An “unfortunate technical error” by ESPN resulted in the 2019 NCAA women’s tournament bracket being shown on air Monday afternoon hours before it was to have been revealed, scuttling watch parties and forcing the network to move up its selection show by two hours.
The show, originally scheduled for 7 p.m., instead began on ESPN2 at 5 p.m., at which point the leaked bracket had already been circulating online. ESPN confirmed that the bracket was accurate.
“In working with the NCAA to prepare for tonight’s women’s selection special, we received the bracket, similar to years past,” ESPN host Maria Taylor said in a statement read on the air before the show began. “In the midst of our preparation, the bracket was mistakenly posted on ESPNU. We deeply regret the error and extend our apology to the NCAA and the women’s basketball community. We will conduct a thorough review of our process to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.”
Defending champion Notre Dame was awarded one of the top four seeds. The other No. 1 seeds were given to Louisville, Mississippi State and Baylor, which received a No. 1 seed for the third time in four seasons. The Bears’ only loss this season came at Stanford.
Tennessee, which was considered a bubble team, made the tournament for the 38th straight year, this time as a No. 11 seed. Tennessee is the only team that has appeared in every edition of the tournament.
Connecticut was given a No. 2 seed, the first time the Huskies were not given a No. 1 seed since 2006.
The Final Four will be held next month in Tampa.
Monday’s technical glitch ruined watch parties across the country, as the brackets unceremoniously appeared online hours before they were expected.
“We regret the network’s mistake and are working with our partners at ESPN to prevent similar errors in future years,” the NCAA said in a statement. “We look forward to collaborating with ESPN to bring fans exciting women’s basketball tournament coverage throughout the remainder of the championship.”
While many college teams invited fans to join them for what would have been watch parties but became more general celebrations after the brackets were revealed, Oregon, Oregon State, Princeton, Radford and Rice were among the programs that canceled their events Monday. One father of a nine-year-old girl complained online that his daughter was left “crying” because she had been so excited about “getting autographs and meeting players” from Oregon.
“Thanks for ruining her day,” the father wrote.
“This is a terrible mistake!!!” former Old Dominion and WNBA star Ticha Penecheiro said on Twitter. “The early release of the bracket completely ruins the experience for teams and fans. And airing it 2 hours earlier doesn’t fix it!!!”
The episode reminded some of a similar situation in 2016, when the entire NCAA men’s tournament bracket was leaked online after only half of it had been unveiled on CBS’s Selection Sunday show. At the time, some applauded the unidentified source of the leak for sparing them the trouble of sitting through CBS’s two-hour telecast.
In the case of Monday’s error, the NCAA’s network partner was clearly at fault, as women’s pairings began appearing during an ESPNU show centered on the men’s tournament that aired four hours before the women’s selection show was set to begin. At various points during the ESPNU telecast, women’s matchups were appearing on one part of the screen while men’s matchups were shown elsewhere (via Awful Announcing), and images revealing the women’s tournament were posted online.
No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 16 Robert Morris
No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Kansas State
No. 5 Gonzaga vs. No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock
No. 4 Oregon State vs. No. 13 Boise State
No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 11 Tennessee
No. 3 Maryland vs. No. 14 Radford
No. 7 Rutgers vs. No. 10 Buffalo
No. 2 Connecticut vs. No. 15 Towson
No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Abilene Christian
No. 8 Cal vs. No. 9 North Carolina
No. 5. Florida State vs. No. 12 Bucknell
No. 4 South Carolina vs. No. 13 Belmont
No. 6 Kentucky vs. No. 11 Princeton
No. 3 North Carolina State vs. No. 14 Maine
No. 7 Missouri vs. No. 10 Drake
No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 Mercer
No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 16 Bethune-Cookman
No. 8 Central Michigan vs. No. 9 Michigan State
No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 12 Rice
No. 4 Texas A&M vs. No. 13 Wright State
No. 6 DePaul vs. No. 11 Missouri State
No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 14 New Mexico State
No. 7 BYU vs. No. 10 Auburn
No. 2 Stanford vs. No. 15 UC Davis
No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 16 Southern
No. 8 South Dakota vs. No. 9 Clemson
No. 5 Arizona State vs. No. 12 Central Florida
No. 4 Miami vs. No. 13 Florida Gulf Coast
No. 6 South Dakota State vs. No. 11 Quinnipiac
No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 14 Fordham
No. 7 Texas vs. No. 10 Indiana
No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 15 Portland State