It was almost like a guarantee. If you build it, they will come.
The if, in this instance, being a more exciting format for the NCAA Division I men’s golf championship – specifically, match play. The they refers to television.
Match play stole the headlines when the format debuted in the 2009 NCAA Championship at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. That historic event, won by Texas A&M, was four championships ago. As recently as last week at the annual coaches convention in Las Vegas, the possibility of the NCAA Championship being televised seemed remote. In fact, much of the discussion concerned a diminished emphasis on the individual championship in hopes of landing a TV deal for the tournament. Coaches wanted to reverse that trend.
There was no talk among the coaches that change was in the works. The big topic: Find a way to play 72 holes to determine the individual champion.
That backdrop made the news Dec. 17, less than one week after the convention, a shock to virtually all of the college golf world. A news release announced that Golf Channel will televise the NCAA Division I men’s tournament in 2014 and then the men’s and women’s events in 2015.
The cost and who would be paying the bills were not disclosed, though nobody in college golf seemed concerned about those details. It was time to celebrate for coaches and players as they happily tweeted the news.
The 2014 men’s championship will be played at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan. A bigger shock might have been the site of the 2015 men’s and women’s tournaments: Both will be played at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla.
Lower production costs – TV will have to set up shop once, not twice – are certain to help, but the logistics of hosting major events back to back otherwise will be daunting. Yet, the U.S. Golf Association will do it on an even larger scale in 2014, when the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens visit Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort’s storied No. 2 course.
There’s a likely downside to this euphoria, however. Venues such as Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., host to the 2012 NCAA Men’s Championship, could be out of the mix in the future. Many observers regard Riviera as the best site ever for the national championship. However, it’s a lot to ask of club members to give up their course for two consecutive weeks.
Other questions remain unanswered. Will this force the men’s individual championship to revert to a 72-hole format? If so, and only three days of coverage are scheduled for TV, will the final day of stroke play be televised? If not, would we see only the match play covered?
For the women, this news is a huge bonus. Unlike the men, the women have done nothing to lure television. They kept a 72-hole, stroke-play format. It’s sort of like finding a $20 bill in the parking lot. However, it could be odd for casual sports fans to tune in and see the women play their championship one way and then the men in a different format the next week. Will this prompt the women to change?
Many unanswered questions remain, and the logistics will be challenging. Regardless, the details are secondary to the big picture: The NCAA championships will be on TV. That’s a victory for everybody in college golf.