The Women's NCAA Tournament is underway in San Antonio after the coronavirus pandemic canceled last year's tournament. CBS Sports writer Chip Patterson joins CBSN's Nikki Battiste with more.
- 64 teams are playing for the national championship. Here are the current top five rankings. The University of Connecticut leads the pack, followed by Stanford, North Carolina State, Texas A&M, and Baylor. Stanford is looking to defend its 2019 national title. COVID-19 forced NCAA officials to cancel the tournament last year.
CBS Sports Writer Chip Patterson joins us now. Chip, let's start with your predictions. Got any bracket busters?
CHIP PATTERSON: Well, I would say that, if you're going with the NCAA State Wolfpack, West Moore has got a really good team. Elyssa [? Koonin ?] is certainly one to watch, but that's not really a bracket buster considering they are a top five team in America, playing very, very well coming into the tournament. And it's interesting.
Because for the ACC and for some of these other conferences, there was a long layoff. The ACC actually played its women's tournament before the men's tournament, so then you had to wait before you, finally, got Selection Sunday. So I'm sure that the Wolfpack and many other teams from around the country are going to be very, very antsy to get after it. But you just look all up and down the top of the sport, and it's exciting.
Texas A&M, as you see right here, they've got four seniors in the starting lineup that are going to be really anchoring that effort for UConn, a team that has made 12 straight Final Fours, including a run with six national titles. Six of the 11 under Geno Auriemma. They are led by a freshman in Paige Bueckers, and a young team around there.
So will the hungry Huskies, the youthful addition, will they be able to go on a run? I believe that the sport, right now, has a lot of interesting programs that are chasing the pace setters, and the pace setters are up there at the top with UConn, with your Baylor, with your Stanford. So bracket busters, I don't know if I see many cinderellas, Nikki. But I do think that the heavyweights will end up showing out in this tournament and making deep runs.
- Lots of people watching their brackets closely. Chip, as you know, the NCAA apologized for disparities and how it equipped male and female players at the tournaments. The different weight rooms got lots of attention. What does the organization have to do to prevent these types of systematic inequities?
- I think that they have already taken one step by admitting they were wrong, right? Just to be able to come out and try to address the issue by saying, this was an oversight, this was a mistake on our part. And the thing that is really key to me is the fact that this is really poor timing when the growth of the women's game, both at the WNBA and at the college level, it's been extremely popular. I mean, we've seen a ton of year over year growth, basically, in the last five, six, seven years.
This is a sport that really was dominated by UConn and then everyone else, and we've seen a lot of teams be able to close that gap with Geno Auriemma's program, Dawn Staley at South Carolina, Kim Mulkey Baylor. You know, we have a contemporaries right now, such that it's become really intriguing. It's not UConn versus the field, and that has helped everyone buy in.
The last time we had Final Four, it was an absolutely epic championship game. So for the NCAA, absolutely an oversight in the disparity between resources, but more disappointing when you consider the opportunity that there is in the women's game with all the excitement, both with the NCAA tournament and at the college level, but also, the WNBA. The WNBA has seen great year over year growth.
This is a time when you don't want to neglect the women's game. You want to reinvest and continue to invest, so that you can continue to help that growth. Because it is nothing, but an opportunity for the NCAA, as long as they continue to give resources to the women.
- A lot of little girls looking up to the women of the WNBA and how they're being treated, so I'm glad the NCAA has responded positively. Can you explain to our viewers why the women's and men's tournaments are in two different cities?
- Sure, logistics, first of all. We wanted to try and create as much of a bubble environment as possible, and there are some limitations for that when you have 64, 68 teams with players, rosters, travel party, staff. And trying to even get the accommodations for two tournaments was going to be very difficult, but they've gone to two places that have long been stops for both the men's and the women's tournament in Indianapolis for the men, San Antonio for the women.
So to be able to go in and occupy those hotel ballrooms, those convention centers, and the gyms, and the arenas, I just don't think it was possible to be able to put everybody in the same place, and also, probably against the-- you know, to cram everybody together is not what we want to be doing as we continue to be living in a pandemic. So I think that spacing them out to allow for a socially distanced tournament was always going to be the case. It is not a perfect bubble in either scenario, but they are trying their best with contact tracing technology, top of the line stuff, along with the protocols in place to try and allow for this NCAA tournament to happen. Because it was a year ago when the tournaments got canceled, because we just didn't know anything. With a year's worth of lessons, we are trying our best to be able to pull this thing off.
- On the pandemic note, in the men's tournament, COVID-19 knocked out number 10 seed Virginia Commonwealth University after several people with the team tested positive. What more can you tell us about that?
- This was not part of the NCAA tournament protocol. The NCAA tournament protocol set in place by the Association says, if you've got five players who can meet the threshold, have not been testing positive, are not going to get caught in contact tracing, if you have five players, then you can play in an NCAA tournament game. But this is a little bit different, because what happened at VCU is they had three positive tests that all occurred one after the other. And it was actually the Marion County health officials that we're concerned about the virus spreading within the program, so it wasn't that VCU didn't have enough players that were cleared as of game day.
It's that there were concern from health officials that there were players who would play in that game and then test positive later. My reactions are twofold. Number one, immensely disappointed for VCU. I mean, to go through seven days of negative test before you even get on the plane to Indianapolis to go through all of the onboarding it takes to get into this bubble like environment, and then for there's still to be a way to the virus to get in, and end up infecting multiple players, and cost you a chance to play in the NCAA tournament, something you've been dreaming about your entire life. My heart breaks for them.
But at the same time, you also have to appreciate the involvement of the Marion County health officials to say, hey, I understand that, according to NCAA tournament protocol, this VCU team has enough players that have tested negative, such that they can play in this game. But we are concerned based on the way that this is spreading through the team that there might be more players to test positive later. Therefore, potential exposure to their opponent in the game Oregon. So to responsibly, in my view, say, look, we don't want to jeopardize this entire NCAA tournament VCU out of the tournament because of positive tests.
- I would imagine a particularly tough time for VCU's seniors. Chip Patterson, thank you, and be sure to follow March Madness with us. Coverage is underway for the first round games in the men's tournament. You can watch on CBS or stream the games live on our new platform, Paramount Plus, or cbssports.com.