Bidding to host the first two rounds of the women's NCAA tournament is risky. The benefit to a team on the court can come at a high cost to the school financially.
For the second straight year there is a good chance that six of the 16 sites that will host first- and second-round games for the tournament won't have host schools playing, which could spell a major economic loss for those institutions.
Last year in the opening rounds, five of the six sites that didn't have host teams playing didn't pull in the money they had guaranteed to the NCAA and had to make up the difference. The one site that did -- Western Kentucky -- was fortunate to have Tennessee at the site. The Lady Vols always travel well.
"Definitely having Tennessee come helped us meet our guarantee," said Darrell Horn, an associate athletic director at Western Kentucky. "It was a sea of orange and the fans bought a lot of the more expensive packages figuring that they would be around for both rounds."
Horn said that the school wasn't relying on getting the Lady Vols to their site when they submitted their bid. Western Kentucky overestimated the cost of some items that helped them reach their guarantee.
"We put in $10,000 for blue carpeting and didn't come close to needing that much for it," Horn said.
The site was seventh in attendance -- the only one of the hostless arenas to crack the top 10 on the opening day. Unfortunately for Western Kentucky the Lady Vols lost in the first round, costing them an even greater financial windfall.
It wasn't just the hostless sites that fell short of their guarantees and had to make up the difference to the NCAA. In all, 11 of the 16 sites didn't reach their goals last year. Some were over $40,000 short while others were just a little bit off. The NCAA worked with this year's hosts to try to help them reach their numbers.
"We took a real good look at not so much the budget model but how we could better manage it," said Sue Donohoe, the NCAA's vice president for Division I women's basketball. "It's important for us that our hosts aren't overexposed financially and we aren't overly exposed financially while ensuring that our host and student-athletes are given the experience that it needs to be."
Some of the schools that lost money last season tried to recoup those losses from the NCAA but were turned down. The NCAA tried to be really clear about the hosts' responsibilities. This year they added a teleconference with the schools to talk about the bid specifications so that the institutions wouldn't under-budget and be left with a shortfall.
Even though a host school may lose money, there are benefits to guaranteeing your program home-court advantage. Last season, both Michigan State and Rutgers played on their home courts and pulled off upsets. Even with huge attendance, the Spartans still lost over $30,000.
Despite the expected economic loss, Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi saw the positive gains of hosting. His team won't be there when the school hosts the first two rounds this year.
"We'll take a little bit of a hit financially," said Maturi, whose school is also hosting part of the NCAA men's hockey tournament. "We try to do it to benefit our team because it's an advantage to play at home."
New Mexico has seen both sides of the profit equation the last two seasons. The Lobos, who hosted NCAA tournament games the past two seasons, qualified for the 2008 tournament and the school easily made its guarantee. Last year the Lobos didn't get in and the school lost over $30,000. Athletic director Paul Krebs wasn't upset that his team didn't make the tournament. It was more that the four schools there had no local draw.
"There wasn't anybody from this part of the country here," he said. "I think we had two or three teams get in from our league. The final game was Kansas State against Vanderbilt. And Kansas State was the closest team."
Unfortunately there isn't much that the selection committee can do to try to solve that problem. One of the main principles of bracketing is geography. Proximity to a host school is one of the key ingredients in determining who is put where.
"We put in the host schools and see who they take with them," former NCAA women's basketball committee chair Jacki Silar said. "We then go back through and stare at the computer screen and see what mileage tells you is the closest first-second-round site. We don't want our host to lose money and try our darndest to not have that happen."
The NCAA switched from eight sites to 16 in 2009 and that caused some financial issues for the host schools, because bidding was done two years in advance the NCAA also had to take supplemental bids to fill out this year's tournament.
Pittsburgh, Louisville and Seattle were all added by supplemental bid. None of them will have host teams playing.
There isn't a perfect solution to avoid having hostless sites. The NCAA has resisted going to completely neutral sites -- like the men's tournament uses, because of attendance concerns. There were barely 1,000 people in Los Angeles last year in the first round and 700 in the second.
They have tried different formats, including giving the first two rounds to the top four seeds in each region, had the higher seeds host, played in only eight sites instead of 16 and twice played in the 16 predetermined sites.
"We try everything we can," Silar said. "We don't want people not to want to host. We need hosts all over the country to make this work. We don't want our hosts to lose money by any means."