- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2001

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The NCAA women's basketball tournament will get more airtime and might see scheduling changes under a $200 million, 11-year TV rights deal with ESPN announced yesterday.

The expiring NCAA-ESPN contract was for $19 million over seven years.

The new deal's price includes a value assigned to promotion ESPN will provide for NCAA events.

NCAA president Cedric Dempsey said the contract to televise 21 national championships, including the women's tournament, was 1? years in the making.

"We wanted to bring stability to television coverage of NCAA sports, and we believe this does," Dempsey said.

The greatest effect will be on the women's basketball tournament.

Beginning in 2003, ESPN will televise all 63 tournament games, almost three times as many as the minimum of 23 from the last contract. ESPN will televise first- and second-round games on ESPN and ESPN2 on a regional basis, and will make out-of-market games available in a pay-per-view package. Starting with regional semifinals, all games will be televised nationally.

ESPN also will televise a special show from the open practices at the women's Final Four.

"The women's tournament is a premier event and it is growing in stature," ESPN president George Bodenheimer said. "By having the tournament exclusively, we think it fuels the growth."

That growth might also produce schedule changes.

If approved by the NCAA Division I Championships/Competition Cabinet, the women's Final Four would move to a Sunday-Tuesday format. Currently, the Final Four is played on Friday and Sunday.

First- and second-round games also could move, from a Friday-Saturday schedule to Saturday-Sunday, and regional finals would be spread over two days instead of playing all four games on one day, as it is done now.

While neither Dempsey nor Bodenheimer said how much the women's tournament was worth by itself, Bodenheimer called the tournament a "major part" of the contract. Dempsey said the new contract "would take us above the total dollars we are expending on the tournament at this time."

Dempsey said that while CBS Sports made a financial bid, it offered no coverage plan. CBS carries the men's tournament.

The women's tournament isn't the only sport affected by the deal.

ESPN will begin televising all games of the College World Series, two of which were previously aired by CBS.

The agreement also calls for expanded coverage of the Women's College World Series and the possibility of televising the Division II women's basketball tournament live, if the game is moved from Saturday to Friday.

ESPN now has television rights for Division I championships in men's ice hockey, men's and women's indoor track, men's and women's soccer, men's and women's swimming and diving, men's and women's tennis, men's and women's volleyball, men's lacrosse, men's gymnastics, softball and wrestling. CBS Sports carries the men's and women's outdoor track championships.

ESPN also will televise football championships in Division I-AA, II and III. The network, which has the option of renegotiating after eight years, believes the deal will create more than 200 hours of coverage per year.

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