NCAA's late show irks Notre Dame's McGraw

Joihn Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Count Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw among those who don’t like her team’s late tip-off Sunday night.

ESPN set the tip time for 9 p.m., EDT for top-seeded Notre Dame’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament matchup with ninth-seeded DePaul.

“It makes absolutely no sense to me,” McGraw said in starting her team’s press conference. “I think we went to the weekend format, so we could accommodate our fans, and playing at 9 o’clock on a school night/work night does not accommodate our fans.”

Based on its record and fan support, Notre Dame was one of 16 schools chosen by the NCAA Selection Committee to host first- and second-round four-team pod sites. The Irish have averaged 8,835 fans this season in the Purcell Pavilion, which seats 9,149. Only Tennessee, Iowa State, Louisville and Baylor have averaged better that Notre Dame.

Because of out-of-town media and team needs (each of the four teams brought bands), the Purcell Pavilion capacity was refigured to a capacity of 8,887. But the Friday session drew just 6,198 for the two games (Minnesota-DePaul and Montana-Notre Dame) that tipped off at 5 and 7:30 p.m., respectively.

Plenty of seats in the upper arena went empty, and McGraw fears the 9 p.m. start Sunday may keep some of the team’s loyal fans at home.

“We had three games this year on Big Monday,” McGraw noted. “We had two at 7 p.m. (start) and one at 9 p.m. The two 7 p.m. games we had terrific attendance (the Irish had a sellout for their 88-77 win over Tennessee on Jan. 19 and drew 8,911 for a 68-52 win over Louisville on Feb. 23) and the 9 p.m. game we did not (8,659 fans attended Notre Dame’s 63-50 victory over Duke on Feb. 16).

“It (the starting time) really affects our target audience, so I’m really disappointed that we are playing the game on Sunday night and yet not taking advantage of an afternoon slot,” McGraw continued.

“We really need our fans to come out for this game. It’s a really important game for us, and it would have been great to play in the afternoon, but I know our fans are hardy and they are going to try and get a nap in and then come out.”

Tickets are available at Purcell Pavilion beginning at 6 p.m., Sunday.

McGraw also pointed out that the late time is hard on her student-athletes.

“By the time they shower, get released from the media, get back to the dorm and get something to eat, it’s going to be 1 o’clock in the morning and you’ve got to get up for that 8 a.m. class,” she said, “and we are the home team. It’s really a disadvantage to the student-athletes on the teams that have to travel.”

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said ND's late tip time Sunday night, for its NCAA Tourney matchup with DePaul, is a disservice to the players and the fans. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)