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TV czars swing and miss again

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published January 17. 2013 4:00AM

Hartford

The absurdity makes the reality more confounding: Start a game at 9 p.m. in the middle of winter on a weeknight because a network nobody gets or can't find without a layered set of directions says so.

Yet that's what befell the UConn women Tuesday night. A 9.p.m. start at the half-full XL Center on the CBS Sports Network, whose web site trumpets it as "the 24-hour destination of CBS Sports and is in 47 million homes and available to 99 million homes nationwide."

The 47 million homes, apparently, must be west of the Mississippi. Because the calls, e-mails and tweets of confused, irritated people who just wanted to watch their team play Tuesday night were noteworthy.

Now let me say this: Normally, calling the newspaper to inquire about television doesn't scratch the problem where it itches. It's like calling the hardware store and ordering a half-pound of mortadella. But in this case, folks, we feel your pain.

Because we're all powerless against television, whose influence is the approximate combination of the Teamsters and the gun lobby.

Even Geno Auriemma shrugged his shoulders after Tuesday's game. Geno's news conference began after Letterman's monologue.

"You kind of give up your rights to the TV people," he said. Later, Auriemma said television decides start times "more times than I'd like."

There are times here in our state when UConn gets blamed for everything short of hemorrhoids. But this was not UConn's call Tuesday night. The Big East liked the thought of a women's doubleheader on the CBS Sports Network, Notre Dame-Georgetown followed by UConn-Louisville. Television decided UConn would play at 9.

It is unclear whether the attendance figure of 8,702 at the XL Center reflected the number of tickets sold or butts in the seats. Either way, the game had all the atmosphere of book club.

"If the goal was to get as many people in the stands as you can," Auriemma said, "then 9 o'clock in the middle of January is not conducive to that."

Auriemma alluded to the pertinent question: the goal.

What is the goal?

Is the goal to help grow the women's game?

To fill programming?

Either way, the 9 p.m. tip in the middle of winter seems an airball. If the target audience of the women's game is young girls and their families, how many of them do you suppose were up watching? John Altavilla of the Hartford Courant tweeted in the middle of the game that Matt Lauer was already in makeup for the Today show.

This isn't the NFL with millions of insane fans who would happily stay up after the bars close to watch, bet or follow their teams and fantasy guys.

This is women's basketball.

A niche sport.

Any attempt to solicit opinions from television people should come with Fleetwood Mac ("tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies") as background music.

They'll point to trumped up ratings, what the "market is calling for" and any other number of bromides that purport to serving the viewers but instead rain barn droppings all over them.

Is there a future of the 9 p.m. game in the middle of the week in January? That won't be decided until the summer in some conference room or on a phone call between important people.

But wouldn't it be nice if the Big East said no?

Or if UConn could tell the Big East to reserve the 9 p.m. window for someone else?

It's not like UConn couldn't get the game on SNY. Or that UConn is under-exposed.

"I don't have any say," Auriemma said. " I wish I did."

But that's where I'm nave, apparently. Sports people at all levels act as if shunning television is like saying no to Don Corleone. What, CBS Sports Network wouldn't ever approach UConn again to broadcast a game? This is UConn, remember. Broadway for women's basketball.

It's just that Tuesday, Broadway was replaced by the late, late, late, late show.

Way to serve the fan base.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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