Coaches want parity. Institutions want spotlight. The NCAA wants money.
As a result, the bartering has begun.
Home court advantage during the postseason can be a touchy subject when the host team is seeded near the bottom of the bracket, and the visiting team boasts a high seed, as is the case with several teams in this year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Mechelle Voepel, a columnist for the Kansas City Star, raised the issue of problems with predetermined sites and how it affects this year’s Big Dance in a column earlier this week.
“Predetermined sites are abominable,” Voepel said. “It’s illogical to have that situation. The lower seed didn’t do anything to earn that bid. They paid for it.”
And Temple finds itself in the middle of it all, but is not the only team that will host a higher seed in the first round, and possibly the second. The 11th-seeded Owls will host No. 6 Texas Christian on Saturday at the Liacouras Center.
Neither Temple coach Dawn Staley nor TCU coach Jeff Mittie have bickered about the location, and both realize that it’s hard to please everyone. But there are other options the selection committee can go to. Starting next year, the NCAAs will switch to eight first-and second-round sites.
But for now, teams, fans and virtuosos will have to settle for 16 opening-rounds sites and dicey outcomes.
The second round could potentially see seven top-four seeds playing on the home court against a team seeded worse. Some potential matchups include No. 3 Georgia at Temple and No. 1 Penn State at No. 8 Virginia Tech in the West Region.
Staley said teams wanting to host the opening rounds should place a bid to the selection committee as Temple did – and received – a year and a half ago.
“Whatever you do, you’re going to have to win on the road,” Staley said. “Whether it’s neutral, or on your home court, you’re going to have to do it. You’re going to have to find a way to win. For me, maybe I’m a young coach and my eyes haven’t been opened to that, but you got to be able to play anybody, anywhere, anytime.”
Temple feels the pain of a team playing at the home court of an opponent in the NCAA tournament. Two years ago, the Owls had to face No. 3 Iowa State in Ames.
Mittie, who has guided the Horned Frogs to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, has never had the chance to host a tournament game or even play within the region. TCU was ranked No. 20 in the most recent USA Today Top 25 poll.
“Obviously everybody would prefer to play at home,” Mittie said. “I think the system that I’d prefer is to go to eight predetermined sites and have this played in areas where we can try to grow the fan base into the region. There are a lot of teams that criss-cross the country.”
Voepel is optimistic the selection committee can bring some sort of structure to the tournament, but not this year, she said, especially with inequities along the seeding line.
Voepel doesn’t think the predetermined sites are neighborly to the residents and fans of the host city, or to teams deserving of a high seed.
“They did this for TV, not to sell tickets,” Voepel said. “The real reason, in my view, is it makes it easier for ESPN,” to assign crews to regions, have plenty of tickets in advance and schedule games in different time zones for its programming.
Both TCU and Temple aren’t strangers to hitting the road for big-time competition. Traveling with little fanfare is something both coaches expect to encounter.
When the Owls lost to Iowa State in the 2002 tournament, the several dozen fans that came to support them went virtually unheard amongst the 7, 000-plus in attendance rooting for the Cyclones.
The Horned Frogs also have faced similar situations. Mittie said TCU has averaged about 100 fans in each of its last two road losses to Connecticut and Duke, both in the second round of the NCAAs.
But Staley sees another side to similar scenarios, and used this year’s Penn State squad as an example.
“This situation is always going to be something controversial. You can’t please everybody,” she said. “So, does Penn State marvel at the fact that they’re No. 1 and they have to go through Connecticut, Virginia Tech and all those places, or would they want a third seed and be placed in a different region? I don’t know. If you put them as the third seed, they’ll have an easier ride, but they’re still going to gripe about the third seed. I don’t see this, see that. Just give us an opportunity to play. Bottom line.”
Mittie added that a majority of the coaches think the current system has failed.
Voepel put it more bluntly.
“It’s a random who-gets-screwed-this-year sort of thing,” she said. “And that’s what’s happening this year.”
Chris Silva can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.