Unlike its male counterpart, the 11th NCAA women's Division I basketball tournament will begin tonight in relative obscurity.
That's because, unlike the men's tournament, in which every game appears on television, few women's games will be televised before next week's regionals. Also, there will not be nearly as many words about them in newspapers or on radio or television.
Participants in a teleconference yesterday sponsored by CBS-TV agreed that getting televised is the crucial step toward widespread acceptance.
"The whole thing is a Catch-22," said Penn State coach Rene Portland. "You have to be on television to get attention, but you have to have attention to get on television. We have to get you to write more about us so that people know what they're going to see and enjoy when they come to see women's basketball."
CBS will broadcast both national semifinal games and the championship contest for the third season. Its televised regular-season games during the past three years have received subpar ratings, with doubleheaders appearing opposite NFL playoff games.
Lou D'Ermilio, a CBS spokesman, said the game is "still in its infant stages" on network television. "We are more or less waiting for the advertising community to step forward and embrace women's basketball," he said.
Also of concern to the women's basketball community is the NCAA-CBS decision to have the national championship game the day after the semifinals. The men's semifinals and title game are separated by a day.
The result, according to coaches and players, is below-average play at a time when participants are attempting to showcase their best efforts.
"The opportunity to have all the games on CBS is something we have to live with and hopefully grow with," said Portland. "Sometimes you have to give away something to get something."
Said Jim Foster, coach of top-ranked Vanderbilt: "Coaches tend to overreact to things. With a little more logical thought, you tend to get over things. If you're fortunate to get that far, you don't need to spend time dwelling on things you can't control."
The tournament, which opens with 16 first-round games tonight, could be the most wide-open.
In the first nine years of the tournament, no team had advanced to the Final Four with a seeding below No. 4 in its region.
That only four teams -- defending champion Stanford, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Iowa -- spent all of this season in top 10, gives rise to the notion that any of at least 10 teams could win it all.
The four top seeds, Vanderbilt (Midwest) and Tennessee (Mideast), Ohio State (East) and Stanford (West), appear to be the favorites.