The best four days of the year for basketball junkies are about to unfold as March Madness begins its three week run Thursday. It's important to note that unless you are part of the Scipio/Trips Right Cabal that will be gathering in Vegas for a Bacchanalian celebration of the event (may you both be struck down with various venereal diseases passed on by the cougar cocktail waitresses at Caesars Sports Book), you need to be aware of the new broadcasting template for this years tournament.
When the NCAA opted out of the last three years of its contract with CBS in 2010, it opened up the bidding for the tournament through 2024. CBS understood that if it was to withstand the financial competition from ESPN, it had to have a cable partner. So CBS joined with Turner Broadcasting and outbid the Mother Ship. The new contract is now worth $771 million a year to the NCAA. It also means that all games in the tournament will be available live in their entirety across four national networks: CBS and three cable outlets, TBS, TNT and truTV.
Beginning Thursday, each NCAA game will be carried nationally -- which means no more jumping from region to region to catch a glimpse of another game.
The new template means no more "flex" scheduling, or switching to other games. If the BYU-Wofford games turns lousy Thursday night, CBS is stuck with it from beginning to end. It also means that the rating numbers that CBS had in the past are now split four ways. However, CBS and Turner are selling the tournament as a package, and advertisers will be looking at the ratings points for all four networks being broadcast at any one time.
CBS, TNT and TBS all have experience with sports programming but truTV? The home of such shows a Hot Pursuit, Operation Repo, Hardcore Pawn and Conspiracy Theory?
On this week's episode, Jesse Venture explains Texas' #4 seeding.
Here is a look at the action for Thursday & Friday, broken down by network (all times are central).
Thursday, March 17
11:15 a.m. East Region: #5 West Virginia vs. #12 Clemson
1:40 p.m. East Region: #4 Kentucky vs. #13 Princeton
6:15 p.m. Southeast Region: #3 BYU vs. #14 Wofford
8:45 p.m. Southeast Region: #6 St. Johns vs. #11 Gonzaga
1:10 p.m. West Region: #7 Temple vs. #10 Penn State
3:40 p.m. West Region: #2 San Diego State vs. #15 Northern Colorado
6:20 p.m. West Region: #3 Connecticut vs. #14 Bucknell
8:55 p.m. West Region: #6 Cincinnati vs. #11 Missouri
12:40 p.m. Southwest Region: #4 Louisville vs. #13 Morehead State
2:10 p.m. Southwest Region: #5 Vanderbilt vs. #12 Richmond
5:50 p.m. Southeast Region: #2 Florida vs. #15 UC-Santa Barbara
8:25 p.m. Southeast Region: #7 UCLA vs. #10 Michigan State
11:40 a.m. Southeast Region: #8 Butler vs. #9 Old Dominion
2:10 p.m. Southeast Region: #1 Pittsburgh vs. #16 UNC-Ashville
6:25 p.m. Southeast Region: #4 Wisconsin vs. #12 Bellmont
9:05 p.m. Southeast Region: #5 Kansas State vs. #12 Utah State
Friday, March 18
The announce team of Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and Craig Sager will cross over to CBS and college basketball to call the Texas-Oakland game.
11:15 a.m. West Region: #4 Texas vs. #13 Oakland
1:40 p.m. West Region: #5 Arizona vs. #12 Memphis
6:15 p.m. East Region: #2 North Carolina vs. #15 Long Island
8:40 p.m. East Region: #7 Washington vs. #10 Georgia
1:10 p.m. East Region: #8 George Mason vs. #9 Villanova
3:40 p.m. East Region: #1 Ohio State vs. #16 UTSA/Alabama State winner
6:15 p.m. Southwest Region: #3 Purdue vs. #13 St. Peter's
8:45 p.m. Southwest Region: #6 Georgetown vs. #11 USC/VCU winner
12:40 p.m. Southwest Region: #2 Notre Dame vs. #15 Akron
3:10 p.m. Southwest Region: # 7 Texas A&M vs. #10 Florida State
5:45 p.m. Southwest Region: #1 Kansas vs. #16 Boston U.
8:15 p.m. Southwest Region: #8 UNLV vs. #9 Illinois
11:40 a.m. West Region: #8 Michigan vs. #9 Tennessee
2:00 p.m. West Region: #1 Duke vs. #16 Hampton
6:15 p.m. East Region: #6 Xavier vs. #11 Marquette
9:05 p.m. East Region: #3 Syracuse vs. #14 Indiana State
Aside from the usual balancing act needed for starting times, there were four networks that had to share the appealing games and teams. CBS really wanted St. John's -- back in the tournament for the first time since 2002 -- on in primetime since they bring the Big East and New York City into play. TBS got a marquee matchup for their top time slot with UCLA vs. Michigan State.
Friday CBS gets Texas for the early afternoon and North Carolina for primetime, while TNT gets a strong Big10/Big East flavor with Villanova, Ohio State, Purdue and Georgetown. TruTV gets Duke and the #1 announcing team of Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg in the afternoon and then has a good 6-11 matchup at night with Xavier vs. Marquette as well as Syracuse playing at night.
Once again, every game in the tourney will be available via live streaming through NCAA March Madness On Demand.
It is believed that Turner Broadcasting is shouldering most of the cost for the March Madness contract, and they are getting a lot in return. About 65% of all the tournament games during the life of the contract will be telecast on one of the three Turner cable networks. Beginning in in 2016 Turner will also get the Final Four every other year.
As might be expected all four networks will use the three weeks for cross promotion, especially in studio.
Look who is coming to March Madness.
The cross-pollination of networks will reach into the studio where the TNT crew of Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley will share time with Greg Gumbel, Greg Anthony and Seth Davis. The idea of a loose cannon like Barkley working the college game worries some and has others wondering what he can add to the game. Former CBS college announcer Billy Packer, who is certainly no stranger to making outrageous statements, criticized his old network for putting NBA announcers to work on March Madness.
Barkley was quick to fire back.
Oh yeah, this will workout well for the NCAA suits.