even fewer bothered to show up.  To quote UNO's Red Army: 
"Oooh!  Ahhh!  Smaller than a Knights Crowd!"
Meanwhile, there's talk that the NCAA might expand the basketball tournament to 96 teams.  Is that a good deal or a bad deal?  It depends on how they choose to play the additional games.  I'm not sure there's a good case to be made that the teams that missed the cut have a realistic chance to make an impact on the tournament.  Adding those teams just waters down the tournament, but the impact could be lessened if the additional 32 games are condensed into one day.  Take all 8 first round sites, and put them all in use with 7 or 8 games going on simultaneously.  Let CBS have a field day blipping you from game to game; certainly there's going to be at least one game that's going to be interesting to watch.  Then take the 64 remaining teams and play them on Friday and Saturday, filling the whole day with basketball.  Finally, consolidate the former second round games onto Sunday into 5 time slots starting at 11 am and going all evening.

Don't make the same mistake the BCS made by stretching the tournament out.  Fans don't really want those weekend games moved to Tuesday and Wednesday nights.  Give fans a reason to pay attention to those additional 32 "opening round" or "play in" games by jamming them into one day and turning it into a smorgasbord of basketball excess.  (Remember what New Years Day used to be like before the BCS stretched out the bowl season over a whole week?)  That might make a 96 team tournament palatable.

Probably won't happen, because this plan might only add two or three timeslots for the networks to sell ads.  ESPN or CBS probably would prefer to drag it out as long as possible.  Heck, let's spread the first round over the entire weekend, and just drag it out... play the Final Four on Memorial Day weekend.  Good for fans?  Hardly, but that seems to be the fashion in this sports economy.

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