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"March Madness" Arrives, Even for the Women; A's Latest Fire Sale; College FB Attendance Down Again

Back from Maui, where my bride and I enjoyed six days of 82 degree sunshine and lots of pool time, beach time, and piña coladas. Good for the soul.

And back just in time for one of the true highlights of the sports year, March Madness.

This year, the term “March Madness” has special meaning, because it now applies to both the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Championships.

Imagine that. The women only had to wait 40 years before the suits at NCAA headquarters decided they were worthy of that moniker.

This concession came about, of course, because of last year’s revelations that the training facilities, COVID testing and accommodations for the women’s NCAA tourney were far inferior to those for the men.

It was kind of like comparing the Holiday Inn to Four Seasons.

So in response to that PR disaster the NCAA granted the use of “March Madness,” expanded the women’s field to 68 teams, and upgraded facilities and accommodations.

Much more work needs to be done in terms of equalizing promotion and overall management, but, hey, at least it’s progress.

Some things never change: Call it Eastern bias, ESPN bias or whatever, but the Pac-12 continues to get no respect in men's basketball or football.

This year only three Pac-12 teams were among the 68 selected for the NCAA Tournament—No. 1 seed Arizona, No. 4 seed UCLA and No. 7 seed USC. Somehow Colorado, with a 21-11 overall record and 12-8 in league, was deemed unworthy.

In football, of course, the Pac-12 hasn't had a team chosen for the College Football Playoff for the last five years and has had only two representatives in eight years.

To date new commissioner George Kliavkoff, who inexplicably voted against increasing the playoff from four to 12 teams, seems more worried about relocating the conference office to Las Vegas and getting a piece of gambling action than getting more of his teams to March Madness and the CFP.

A few predictions: Our two local teams in the men's tournament--USF and St. Mary's--both win first-round games, the Dons in an upset over Murray State.

Men’s Final Four: Gonzaga, Tennessee, UCLA and Iowa. Women’s Final Four: Stanford, South Carolina, UConn and Michigan. Gonzaga to finally get over the hump and win, Stanford to repeat.

A little hometown bias, perhaps, but since Anna Wilson was moved into the starting lineup Stanford’s ballhandling woes have decreased and its defensive pressure has increased.

It would be so fitting to see Lexie and Lacie Hull finish their careers by winning the regional in their hometown of Spokane and then watch Haley Jones and Cameron Brink lead Stanford to a second consecutive title.

Some Things Never Change, Part 2: So the Oakland A's are at it again. Discarding their top players in a "rebuild" mode. Their top pitcher, Chris Bassitt? Gone. Their All-Star first baseman, Matt Olson? Gone. Their best defensive player, third baseman Matt Chapman? Gone.

Others—perhaps pitchers Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea—may also be shipped out. The A's owners, disingenuously blaming the lack of a modern ballpark, are too cheap to keep top players in the fold and have no regard for their fans.

Why anyone supports this franchise is a mystery to me.

College FB Attendance Sags: For the seventh year in a row, college football crowds were down again in 2021. Last fall’s average attendance of 39,848 was the lowest since 1981. The Pac-12’s average of 43,000 and change was its lowest ever.

Certainly the COVID pandemic has made some fans reluctant to return to large stadiums, where the guy sitting next to them may not have gotten vaccinated.

And the uncertainty over kickoff times and, at least on the West Coast, the preponderance of night games, has made the in-stadium experience more challenging.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that college football games have become TV inventory and the in-person fan has become a low priority.

But from this vantage point, the decline in attendance is not just due to COVID, TV, and the increasing cost of tickets, parking and concessions.

I believe there’s something else at work here.

The increasing commercialism of the sport has begun turning people off. The combination of astronomical coaching salaries, NIL compensation for players, and the transfer portal have made the college game seem like NFL 2.0.

And frankly, it’s only going to get worse.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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