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Why ESPN leaking the NCAA women’s bracket sucked so much

What a mess.

Monday night was set to be a special night for teams waiting for the reveal of the NCAA women’s tournament bracket. Watch parties were planned, gatherings were arranged, and players were getting in last-minute workouts before a night of celebration. Then, shortly after 3 p.m., everything went to hell.

ESPN accidentally leaked the entire women’s bracket hours before their own reveal show was scheduled at 7 p.m. Bracketology, which aired Monday afternoon on ESPNU, had Jay Bilas, Rece Davis, Jay Williams, and Seth Greenberg discussing the men’s bracket, which had been revealed Sunday night — but viewers quickly noticed the women’s bracket was clearly displayed on the screen in a sidebar.

It wasn’t until the final selections were revealed that someone at ESPN noticed the error and pulled the plug, removing the sidebar from the screen — but the damage was already done. With the surprise ruined and the bracket revealed everyone scrambled to work out how to handle the evening.

ESPN quickly announced it would move its NCAAW bracket show up to 5 p.m. on ESPN2, but this caused a massive problem for teams with already-scheduled watch parties set for the evening. Oregon, Oregon State, Kansas State, Princeton, Radford, Iowa State, and Rice all cancelled their watch parties in the wake of the leak.

While Baylor pushed on, despite the letdown.

Broadcasters always receive the brackets ahead of time so they can prepare graphics and programming, but it’s unclear how the error occurred. The mistake destroyed ESPN’s own show, and their pivot ruined celebrations planned across the country. The network issued a statement shortly before its 5 p.m. show apologizing for the error and saying an investigation was taking place to determine what happened.

“In working with the NCAA to prepare for tonight’s Women’s Selection Special we received the bracket, similar to years past. In the midst of our preparation, the bracket was mistakenly posted on ESPNU. We deeply regret the error and extend our apology to the NCAA and the women’s basketball community. We will conduct a thorough review of our process to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future. We will now broadcast the full bracket at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2, and the regularly-scheduled show on ESPN at 7 p.m.”

The NCAA followed in kind, calling the incident an “unfortunate technical error.”

It’s unclear if the public will get an answer on how the leak happened, or what steps will be made by ESPN and the NCAA to ensure they don’t happen again, but regardless of the outcome it’s a disappointing and shameful mistake that ruined a special night for athletes who deserved to be celebrated.