Someone at ESPN is having a very bad day.
More than one person, probably, assuming those people still work at ESPN after accidentally leaking the women’s NCAA Tournament bracket several hours before the selection show.
What was supposed to be a celebratory occasion became, instead, a giant bummer. That’s too bad, because the bracket reveal was a highly anticipated event for Oregon and a bunch of other schools around the country.
That’s not because the Ducks were waiting on pins and needles to learn their seeding. Since they lost in the finals of the Pac-12 Tournament, it was assumed the Ducks would get a No. 2 seed in the Portland region.
Sure enough, that’s what popped up Monday morning when ESPNU mistakenly posted the women’s graphic during a show previewing the men’s tournament. So, congrats, ladies. Your big moment has been revealed to the world through grainy screenshots of Dick Vitale’s bald dome.
Can you imagine this happening with the men’s show? No? Neither can I. While I’m sure it was an honest mistake, it sends a disappointing message to fans of the women’s game.
CBS and the NCAA go to fanatical lengths to make sure the men’s bracket doesn’t leak before the selection show, passing around the final pairings like missile codes in a locked briefcase. Apparently ESPN doesn’t go to those extremes, because someone — an intern, maybe, or someone new on the job — had access to the graphics well in advance of the show.
It sort of feels like amateur hour, which is unfortunate because the quality of women’s college basketball has never been higher.
Certainly that’s true here in Oregon. If not for ESPN’s gaffe, viewers around the country would have gotten a live look at fans going nuts in the stands at Matthew Knight Arena when Oregon’s name flashed on the screen.
Oregon decided to cancel a planned watch party after ESPN moved up the bracket announcement. The network still aired a selection show at 4 p.m., but the live celebration shots, always a bit stilted, looked even less convincing than usual.
It’s a shame fans didn’t get to celebrate the Ducks’ selection, but the real party is going to happen Friday when Oregon opens against No. 15 seed Portland State. Getting two games at Matthew Knight Arena, and potentially two more at the Moda Center, means the Ducks will have homecourt advantage all the way to the Final Four if they advance.
If the bracket stays true to form, the Ducks’ path to the Final Four will include No. 3 seed Syracuse and No. 1 seed Mississippi State, two teams they beat at Matthew Knight Arena during the regular season. That’s no easy draw, but it could have been worse.
The Ducks don’t have much reason to complain, except when it comes to the botched bracket reveal. The purpose of announcing the bracket on Monday is to give the women a standalone moment, but instead the unveiling was overshadowed by a premature graphic.
While it’s disappointing for the women’s game, this isn’t the first time a selection show has gone awry. CBS experimented with an interminable two-hour bracket reveal for the men's tournament in 2016, prompting someone to leak the full bracket on social media about halfway through the show.
Last year TBS revealed the men’s at-large field in alphabetical order, which is kind of like making a pizza with the crust on top of the cheese. If the formula works, why mess with it?
Fortunately, the tournament itself should be a better show than the selection special. Up the road in Corvallis, Oregon State could get a second-round matchup with No. 5 seed Gonzaga, Kelly Graves’ former school and the team that knocked the Beavers out of the tournament on their home floor in 2015.
Here in Eugene, the Ducks could be looking at a second-round game against Texas or Indiana, two tradition-rich basketball schools meeting in the 7-vs.-10 matchup. The Longhorns were a top-10 team earlier this season, so Oregon can’t afford to look too far ahead. But if the Ducks play up to their abilities, the bracket sets up for them to make a run.
If you’re a basketball fan in Oregon, this is what you’ve been waiting for: two solid weeks of hoops in Eugene, Corvallis and Portland, with the hometown Ducks right in the middle of it. They’ve earned the right to stay close to home, and now we’ll see if they can make the most of the opportunity in front of them.
Please, no spoilers.
Follow Austin on Twitter @austinmeekRG. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.