Back when Oregon was first answering questions about being in the NCAA tournament, UO coach Dana Altman was queried about the effect of increased attention nationally for his program.
“I really don’t care,” Altman responded. “What I care about is how our alumni and our fans feel about us, how our team’s families feel about us.
“I care about the people who care about us. You focus on what’s really important to you, and what’s important to me is our fans and our families. The rest of the nation, we’ve had exposure. You maybe had to stay up late to watch us, but we’ve had our opportunities.”
There would be more in the NCAA tournament, Altman said, though who knew then how much.
The answer now is, quite a bit.
While the Ducks won two games in San Jose, Calif., last weekend to the great joy of their fans, alumni and followers, that wasn’t anything compared to what’s coming up Friday when Oregon plays Louisville at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
This is the Ducks (28-8) up against the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament. It’s on CBS, the primary outlet for the NCAA tournament. It has the opening time slot of the evening for the network. The announcing team for CBS will be its top crew of Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg, the pairing that will move on to the Final Four for CBS telecasts a week later.
Now, admittedly all of that is basically happening because of the presence of the Cardinals (29-5), but the Ducks have their own story to offer, and should get a fair airing from CBS.
Granted, Oregon isn’t the Cinderella of the tournament, with Florida Gulf Coast wearing those slippers, and even La Salle being a lower seed at 13 than the 12 of the Ducks.
But the La Salle story plays out Thursday, and Florida Gulf Coast goes against Florida later on Friday, long after the UO game will be complete.
Oregon and Louisville, in fact, will have the NCAA television audience to themselves with the 4:15 p.m. PDT tipoff, at least until Kansas and Michigan start their game at 4:37 p.m. on TBS.
What is all of that worth? More than most years, since CBS and Turner Sports announced that ratings for NCAA games during the first week of the tournament were the highest in 23 years, and up five percent over last year’s.
For Oregon, that translates into marketing gains and a potential boost in recruiting.
The UO roster this season includes players from Minnesota, Ohio, Georgia and Texas, and recruits committed for next season include one from a Florida junior college, and another who is a native of Alaska. The Ducks can’t help but gain from the increased national exposure of being in the Sweet 16, and going against what is perceived as the tournament favorite.
There is little question that the Ducks will not only be the underdog in Friday’s game (it’s a 10-point betting spread) but probably will feel like a visiting team.
Indianapolis is located only 115 miles from Louisville, so the drive up for fans of the Cardinals won’t be much different than it would be for UO boosters if the Ducks were playing in Portland.
When Louisville played in a regional at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2009, a Louisville alumni official estimated that there were 12,000 to 15,000 supporters of the Cardinals in the stadium, and more are expected for this weekend.
The other half of Friday’s doubleheader in Indianapolis will pair Michigan State and Duke, slated to begin 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Oregon-Louisville game.
The presence of Michigan State in a facility less than four hours from its campus also has helped with ticket sales, and Duke’s large following won’t be limited by the campus being a nine-hour drive away, but a broker told the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper that the interest in tickets on the secondary market was largely coming from fans of the Cardinals.
There will be about 36,000 seats available in the configuration for basketball this weekend in the facility that is primarily the home of the Indianapolis Colts. The court will be at one end of the facility this weekend, while for a regional in 2009 and the Final Four in 2010, the playing court was in the middle of the football field, which raised potential seating to 70,000.
According to officials at the site of the game, about 4,000 tickets remained on sale Monday afternoon, though all of the seats had been sold that are priced at $130, $160 or $600. Seats that are available are priced at $90 and are far from the court.
At Stubhub.com on Monday, prices ranged from $95 for upper level seating to $1,800 for seats at floor level.
NCAA tournament, regional semifinal, No. 12 seed Oregon vs. No. 1 seed Louisville
• When: Friday, 4:15 p.m.
• TV: CBS
• Radio: KBND-AM 1110