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HomeSportsUT
Published: Thursday, 3/24/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

UT's losing gain

Rockets' WNIT run operating at a financial loss

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Tuesday night's crowd at Savage Arena has has helped UT average 2,125 for the three Women's National Invitation Tournament games. UT has spent nearly $80,000 in bids -- including Sunday's quarterfinal game -- to host four games. Tuesday night's crowd at Savage Arena has has helped UT average 2,125 for the three Women's National Invitation Tournament games. UT has spent nearly $80,000 in bids -- including Sunday's quarterfinal game -- to host four games.
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Throughout her team's successful run in the Women's National Invitation Tournament, University of Toledo women's basketball coach Tricia Cullop has thanked the school's administration countless times for agreeing to host each of the Rockets' first four games.

That backing has come not only in making Savage Arena available, but also in monetary support.

Every game in the WNIT is played at campus sites, and schools have to place bids of at least $6,500 for the first round and at least $7,500 for every round after that in order to be selected as hosts.

After an open records request Wednesday, The Blade found that UT operated at a loss financially in its first two games in the WNIT.

UT placed a bid of $11,432.50 for the right to host the Rockets' 58-55 win over Delaware in the first round and the same amount to host a 67-52 victory over Auburn in the second round.

For Tuesday's night third-round 74-59 win over Alabama, UT placed a bid of $16,942.50.

Immediately following that contest, it was announced that the Rockets would host a WNIT quarterfinal matchup with either Syracuse and Eastern Michigan at 2 p.m. Sunday after their bid of $11,942.50 was accepted.

Add in the expense for UT to host a game at Savage Arena, which runs about $7,000 per game, and the school will spend almost $80,000 to host four games in the WNIT.

That figure has been offset by ticket sales of $13,080 and $15,355 for the first two postseason games, respectively, but the UT athletic department will still likely end up taking a hit financially.

Ticket sales from Tuesday's third-round game weren't available Wednesday.

"We really appreciate the hard work that Tricia and her staff and certainly the players have put in. We've had an outstanding season, and this is an opportunity for us to play in front of a home crowd that's very receptive and very excited about women's basketball," said Kelly Andrews, UT's senior associate athletic director/senior woman administrator.

"We certainly take a little bit of a chance financially, but we've also seen the [attendance figures] get better in each game."

A crowd of 3,740 was on hand for Tuesday night's game after a combined total of 2,637 spectators were present for the first two rounds last week.

Andrews said UT would place a bid this week to host a WNIT semifinal, should the Rockets win Sunday.

"We're planning to continue bidding as long as we have the opportunity to participate," Andrews said.

Semifinal games are scheduled to be played March 30-31, and the championship game is set for April 2 at 3 p.m.

"The great thing about this tournament is they reward [schools] that really care about their women's basketball programs," Cullop said. "I'm so proud of the fact that our administration, from the top to bottom, cares about women's basketball, and they've made a bold statement -- 'We're going to help this program by getting as many home games as we can.'

"And it's not easy. Those bids that are going out are competitive, but I love the fact that they really care."

To build support for Toledo's WNIT run, Cullop purchased 100 tickets for the Alabama game to give away to fans on a first-come, first-served basis at 10 a.m. Monday morning, and people started lining up at 8 a.m. for the freebies.

Students were also admitted free Tuesday and will be again Sunday, courtesy of the school president's office.

"That's awesome and that doesn't happen everywhere," Cullop said of UT President Dr. Lloyd Jacobs and his office's gesture. "We're very fortunate to have the support that we do."

This year marks the furthest run a Toledo team has ever made in the WNIT since Triple Crown Sports, an event promotion company based in Fort Collin, Colo., resurrected it in 1998 as a single-elimination tournament following a one-year absence.

Prior to that, the tournament was staged annually as a three-day, eight-team round robin in Amarillo, Texas, starting in 1969 and was known then as the National Women's Invitation Tournament (NWIT). In 1996, the NWIT board of directors voted to disband the event due to lack of funds. Starting with a 16-team field and eventually expanding to its present day size of 64 schools, the WNIT charges participating institutions for hosting rights to ensure the solvency of the event, said director Renee Carlson.

"The financial model is that the host teams need to guarantee a certain amount, because that obviously helps run the tournament and keep it viable from year to year," Carlson said. "Obviously it doesn't have the corporate sponsorship or the TV revenue of a men's tournament."

The WNIT also pays for a portion of every visiting team's travel expenses and takes care of travel arrangements. As far as selecting which team's get to host, the bidding process isn't the only criteria used.

"In no particular order, some of the main ones can be attendance history, and sometimes that is season history or tournament attendance history; the host budget amount; travel expenses, sometimes it makes a difference when one place is easier to get into than another place; strength of teams; the women's basketball atmosphere; and expenses and revenues at each site," Carlson said.

Based on that list, it would appear Toledo has a good chance of hosting all the way through to the championship game if it keeps winning.

"It's a round-by-round decision," Carlson said, "[but] Toledo is definitely putting themselves in a very good position for that."

Contact Zach Silka at: zsilka@theblade.com or 419-724-6084.



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