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Championship atmosphere? Not unless the NCAA changes

The Mississippi State-Baylor women's basketball game on Sunday night had a huge television audience. ESPN reported that 1.310 million watched, making it the network's most-watched show that day. Big for the network. Big for women's basketball.

Too bad that when you add in the people who were at Chesapeake Energy Arena to watch the game in person, the total viewers only grows to about 1.313 million.

Announced attendance at The Peake for the regional final: 3,128.

Horrible.

Thing is, it wasn’t that much different than other regionals. Stanford punched its ticket to the Women’s Final Four in Lexington, Ky., in front of an announced crowd of 2,527. South Carolina won its way to the Final Four in Stockton, Calif., in front of an announced crowd of 3,134. Only Connecticut (surprise, surprise) played in front of a crowd that could be deemed good. The Huskies played only an hour and a half from their campus in Bridgeport, Conn., and won their regional championship in front of an announced crowd of 8,978.

Those crowds of two and three thousand are a total disgrace. The players and coaches deserve a championship environment. Lots of fans in the seats. Lots of screaming and yelling and clapping. Having a few thousand people in the stands for the biggest games of the season just doesn’t cut it.

And I’m not here to blame the organizing committees.

Here in Oklahoma City, the All-Sports Association leads the charge, and despite advertising the regional on a variety of platforms and promoting its arrival in a variety of ways, there just wasn’t any buzz. I assume the same happened in Lexington and Stockton.

Oklahoma not making it to the regional finals in the Oklahoma City regional hurt attendance, but regionals shouldn’t rise and fall on the presence of one team.

The NCAA has made a commitment to put regionals in places where women’s basketball isn’t necessarily “the thing.” I like that idea; you can grow the game by exposing it to people in places where it isn’t a big deal.

The problem is, you can’t expose those people if they aren’t in the building.

The NCAA has to lower ticket prices.

The ticket prices for the regionals were not outrageous. You could see all three games, two semifinals and the finals, for $44 in the lower bowl or $32 in the upper bowl, or you could see the semis or the finals for $24 in the lower bowl and $18 in the upper.

Here’s the problem, though. You can get a ticket to see the Thunder for just about the same price. Yes, you might have to sit in the nose-bleed section, but you can get in the building to watch Russell Westbrook and Co. for under $25.

So, if you’re a basketball fan, you have to ask yourself – do I pay $25 to see Hustle Russell or Nina Davis, the Baylor standout? The Stache Brothers or Morgan William, the Mississippi State sparkplug? Davis and William are great players, but unless you already love women’s basketball, you probably aren’t going to pick Nina and Morgan over Russ and the guys.

If the NCAA truly wants to grow the game, it needs to market to young fans. Youth teams. Families. And if you truly want to lure them in, you need to have a cheap ticket. Five bucks would be best. Ten bucks at the max.

I’m sure some in the NCAA would argue that it sells short the women’s game, to have tickets be so inexpensive.

OK, have your more expensive tickets in the lower bowl and your cheap seats in the upper deck. Who would argue that?

And if they do argue, here would be my counter – you know what really sells short the women’s game? Arenas that are nearly empty. Environments that are worse than a high school game.

The teams playing in a regional final deserve energy and excitement in the building, and right now, the NCAA isn’t delivering to most of those teams. That needs to change, and it can.

Lower the ticket prices, and you’ll bring in tons of young fans. Girls who might just be starting to love basketball. Girls who might see a game and realize where basketball could take them. Girls who might be inspired to dream. Girls who will scream and holler and yell to support the women on the court.

What an amazing story it would be, thousands of young girls making the women’s regionals great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›

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