TULSA — As Arizona and Memphis traded baskets in an exciting and entertaining game in T-Town, George Mason rallied from a double-digit deficit, nailed a last-second shot and Villanova in an equally exciting and entertaining game.
Not that anyone inside the BOK Center knew about it.
Too bad they weren't home watching on TV.
During the first couple days of the NCAA Tournament — the greatest back-to-back days in sports — there are always great games going on at the same time. But this year, with every game being broadcast in its entirety for the first time, the television audience can see everything.
The NCAA is daring folks to stay home.
Lots are taking the NCAA up on that.
During the first two days of the tournament — that “First Four” concept is so bad that we're going to pretend as though it didn't even happen — there were some atrocious attendance figures. On Thursday, the regional in Tucson managed only a little more than 10,000 fans in each of its two sessions while the regional in Tampa had about 15,000, though the crowd looked like it was closer to 1,500.
The crowd in Tulsa?
The early session was 12,631, the late session 14,353.
The crowd seemed better than that, to be honest. While the end zone seats in the upper deck were nearly empty, the lower bowl was packed for both afternoon and evening sessions. Yet, those tickets-sold attendance numbers place T-Town solidly in next-to-last place among the eight regionals.
Tulsa regional organizers put a happy face on the day.
“It's been everything we hoped for, everything we imagined,” Tulsa Metro Chamber president Michael Neal said. “Everything has really come off like clockwork.”
But organizing committees guarantee the NCAA a certain number of tickets sold when they bid for regionals. It can't be easy to seeing those empty seats. It can't be easy to stomach that lost revenue.
Then again, the NCAA is making it easier and easier for fans to stay home.
Used to be, it had a contract with CBS to only broadcast games on the network. The current deal gives CBS the chance to broadcast games on TBS, TNT and truTV, too.
Thursday's broadcast numbers were striking. The overnight rating for the four networks combined was 5.7, up 24 percent from CBS's solo coverage a year ago.
That rating was also the highest on the first Thursday of the tournament in 20 years.
The additional networks had the intended effect.
But what about the unintended consequences?
Do you stay home and watch any game you want on your high-def, big-screen television?
Or do you go to the game?
You have to choose whether you want to shell out the money for tickets and parking and gas and snacks. You have to decide whether you want to fight the traffic and the crowds. You have to agree to sit in a seat that might or might not be comfortable, that might or might not be close enough to the floor to see what's going on while your Barcalounger sits empty and your Panasonic remains off at home.
Going to games has never been more of a sacrifice, both in terms of money and hassle, than it is now.
All-session tickets in Tulsa cost $237, a serious chunk of change for most folks.
Sure, that cost gets you something you can't get at home. The sights. The sounds. The scene. Still, I can honestly say that I had as much fun watching all of those great games Thursday on TV as I did watching four games in person Friday.
Maybe the NCAA doesn't care about attendance. It gets paid by the organizing committees regardless, and it has a bigger TV deal to boot.
But if it's not careful, the NCAA might find that more and more folks are taking it up on its dare and staying home.