Final Four An AA illustration of the NCAA Final Four logo on a hardwood backdrop.

This past March, the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament went on a ratings rampage.

Amid a persistent upsurge in interest in women’s sports, women’s college basketball is at the forefront. The Elite Eight game between Iowa and LSU drew record-shattering numbers, and the women’s National Championship Game outdrew the men’s Championship Game.

Things are different now!

Naturally, an idea confronted this shift but wasn’t received well.

Sports Business Journal published an idea that former executives at ESPN and the NBA discussed to combine the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Tournaments. The idea would be to see them hold the Men’s and Women’s Final Fours in the same city, versus the current method, where both have different locations.

The idea also features adjustments to the tournament’s schedule, such as beginning it on the weekend instead of its traditional spot of Thursday. Both tournaments would feature home venues for the first weekend instead of the eight regional sites the men’s game uses.

This… feels like an ambitious task for so many reasons.

It’s important to note that while basketball is basketball, there are apparent volleys between the men’s and women’s games that don’t make them alike. The pride behind the fandom may be all the same, but the games are different. That’s good. The freedom to watch whatever basketball you want to at any time is essential. It’s critical in March when all the fun is had for college hoops. Centralizing everything under one roof is doing too much and diminishes what both sides aim to do.

To pose a question: Would the College World Series ever consider doing this? The CWS is held annually in Omaha, whereas the Women’s College World Series is held in Oklahoma City. College softball has also experienced serious gains over the past few years and could be poised to do it again this year. But I’m unsure if anyone would suggest putting everything in Omaha. Those are two unique sports that actually have a traditional championship site, which adds to their lore. If everyone in basketball ends up having the same road? You may knock off two birds with one stone, but consolidation could appear forced and would undo a lot of work being done.

It also might be, or probably is, too much too soon. While the idea wouldn’t go wholesale immediately, it’s important to note that we’re amid a rise for women. They haven’t hit a plateau. Things amplify daily, but that doesn’t mean you rush to the summit, either. Seeing what they’ve done and immediately vaulting to an NFL stadium-sized Final Four could be an overcalculation.

That’s the goal. That’s where the game should want to be someday. But Rome was not built in a day. A snappy switch like this could threaten all the work done already.

In the face of this, at minimum, alternating away from the regional sites is at least a somewhat exciting idea for the men’s game. We’ve seen several occasions over the years where the first-round games are played in half-empty venues, and some of that causes the games to lose their sheen. Those number crunches might make a move elsewhere make sense, but that decision can be made as a standalone if they want it to be one.

The scheduling idea is non-negotiable. The NCAA Tournament’s big thing is that it starts on a Thursday. It’s one of the most anticipated days on the sports calendar. Wiping that away in the face of consolidation would be a dispiriting move amid a series of television-related decisions.

The quest to bring the Men’s and Women’s Final Four together like Voltron feels too little, too late. Neither brand, at this point, probably needs assistance lifting the other. The men’s game has the back of decades of followings and history. The women’s game is enjoying an overdue state of basking in the sun. Many of the needlessness of the debates between the men’s and women’s games have these arguments often slanted for what genre they like.

But they’re both good enough; there’s nothing wrong with acting like that.

About Chris Novak

Chris Novak has been talking and writing about sports ever since he can remember. Previously, Novak wrote for and managed sites in the SB Nation network for nearly a decade from 2013-2022