NCAA does disservice to the game by sending Portland on the road
Updated: November 13, 2007, 6:03 PM ETBy Graham Hays | ESPN.com
What does the NCAA have against Portland?
The largest city in Oregon is a pretty pleasant place to spend a weekend. Situated squarely in the heart of both microbrew and wine country, it offers no shortage of culinary opportunities. Like pretty much everywhere in the Pacific Northwest, coffee flows like water -- all the better for keeping late enough hours to enjoy the city's thriving music scene. Visit in the middle of November and you might flirt with the gray skies and rain showers that dominate the winter months, but you're still close enough to early fall to have at least a puncher's chance of catching some sun and mild temperatures. And if you're a women's college soccer fan, Portland is also the place to find Merlo Field at the University of Portland, home of the biggest crowds in the sport the past two years. Not that you'd ever know it during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. For the third year in a row, the NCAA has decided to shutter the best advertisement for the growing popularity of the women's game by sending the University of Portland on the road for the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Instead of selling out the 4,892 seats at Merlo Field, as the Pilots have routinely done in the rare opportunities they've had to host games later in the tournament in the past (they also averaged more than 3,652 during the regular season this year, unofficially their third year in a row leading the nation in average attendance), Portland will head to the University of Colorado for a four-team pod that includes the hosts, the University of Denver and Hawaii. This isn't even about the competitive fairness of starting a seeded team on the road (Wake Forest and USC also start away from home as seeded teams this year). It's not even about rewarding the fans of Portland for supporting the sport. No, in a language the NCAA has been fluent in for years, this doesn't even make financial sense. The NCAA is going to foot the bill for flying two teams to Colorado, where the Buffaloes averaged 1,187 fans this season, instead of paying for one additional team to go somewhere that will generate four times the gate revenue.
Will CrewPortland fans will have to travel to see Pilots star Stephanie Lopez on the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
|There are two sides to every story, and Kristin Fasbender, Assistant Director of Championships for the NCAA and liaison to the Division I Women's Soccer Committee, took time to offer her organization's explanation for Portland's predicament. "We know what a great site Portland is, and we know that they do a great job hosting," Fasbender said. As with any organization as large as the NCAA, rules sometimes take on an unassailable superiority which trumps individual circumstances. For non-revenue-generating sports, schools located within 350 miles of a host site are considered to be within driving range. Anything more means a flight, and committees have been ordered to keep flights to a minimum (eight teams will fly to opening-round sites this year, two more than last year). So once the soccer committee knew Portland, Hawaii, Denver and Colorado would be together, it couldn't even consider putting them in Oregon. "When we look at it, it's the whole bracket," Fasbender said. "It's the overall cabinet issue -- NCAA issue -- when we're doing this. It isn't like the committee sits down and says, 'Portland is going to bring in X number of dollars.' We don't have that leverage sitting in that room. …That's not one of the rules that we're able to look at. We have to look at the fewest number of flights that we can get for a bracket, because we are a non-revenue-generating sport. That is a cabinet policy that has been handed down to all committees to implement." So perhaps venting at committee members whose hands were tied qualifies as shooting the messenger, but the fact remains that Portland's fate had little to do with either its athletic performance on the field, or just as important, its financial performance at the gate. "This group of people is absolutely amazing," Fasbender said of the committee. "And they're sitting in this room selecting 64 teams and their first job once they get ready to bracket is to try and give those 16 seeds an opportunity to host. … Unfortunately, with the information and the rules we have, we have to implement those rules." -- Graham Hays|