The consensus opinion is that the obvious should become offcial by the end of April. The NCAA is ready to opt out of its contract with CBS, expand to 96 teams and bid out the media rights.
Apparently CBS is fine with this. The Eye network had a sub-prime, balloon payment deal with the NCAA for the tournament which saw the network having to pay over $2 Billion of the $6.3 Billion contract on the last three years of the pact.
There were rumblings that CBS was asking for relief from the over $700 million a year price tag for the next three years. After every tournament, CBS turns over its books to the NCAA and this time they showed that they took a loss on the event.
Everyone involved is convinced that March Madness cannot be financially sustained by a lone over-the-air network.
Odds are that future NCAA Buzzer Beaters will be on a combination of over-the-air and cable networks.
ESPN is more than ready to put in a bid, but CBS has a cable partner ready to join them. Turner Broadcasting is on board as a partner, and besides the dual revenue stream of a cable channel, they bring a strong history of promoting their products through various digital platforms. ESPN obviously has a strong internet presence as well, but what makes Turner different is that it is more than willing to set up the tournament with its own brand -- much like they do with NBA.com and NASCAR.com.
In other words no "MARCH MADNESS ON ESPN."
Of course the WWL can offer lots of shelf space for the NCAA product. With ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU, every tournament game could be given national exposure, rather than the current regional format.
Where March Madness lands for 2011 is not clear. What is clear is that next year that several teams from BCS conferences with losing records in their league will still go dancing in March.