TBS to Make History by Broadcasting NCAA Tournament final

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016

It is a milestone nearly six years in the making, but one that still might come as a bit of a shock to college basketball traditionalists and / or those who do not closely follow intricate television partnerships:

After carrying the NCAA Tournament championship game from 1982 to 2015, CBS will step aside April 4 in favor of TBS, which the past two seasons had carried the national semifinals but not the championship game.

It is a move that was ordained in the spring of 2010, when the companies signed a 14-year deal with the NCAA for joint coverage of the tournament. Only now is the final piece of it kicking in.

“This year it’s going to bear its fruit,” Turner president David Levy said.

Through 2024, Turner will carry all three games of the Final Four in even-numbered years and CBS in odd-numbered years.

Speaking of odd, well . . . isn’t it?

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“It’s not going to be odd,” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus, who noted the announcing trio of Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill will return, as will the production team. “It won’t feel any different just because it’s on Turner.”

Nantz, another longtime CBS Sports fixture, said, “I consider us all as one . . . Look, the media world has changed so much. We’re just very fortunate that we happen to have a partnership with a great group.”

Indeed, it was a changing media business that brought the companies together in the first place, with CBS in need of a revenue-rich cable partner that could help it fend off ESPN in retaining the NCAAs, and one with multiple outlets on which to show games.

College basketball thus will become the latest sport to have its biggest event move to cable television, and with it the risk of somewhat lower ratings. College football’s title game has been off broadcast TV since the 2010 season.

Raftery is unconcerned about the switch. “When they came out with ESPN [in 1979] I thought it was alphabet soup,” he said. “I went up there as Seton Hall coach to be in the studio with Bob Ley and Dick Vitale, and I had no idea what it was.

“This is a little different, you know what I mean? Turner’s been around. Everybody who loves the NBA knows it. So they’ve got a big step ahead. I think it’s just a mild adjustment.”

Raftery said the “angst” involved with putting together a new team on short notice for last year’s Final Four — after CBS cut ties with Greg Anthony in mid-January — is gone now. “I think it’s more relaxed,” he said.

Said Nantz: “I think we’re really onto something that’s going to be a nice, magical run. I really do . . . Last year was a joy ride. It was filled with laughter for four weeks.”

The biggest change in the announcer lineup is Brian Anderson replacing Marv Albert, who opted to remain on NBA duty, among regional finals play-by-play men, along with Nantz, Verne Lundquist and Kevin Harlan. Anderson will work with analyst Steve Smith.

MSG Knicks analyst Wally Szczerbiak, who in prior years had analyzed the tournament in the CBS Sports Network studio, will now appear from Atlanta as part of the main CBS/Turner roster of studio analysts through the regional semifinals.

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Last year at this time CBS and Turner executives were looking forward to riding undefeated Kentucky’s ratings draw through the tournament. This year there are fewer star players or powerhouse teams in a balanced field.

“There’s no question there are certain years where you have a super team like a Kentucky going into the tournament [last year] and that is your main storyline at the beginning of the tournament,” McManus said. “Now I think that the story is it’s wide open, that there are probably 15 teams that can win the tournament.

“If we get storylines and close games I think the ratings will be good. But it is a little bit different this year going in without the super team or the remarkably well-known players that you’ve had in the past.”


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