NEW YORK (AP) — Geno Auriemma was sitting in his office after practice Monday when UConn’s video coordinator came in and said he had the entire NCAA Tournament women’s bracket.
At first, Auriemma thought it was a fake. After studying it for a few minutes, the Hall of Fame coach knew it was the real thing, even with his team seeded second for the first time since 2006.
The bracket was mistakenly put out by ESPN hours before the network had scheduled its selection show. ESPN apologized and decided with the NCAA to air an early selection show to release the brackets while screenshots of the field were shared across social networks.
“It had a little comic feel to it, a little slapstick,” Auriemma said. “I don’t understand why they don’t do it (Sunday) night. The men’s thing comes on at what time? Six? Come on at 5 o’clock, get it over with. Everybody will watch it. Everyone will have fun with it. Then go to the men’s thing and you know, over and done with. How are you going to keep a secret? If they had that thing all ready since Sunday, probably, that’s a long time to keep something from screwing up.”
NCAA selection committee chair Rhonda Lundin Bennett said ESPN and the committee did the best they could to try and preserve some sort of experience for the teams once the bracket was revealed early.
Baylor, the No. 1 overall seed, was on the practice court when images of the bracket were first being posted online. Coach Kim Mulkey found out about it in a text after practice, before going to the team’s annual viewing party with Lady Bears fans.
“I can’t quit laughing, to be honest with you. Feel sorry because somebody might get fired over this,” Mulkey said. “The good part was that we got an extra hour (on ESPN) … I don’t know in all my years that we’ve got that much airtime on the day of the bracket reveal. That’s the positive. Somebody, I guarantee you, is nervous right now. Doesn’t take away the joy from me. Most exciting time of the year.”
Teams tried to make the best of the situation. While some did cancel their viewing parties, others still celebrated their accomplishments, even going so far as to sequester the players after practice so they could still enjoy the experience without it being spoiled.
Fordham players were lifting weights when the bracket got out. An assistant coach went to the weight room and asked the team if they wanted to know where they were seeded. The Rams, who last played in the NCAAs in 2014, voted not to know. At the team’s celebration, fans were told not to say anything to the players since they didn’t know yet who they were playing. Unfortunately, ESPN had the pairings on the side of its screen during its selection show, so the Rams didn’t actually get to have a moment to see their name revealed.
Towson, which is facing UConn in the opening round, is making its first appearance in the NCAAs. Coach Diane Richardson was in the middle of her weekly radio show when she was informed that the bracket had been revealed early. She finished the show and the team hustled down to the locker room to watch the selection show, which aired two hours earlier than planned. While the team made it in time, some of them already knew they’d be facing the Huskies.
“I wanted the players to see that and see our name flash on the board and be surprised and happy at the same time,” Richardson said. “That took away from it.”
Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico was disappointed that the bracket got out early. She implored her players to not look at their phones and enjoy watching the selection show.
“There are few surprises in life,” she said. “One of the greatest surprises for me was when I had my three children and I didn’t find out their sex until they were born. So I told them to try and not to go into the locker room and check your phone, enjoy the moment.”
What frustrated Barnes Arico, and many other coaches, was that the second selection show didn’t show her team’s place in the bracket. The Wolverines are an 8 seed facing Kansas State in Louisville.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for the kids,” she said. “We went back to the recorded show to see our name get thrown up there.”
AP Sports Writer Pat Eaton-Robb contributed this report.