Coach Larry makes Plea to the Fans

March 01, 2004
By ODU Athletics
ODU Sports

March 1, 2004

By VICKI L. FRIEDMAN, The Virginian-Pilot - Larry's plea: Help us keep NCAA tourney in Norfolk By VICKI L. FRIEDMAN, The Virginian-Pilot © February 28, 2004 Last updated: 12:24 AM

NORFOLK - When this coaching gig gets old for Old Dominion's Wendy Larry, she may have a future in sales.

An effective speaker who can move folks to act, the Lady Monarchs' head coach caught just about everybody in the Constant Center off guard when she grabbed the microphone at midcourt after her team beat UNC Wilmington on Jan. 29.

She began her pitch in the form of a plea to the crowd regarding tickets to the Mideast Regional ODU is hosting March 28 and 30.

"Please, please buy your tickets," Larry begged. "Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors. If we don't sell out this facility, Old Dominion will never, ever be able to host this type of event again."

Larry, president of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, is a commanding figure in the sport and in the community. When she speaks, people tend to take notice, ODU senior athletic director Mikki Baile said.

"She could sell anyone anything," Baile said.

That's what the university is counting on because for all the marketing done for the regional via brochures, the Internet, in print, on radio and most recently on the back of Coca-Cola trucks, it never hurts to have someone like Larry in your camp, too.

"Wendy asked everyone last year to sing the words to the national anthem before games last year,'' associate athletic director Debbie Byrne said. "And everyone remembered to still do that this year."

When Larry grabbed center stage on Jan. 29, ODU had sold fewer than 1,000 regional tickets for the 8,600-seat facility. One month later, the number is 1,600, and with March Madness upcoming, the marketing campaign is entering full swing.

The tickets for the three games cost $30 for adults, $20 for students and youth. The other three regional sites - Norman, Okla.; Hartford, Conn.; and Seattle - are faring better than Norfolk and Old Dominion, the smallest and the only non-football school in the lot.

The Civic Center in Hartford has the huge advantage of knowing that top-ranked UConn is almost a shoo-in to be playing in the Sweet 16 there. UConn plays several home games every year at the Civic Center and sells them out . According to the Big East, the official host of the East Regional, the Civic Center is approaching 9,500 in sales.

At the University of Washington, 4,200 of the 9,500 seats have been sold for the West Regional.

In Norman, site of the Midwest Regional, nearly 2,000 tickets have been sold in the 11,000-seat Lloyd Noble Center .

Byrne and Baile agree that basketball fans here don't realize just what a boon it is for the Constant Center to host this event . Last year, the Constant Center hosted first and second rounds in the arena's first year of existence.

"It speaks to tradition and our relationship with the committee," Baile said.

Selection Sunday is March14, but it's not too early to forecast some parts of the bracket.

ODU has already clinched the top seed for the CAA tournament and would likely receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament should it get upset in the CAA tourney. The Lady Monarchs will definitely be on the road for the first round. If they win two games in the NCAA tournament, they would play here in their own regional.

Should ODU win out from here, it would go into the NCAAs on a 16-game win streak with quality nonconference victories over Penn State and North Carolina. They could be seeded as high as No.6 or 7, but given that they are without a nonconference road win, that could land them in the unfavorable 8/9 spot. The winner of that game would face a No. 1 seed in the second round.

If the Lady Monarchs return to Norfolk, ODU's marketing department has no worries. The place will rock with fans. But Baile cautions against that thinking.

"We can't make any assumptions. This area is so spoiled by the success of women's basketball, but we've got no guarantees. We don't want people to wait for that to buy their tickets."

If ODU does not advance, Tennessee could provide a ray of orange sunshine in Norfolk. The Lady Vols are a tremendous draw, and their fans are prone to traveling.

"We want any team that can bring at least 1,000 fans," Baile said.

However, some predictions have Duke receiving the top seed in the Mideast, with Purdue second. That would be near-disaster for the Mideast Regional. The Blue Devils don't draw well even at home, and in March, their fans tend to get caught up more in the men's team. Purdue is in West Lafayette, Ind., and its fans aren't likely to make the trek to Norfolk in great numbers.

Texas, also expected to be a No. 1 seed, is likely to go to Norman, and Stanford would likely remain out west if it is a No. 1. However, the west does not feature enough quality teams to fill up the Seattle regional, so importing a team such as Duke or Tennessee would hardly be a major surprise.

Whatever the case, Larry and the rest of the folks at ODU agree that the seats must be filled four weeks from today . Larry has a laundry list of other concerns, including finishing the regular season strong, winning the CAA tournament and, of course, preparing a team that has been unable to find consistency on the road for its stiffest challenge of the season.

But amid all that is her priority of making sure the stands are filled in Norfolk for that regional, whether or not her team gets that far.

"It is about building a future," Larry said. "I want young people to see some of the best basketball the nation has to offer, regardless of who's here. We know four very, very good teams are going to be competing for the opportunity to go to a national Final Four."