Some Eyes of Texas on Women's Final, but Is That Enough?

Times Staff Writer

Today's NCAA championship game of women's college basketball between Georgia and Old Dominion will be televised nationally by CBS. A local newspaper, The Austin American-Statesman, devoted two full pages on the inside of Friday's sports section to a tournament preview, 10 stories in all. ESPN televised the semifinals.

Yet, there still were fans outside the Frank Erwin Special Events Center Friday night unloading two-day tickets, valued at $20, for as little as $5.

There were 11,000 tickets sold by Thursday, but the announced attendance for the semifinals was 7,648--meaning there were more than 3,000 no-shows.

About 1,000 of those fans came from Monroe, La., and another 400 from Bowling Green, Ky., to watch Northeast Louisiana and Western Kentucky in the semifinals Friday night. Both teams lost, and most of the Northeast Louisiana contingent was gone before the second game.

In other words, it's doubtful that today's final will draw a crowd larger than 7,000. And that's not good--for the NCAA, for CBS or for women's basketball.

They really couldn't ask for a better matchup. Georgia and Old Dominion are two of the nation's finest teams, and both are playing excellent basketball.

There is an Olympian in Bulldog guard Teresa Edwards, three All-Americans in Edwards, Georgia forward Janet Harris and Lady Monarch forward Medina Dixon, and a number of other talented players.

There is Old Dominion Coach Marianne Stanley, the winningest active Division I coach, male or female, with a 235-33 record (.877) over eight seasons.

But there is no team wearing Orange.

When CBS producer Ric LaCivita first considered the telecast a few weeks ago, he was under the assumption that top-ranked Texas would be here.

He saw the potential for a sellout in the 16,000-seat Erwin Center. He even planned to allocate camera time to the crowd itself, because that would have been as big a story in women's basketball as the game.

Then, the Longhorns were upset by Western Kentucky in the Mideast Regional.

"I was there in Bowling Green when Texas lost," LaCivita said. "I was the first one to cry."

Without the Longhorns, there just isn't that much fan interest in the tournament. And a sparse crowd won't look good on national TV.

"It concerns me that we're not in a real basketball hotbed," said Nora Lynn Finch, chairwoman of the NCAA Division I women's basketball committee. "I've always had such respect for the Texas football, baseball and swimming programs. This area is known more for the success of its men's teams.

"I don't know how many University of Texas students will get out of bed Sunday morning to go to a basketball game. But fans are needed here to support the telecast and women's basketball, and TV is the key to the financial success of the tournament."

Finch said that she has been working with CBS on a few contingency plans in hopes that, if there is a small crowd, the cameras will focus more on the game and less on the bleachers.

"And we're going to move press row into the seats and give you all pompons," she said. "Do you want blue or red?"

LaCivita, however, said there isn't much CBS can do.

"We're not gonna back away from the crowd, but if they want to come down from the upper level and into the lower-level seats, I'm sure that would be fine," he said. "I had planned a 45-second shot of the crowd, the bands and the cheerleaders, but I'm not sure we'll have that shot now.

"But if a small crowd is a part of the story, we'll tell it."

Tournament Notes Georgia will be making its first appearance in a championship game today, while Old Dominion, which won Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women national titles in 1979 and 1980, will be making its third. . . . U.S. Olympic Coach Pat Head Summitt, of Tennessee, will provide color commentary for CBS. . . . The Women's Basketball Coaches Assn. chose USC forward Cheryl Miller as its Division I Champion Player of the Year Saturday. Four others won Player of the Year awards in lower divisions: Rosie Jones (Division II) of Central Missouri State, Deanna Kyle (Division III) of the University of Scranton (Pa.), Kelli Litsch (NAIA) of Southwestern Oklahoma State and Rhonda Charita Smith (Community College) of Connors State in Oklahoma.

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