ESPN accidentally leaked the women's NCAA tournament bracket 3 hours early

The 2019 women’s NCAA tournament bracket was supposed to be revealed at 7 p.m. ET Monday night on ESPN. But more than three hours before the start of the selection show, there was a leak. The culprit?

ESPN.

On an ESPNU re-airing of a Sunday night show breaking down the men’s bracket, the entire women’s field of 64 was listed in rotating eight-team chunks across the side of the screen:

Pictures of the bracket leak

Video of the apparent ESPN gaffe shows sections of the bracket rotating on the side of the screen every 10 or so seconds. Soon enough, social media users had pieced together the full bracket by hand:

ESPN acknowledges leak

A little after 4:30 ET, ESPN and the NCAA all but acknowledged the leak by announcing that the bracket reveal would be moved up from 7 ET on ESPN to 5 ET on ESPN2:

Shortly before the start of the rescheduled selection show, ESPN released the following statement:

“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 up with a statement of its own:

So the already-revealed bracket was re-revealed at 5 ET, and then re-re-revealed at 7 ET. Here it is in full:

Full NCAA tournament bracket

The bracket leak ruined Selection Monday

The leak, and subsequent adjustments, ruined the entire evening for all involved, in so many ways. Viewing parties were likely cancelled. There will be no raw emotion and tension captured on camera, no live reaction shots of bubble teams finding out they’ve received a bid.

Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu summed up the players’ perspective pretty well:

Some schools, like Fordham, did their best to maintain the suspense of Selection Monday:

But it clearly wasn’t the same.

Biggest bracket storylines

Putting aside the logistics of the leak and focusing on the bracket itself, there were two major newsworthy items: Tennessee is in, and UConn isn’t a No. 1.

The Lady Vols were in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time ... ever. They were one of several teams in contention for the final few at-large spots in the field. And they got one. UCF, Auburn and Indiana got the other three. Arkansas, Ohio and TCU were left out, and are NIT-bound.

Meanwhile, Louisville and Mississippi State nabbed top seeds ahead of UConn. It’s the first time since 2006 that the Huskies haven’t claimed a No. 1.

Here’s the full leaked bracket in text form – with the winners of the Greensboro region and Portland region meeting in the Final Four on the left side, and the winners from Chicago and Albany meeting on the right:

Greensboro region

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Abilene Christian

No. 8 Cal vs. No. 9 North Carolina

No. 5 Florida State vs. No. 12 Bucknell

No. 4 South Carolina vs. No. 13 Belmont

No. 6 Kentucky vs. No. 11 Princeton

No. 3 NC State vs. No. 14 Maine

No. 7 Missouri vs. No. 10 Drake

No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 Mercer

Portland region

No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 16 Southern

No. 8 South Dakota vs. No. 9 Clemson

No. 5 Arizona State vs. No. 12 UCF

No. 4 Miami vs. No. 13 Florida Gulf Coast

No. 6 South Dakota State vs. No. 11 Quinnipiac

No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 14 Fordham

No. 7 Texas vs. No. 10 Indiana

No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 15 Portland State

Chicago region

No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 16 Bethune Cookman

No. 8 Central Michigan vs. No. 9 Michigan State

No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 12 Rice

No. 4 Texas A&M vs. No. 13 Wright State

No. 6 DePaul vs. No. 11 Missouri State

No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 14 New Mexico State

No. 7 BYU vs. No. 10 Auburn

No. 2 Stanford vs. No. 15 UC Davis

Albany region

No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 16 Robert Morris

No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Kansas State

No. 5 Gonzaga vs. No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock

No. 4 Oregon State vs. No. 13 Boise State

No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 11 Tennessee

No. 3 Maryland vs. No. 14 Radford

No. 7 Rutgers vs. No. 10 Buffalo

No. 2 UConn vs. No. 15 Towson

The history of bracket leaks

In the past, men’s NCAA tournament brackets have leaked on the internet before their reveal on CBS, despite the NCAA going to great lengths to prevent exactly that from happening.

In 2010, a user on a Maryland fan message board had all the juicy bracket tidbits 45 minutes before CBS viewers did. In 2016, the entire bracket was all over Twitter midway through the (long) selection show.

But, of course, those are different. This is ESPN rendering the selection show, to which is has rights, irrelevant. What a colossal error.

So how did the leak happen?

There are two stages of bracket security: One before the precious field of 64/68 is handed off to the NCAA’s broadcast partner, and one after the exchange.

Here’s the first stage, from Jeff Eisenberg’s detailed feature on the subject in 2014:

The NCAA goes to great lengths to protect the integrity of its process and ensure CBS has the exclusivity it desires, sequestering selection committee members as though they were jurors in a high-profile trial.

Once they arrive in their rooms at the Conrad Hotel in Indianapolis on Wednesday afternoon, the 10 members of the selection committee don't leave the hotel's 18th floor until they've chosen the 68 teams who will make this year's NCAA tournament.

A security guard stands watch at the elevator all hours of the day and night to keep curious visitors away. All meals come via room service and are served in a hotel meeting room. Committee members are discouraged from using their cellphones and calls to their room phones are sent directly into a messaging system.

The only other people who have access to the 18th floor conference room where the selection committee assembles the bracket are a few hand-picked NCAA employees, a handful of hotel staffers and a CBS camera crew. Before the hotel staffers can restock the drinks and snacks or the CBS crew can come get footage, committee members shut off their monitors and turn the papers on their tables face down.

And the second:

CBS typically receives the bracket from an NCAA staffer about 30 minutes before the selection show airs, but its staff is just as careful to minimize the chance of leaks once it arrives. The email with the bracket is password-protected and only a limited number of on-air and behind-the-scenes employees have access.

The process for the women’s NCAA tournament is clearly different. ESPN had the bracket at least four hours before the scheduled reveal. And somebody – perhaps multiple people – made a massive, massive mistake.

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Henry Bushnell is a features writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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