McFeely: ‘Travel challenges’ delayed word on Bison’s WNIT opener – InForum

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FARGO — It was Friday morning and there was still no word about North Dakota State’s opening game in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

We knew the Bison women’s basketball team would play a second-round game after receiving a bid in the tournament and a first-round bye. That we learned Monday.

We knew NDSU would play Montana, which beat Boise State on Wednesday night in a first-round game.

But when the Bison would play the Grizzlies, and where, was still a mystery. One source said the best guess is NDSU will host Montana on Saturday or Sunday, but there was nothing official.

“We are still working through travel challenges, and will hopefully have something confirmed today. Stay tuned!” WNIT spokeswoman Sarah Molina said in an email Friday morning.

We did.

It became official at about 11 a.m. Friday that NDSU will host Montana on Monday at 7 p.m. The mystery became good news: The Bison will get another home game to showcase Heaven Hamling, Elle Evans and Co.

Another step forward for a Bison women’s program that was in the wilderness too long.

What the travel issues were still aren’t clear. Not that it matters. But with a winter storm headed this way Sunday, expected to impact travel, we could presume it was that.

Or it could have been a money issue. Round-trip flights from Missoula to Fargo — leaving Sunday and returning Tuesday, as an example — are in the neighborhood of $1,200 each, according to the web-based travel site Travelocity. With a traveling party of about two dozen, that’s a significant expense.

Last year, when NDSU traveled to Oregon for a first-round game the Bison athletic department was required to pick up the first $15,000 in travel costs with the WNIT owner, Triple Crown Sports of Colorado, covering the balance. Travel costs also include buses, hotel rooms and meals.

This is a reminder that the WNIT is a for-profit venture not affiliated with the NCAA, which swims in money because of television contracts stemming from the cash-cow men’s tournament. Triple Crown Sports and the schools involved have to look at the bottom line.

A year ago, teams hosting WNIT games made minimum bids of $7,500 for second-round games. Home teams can make that up with ticket sales and concession revenue, even turning a profit if fan turnout is big enough, although the WNIT takes a significant slice of ticket revenue.

The women’s NCAA tournament (68 teams) and the NCAA-owned Women’s Basketball Invitational Tournament (32 teams) cover expenses for their teams.

But that’s not the WNIT.

It was first assumed NDSU would play Montana on Saturday. But Monday or Tuesday seemed more realistic as time dragged. There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason for scheduling of second-round games, other than they are to be played Saturday-Tuesday.

Minnesota will host Pacific on Tuesday night. Vermont will host Niagra or LeMoyne (they have not yet played their first-round game) on Monday.

NDSU against Montana should be a good matchup. Both are from mid-major conferences, NDSU from the Summit League and Montana from the Big Sky Conference — a difference from a year ago when the Bison traveled to play at longtime powerhouse Oregon — and both have similar NET rankings. Montana is 97th in the NET while the Bison are 110th.

And if the Bison win, there’d be a likely matchup in Minneapolis against the Gophers. Another familiar and regional foe, albeit from a major conference.

Playing in another WNIT is a step forward for the Bison women’s program, but this week is a reminder that winning the Summit League tournament and getting the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament is in a different stratosphere.

Mike McFeely

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He’s been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.


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