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Sunday, March 29, 2009

No, Seriously: Up Yours Basketball

I know that the NCAA Basketball tournament is what makes money, and makes people money all the same this time of year and that's good and that's fine.

It can't touch the NCAA Hockey tournament. Can't do it. It's not possible and it'll never be possible.


I'm not going to go throwing the "parity" word around here, that's just too overdone for me.

Before I get talking about how unbelievable Day Two of the tournament was, I want to say that part of me wants to rip ESPN a new one for their abysmal priorities in coverage and inability to handle multiple live broadcasts. ESPN was airing a Maryland-Virginia regular season ACC lacrosse game this afternoon, figuring that for a Saturday, getting as much live sports coverage in as possible would be great.

I like that and that's good. What I don't like is the seeming lack of a backup plan from the folks at ESPN considering that lacrosse games don't end in ties and in the event that the game might go to overtime, you'd need to have a contingency plan just in case.

ESPN2's coverage of the Northeast Regional was delayed until after the second period because the lacrosse game went to an unprecedented seven overtime periods.


Since I was at this game, I only became aware of the issue with ESPN thanks to friends texting me looking for updates since ESPN was only giving periodic highlight snippets during the lacrosse game and asking for patience.

Don't get me wrong, I dig lacrosse. It's a great sport and I love watching the championships. I've got no beef with lacrosse.

I've got a beef with the decision makers who decided that not having another of their cable channels was worthy enough to carry the UND-UNH game while Maryland/Virginia lacrosse played out the longest lacrosse game in history. Picture in picture would've worked out well also, but instead it was all or nothing.

If these were both NCAA Tournament games being played, fine you gotta roll with it and deal.

But a regular season game?! That's dumb, even more so when you've got folks tuning in for an elimination game, an NCAA Tournament game and you're telling them, "You know what? Too bad." I could delve into crazy theories and pile on ESPN again about their more than apparent disdain for hockey as a sport, but I'm not going to do that this time.

This was a flat-out poor decision to not use the wealth of programming options you have available to you to at least give folks a channel to switch to in the meantime while history in another sport played out. Instead, actual college hockey fans get shut out and cold shouldered while they miss the first period and a half of what turned out to be the greatest game of the tournament.

It's late here and there's a lot of things floating through my head and there's no way that it's going to be said coherently and that overtime thriller with New Hampshire and North Dakota did something to me.

It left me unable to put into words what I just watched.

I'm not going to blow it up into a life changing experience kind of thing, that's just histrionics.

I will say this though:

This game between UNH and UND is the game I'd show to people who are on the fence whether or not they can get into hockey. This is the sort of hockey game I want to see each night played in every arena in front of every fan and soon-to-be fan alike.

If that didn't win them over? Tell them the Bemidji State story. They were technically the worst team in the tournament, only getting in there thanks to winning the CHA Tournament auto-bid. They got a date with Notre Dame in Grand Rapids, Michigan as a reward and made the best of it by handing the Irish their lunch. Their reward for that? A date with the rough and tumble Big Red of Cornell who stunned #2 seed in the Midwest Northeastern scoring the game winning goal with under 30 seconds to play.


All of it.

With Bemidji and Cornell facing off for a date to D.C., another #3 or #4 seed will be headed to join fellow #3 Vermont and #4 Miami. Meanwhile in the East, top seed Boston University gets to face their Hockey East mates from UNH, the #3 seed in the region. The winner of this game gets a date with Hockey East cohorts Vermont for a spot in the Finals.

It's amazing that only one top seed survived the opening round. It's thoroughly shocking and completely enthralling and it's great for the sport. Just last year in Denver, I found myself and others complaining that it's always the same bunch of teams trading off spots in the Frozen Four. You could pick out any combination of Boston College, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota or North Dakota and generally get two or three teams in the Frozen Four.

Not this year though. This year is special, a true "anything can happen" kind of year.

It's the kind of year the NCAA Basketball tournament wishes it could get and market the hell out of.

Too bad. It's hockey's turn to tell the Cinderella stories.


Dana Fosburgh said...

Great post!It's tournaments like this, that make all the crap that goes on at the higher levels of the game acceptable...GO WILDCATS !!!

7th Woman said...

And people wonder why the NHL isn't upset with giving up on ESPN???

This was a great read.
Thanks so much!

GO WILDCATS!! (i wore my UNH jersey into the Isles locker room last night. Got some interesting looks... too bad ;o)

jtw said...

When the Air Force-Vermont game was in overtime, they shifted the Miami-UMD game over to ESPN Classic. I don't know what was on ESPN Classic during the Maryland-Virginia overtime marathon, but I know espnU was also showing a live event (North Carolina-Johns Hopkins lacrosse, which also went into OT but fortunately didn't pre-empt much of the Cornell-Northeastern game), so they couldn't use that. They did have the UNH-NoDak game on espn360.com but that only works if you have the "right" ISP.

This was all sort of reminiscent of the 1995 Maine-Michigan semifinal, which IIRC was on ESPN, but because a tennis match ran long the first period ended up being shown on espn2. Then of course the Maine-Michigan game went triple overtime, which in turn led to pre-empting of scheduled live golf coverage (they switched to the golf during the intermissions). This worked fine until ESPN lost the hockey feed between the second and third overtimes, and didn't get it back in time to show the game-winning goal live.