You can’t blame it on Prince. The fuchsia-favoring rocker held the first of his two “Welcome 2 America” concerts at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 18. (the next stops are Dec. 29 and Jan. 18). While Cirque du Soleil: Wintuk is in The Theater at Madison Square Garden today, the next event at “The World’s Most Famous Arena” is the Holiday Festival men’s basketball doubleheader on Monday night.
So why is the nightcap of the Maggie Dixon Classic doubleheader — spotlighing Geno Auriemma’s UConn taking on No. 10 Ohio State, with the Huskies looking to match John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins’ 88-game winning streak — scheduled for Sunday at 2:30 p.m.? For that matter, why is the game on the 73 million-home ESPNU, and not ESPN2 or ESPN, whose sub counts approach the 9-figure mark?
Talk about selling potential sports history short.
After UConn survived No.2 Baylor and Brittney Griner 65-64 on Nov. 16, it was evident that Maya Moore and Co. had an excellent shot at matching the Walton Gang for hoops history on Dec. 19 at MSG. (It should be noted that UConn still has a couple of seasons to go before matching the 131 in a row Wayland Baptist won between 1953-58, long before the NCAA sponsored women’s basketball.)
Why wasn’t the Maggie Dixon Classic doubleheader — the opener pits Rutgers and No. 8 Texas A&M at noon — pushed back until, 4:00 p.m? That way UConn and No. 10 OSU, which features a pair of All-Americans in center Jantel Lavender and flashy point guard Samantha Prahalis, could have avoided the 1 p.m. NFL window, which this weekend features four major matchups, Giants-Eagles, Colts-Jags, Saints-Ravens and (believe it or not) Rams-Chiefs, entirely.
Moreover, if UConn-OSU tipped at 7 p.m. , it would only have rubbed against the waning moments of the three NFL late-window games, the best of which on paper is Jets-Steelers. Better still, if Huskies-Buckeyes slid into ESPN2’s slot at 7 p.m., which features No. 3 Stanford- No. 6Tennessee (perhaps a better matchup, albeit not an historic one) most of the contest would be completed before NBC’s SNF kicks off with New England-Green Bay, minus Pack QB Aaron Rodgers.
Not that women’s hoops is ever going to challenge the NFL for eyeballs in a major way, but that windowing might have enticed a few more to check out history — or not, UConn hasn’t played since Dec. 9 during fall-semester final season — in the making.
Should the Huskies win, ESPN2 will step to the line in place of ESPNU for UConn’s attempt to extend the streak to 89 from the XL Center in Hartford on Dec. 21, versus No. 14 Florida State, which lost on Dec. 18 to 2-7 Yale. Hence, it seems likely that the Buckeyes stand a better a chance of pulling the upset than the Seminoles, but as Chris Berman often says, that’s why you play the game.
An ESPNU spokeswoman said the Connecticut-OSU was contractually bound to the network on Sunday. Can’t imagine, though, that ESPN didn’t have the clout — none of the teams in the Maggie Dixon Classic, or the event itself, I’m sure would objected to being simulcast on or shifted to ESPN or ESPN2 — to bump those networks’ schedules.
The scheduling scorecard shows that ESPN will air a College Football Final wrap-up show, and women’s billiards while the wanna-match Wooden affair plays out. For its part, ESPN2 is presenting a 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series recap, NHRA Thrills and Spills and then World Series of Poker action up against the game.
Still, the Huskies are faring a lot better than the U.S. women’s national soccer team. When the female futbolers fell to Mexico in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, they had to play Italy in a home-and-home series to grab the last spot for next summer’s Women’s World Cup, a tourney ESPN has a major stake in as the U.S. rights-holder. Instead of passing the matches to ESPN2, or one of its other linear outlets, the games were only available on broadband service ESPN3.com. Available to some 53 million households, two-thirds of the U.S. broadband universe, ESPN3.com till lacks carriage by a number of key ISP distributors, not to mention its small-screen computer images.
Should UConn win on Sunday, there will be a one-hour pregame show on Tuesday Dec. 21, with the studio set inside the XL Center, much like a Final Four game, with the tipoff set for 7 p.m. That’s great, but the game to match the record is of at least equal importance and it’s not getting its scheduling due.
Given that Bobby Knight’s Indiana team was the last to run the table in 1975-76 season, it’s unlikely a men’s Division I college basketball squad will ever approach the Wizard of Westwood’s mark. But if some squad were making such a full court press circa 2010, rest assured the key games wouldn’t square off against an NFL Sunday or air on ESPNU.