WUSA, Channel 9, has released the four games it'll be showing during tomorrow's opening-round NCAA tournament action, plus
one all of Friday's selections. Here's what we're getting tomorrow:
12:20 Butler vs. LSU
2:45 Maryland vs. California
7:20 American vs. Villanova
9:30 Binghamton vs. Duke
The middle two are no-brainers, obviously. The first game won out over Memphis-Cal State Northridge and BYU-Texas A&M, which strikes me as process of elimination. But the latter was obviously a closer call, because two sort-of local games will be going on at the same time as Duke: VCU-UCLA, and Morgan State-Oklahoma. (Illinois-Western Kentucky is the fourth game in that slot, and the least-appealing option.)
So I chatted with WUSA president and general manager Allan Horlick to see how these decisions are made.
"The original decision is made by CBS; they send it to us and we see if we concur or not. Usually, we concur," he told me. "The first thing you look at, is there a team of local interest? We've got Maryland, we've got American, and you're automatically going to default to those games because of local interest....The next consideration is the conference. All things being equal, if there's an ACC or Big East team playing, we're generally going to go with that as opposed to the Big 10 or the Pac-10. Those are the basic criteria."
Duke, of course, fits into the latter criterion, though Horlick said the other choices were mentioned. Personally, I'd have voted for VCU-UCLA, but then I'm biased like that. So I specifically asked Horlick about the VCU game.
"It became part of the discussion, but there's a huge fan base that follows the ACC, and certainly Duke," he said. "Some decisions are tougher than others. We also recognize that CBS is going to do some hopping around from game to game, and we get pretty good over the years at getting a good feel for where the big fan bases are and where the alumni are."
Which is why WUSA preemptively spoke up about the West Virginia-Dayton game, which will be seen locally during the 2:50 time slot on Friday. Several West Virginia counties are in the D.C. DMA, and lots of 'Eers alums and fans live in the area, so WUSA execs wanted to make sure that game was on their schedule.
"We did speak up on the West Virginia game, because we know how important West Virginia is to a lot of our viewers," Horlick told me. "To tell you the truth you do have some toughies. When you've got the No. 1 seed playing on the first day, they're playing a No. 16, chances are it's going to be a blowout. Do you want to show the viewers the No. 1 seed so they get to know the players, or a No. 8 seed playing a No. 9, what's probably gonna be a closer game?"
The other Friday games are still TBA, but will be announced today. I'd assume Big East choices Syracuse and Marquette would be the leading contenders for Friday's early slot, over Tennessee-OK State and Kansas-ND State.)
(UPDATED: The updated schedule shows Syracuse-Stephen F. Austin at 12:15, Boston College-Southern Cal at 7:20 and Wake Forest-Cleveland State at 9:30. That make the day Big East, Big East, ACC, ACC.)
If national CBS and WUSA do disagree on an individual game, the two sides will talk things over, and discuss their rationales.
"We give them the criteria, we talk it through, and more often than not we prevail with that, but it doesn't happen that often because more often than not we agree with them," Horlick said. "You try to look at it like we're not presenting a bunch of individual games, we're presenting a tournament, particularly in the first week. You want to give fans a sense of what's going on across the tournament."
And sure, I realize some of you might be visiting a local establishment that offers every game on these days, but others will, like me, be at home with a two-year old who does not care for local establishments, and thus, you'll be counting on WUSA's coverage.