LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Drink some caffeine. Load up on sweet tea or Mountain Dew. Stop at the Waddy-Peytona exit and pick up some Ale-8.

The University of Louisville women’s basketball team is playing in what we in the TV business call “late prime” on Friday night in the NCAA Lexington Women’s Basketball Regional, and that should be no reason the crowd in Rupp Arena for the Cardinals’ Sweet 16 matchup with Stanford is any less than it otherwise would have been.

Louisville coach Jeff Walz fears, and knows, it will be otherwise. The crowd for Louisville women’s basketball is different from the men’s crowd. It’s a more family-oriented, bring-the-kids-and-grandkids, kind of crowd. It’s tough to bring the kids and grandkids to watch a game that might not tip off until 9:30 and could until 11:30, leaving fans to get back home well after midnight.

“We’re going to plead. I’m going to try to get them all to come down,” Walz said Tuesday. “I’ve got friends that were going to come down from Northern Kentucky. They were all excited to drive down. And now it’s like, ‘My wife and I are coming but the kids aren’t.’ It’s just, when you start looking at, it’s an hour-and-15 minute drive from here, and now it’s all of a sudden you’re looking at maybe spending the night, cost of tickets, it’s a shame. In basketball terms, it’s a turnover. Unfortunately they’ll argue and tell me I’m wrong. . . I’m just disappointed in this. This is terrible, right here. It’s common sense -- if you want a crowd. Now if they want to come out and say, ‘Jeff, we couldn’t care less if anybody shows up for the game, we want the viewership on TV.’ If they want to say that, I’m fine with it. Just be honest.”

I don’t know if they will say that to Walz. But I will say that to Walz and anyone else. Television viewers are exactly what they want. Period.

Television changes everything it touches. It’s a powerful medium, but when that camera focuses on something, it exacts a price. It changes things.

From the Nixon-Kennedy debates on, when something was televised, everyone knew it was different. Over time, television began to shape politics. It has changed the news. And with college sports now a big television business, they are different. You have tipoffs near 10 p.m. Eastern in the NCAA Tournament. Why? Because that’s when TV executives want them.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking decisions in college sports are made in the interests of the students or even the colleges themselves. They are made because of television, because it is through television that they can make the most money.

You may think you’re watching a college basketball game. No, you’re watching a TV show that happens to be a college basketball game. College conferences have even adopted TV language. While expanding their league schedules so that there are more league games for their TV networks to televise, conference commissioners have stopped calling them games and taken to calling them “inventory.” No different from a stack of air conditioners in the warehouse.

It’s not about the game, it’s about the show. And college sports, at their best, put on a great show.

“It’s ESPN, they’re a great partner of women’s basketball, but . . . they don’t care who shows up for the game,” Walz said. “It’s about TV audience, TV ratings. . . . Everybody talks about, man, you’re watching women’s basketball and there’s nobody there. I mean, we found a way to get close to 8,000 at a Friday at noon game. . . . I thought as the No. 1 seed, part of the reward was – every other No. 1 seed is playing the early games, even in the Saturday games. I don’t know if somebody’s not pleased with us being a No. 1 seed or what.”

I don’t know about any of that. I do know that it does no good. Yes, the TV networks run college sports. The Big Ten Conference is less an athletic conference than a TV Network. Same for the Southeastern Conference. Same, once the ACC Network goes online, for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

What do you do? Well, if you’re a Louisville fan, you go anyway. Carpool. Turn the radio up. Get a room. Do what you have to do.

I’m not sure it’ll work that way. But there’s no way around it – you have to be ready to play, no matter what time the game is. Yep, it’s a late tipoff. Better than being in Oklahoma City or Albany, N.Y., or farther away than that. 

Louisville will face a Stanford team that is No. 13 in the RPI and is capable of beating the Cardinals. 

“They’re a very, very good basketball team,” Walz said. “They’ve got inside out. They’ve got a 6-4 player who can shoot the three. Their guard play is very good. Brittany McPhee played on the U-23 team for me this summer, with Asia, so I got a chance to see her. Great kid, can score the basketball, very talented. You don’t make that U-23 team if you’re not talented. So it’s going to be fun. Tara … does a great job, obviously. She’s a Hall of Fame coach. Everybody knows, they’re going to have a plan. They’re going to guard us some way, and we’re going to have to make adjustments to what they’re doing.”

Adjustments will be key, starting with the late tip-off. Welcome to late prime. Louisville, and its fans, will have to be ready.

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