A Look At The Future Of The NCAA Tournament (For Now)Posted by nvr1983 on April 22nd, 2010
Over the past few months this site and many others that cover college basketball were filled with columns about what was viewed as an almost certain expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams. It turns out that almost everyone in the media (including us) had it wrong as the NCAA announced its plans to expand to a 68-team tournament while being broadcast on CBS and the 3 Turner networks (TBS, TNT, and truTV). Technically the NCAA Board of Directors still has to approve the changes next Thursday, but that should be a rubber stamp situation given the unanimity in today’s decision. The deal, which should account for approximately 96% of revenue for men’s college basketball, will pay the NCAA $10.8 billion over 14 years (or a little over $771 million per year) compared to the previous deal of $6 billion over 11 years (or slightly more than $545 million per year). That deal, which was signed in 1999, allowed the NCAA an opt-out by July 31 of this year. Once the NCAA exercised that option it was widely believed that their intention was to sign with ESPN in the network’s attempt to take over all things sports-related. When it became clear that ESPN was no longer the front-runner in the bidding, everyone’s attention turned to the CBS/Turner bid. We will get to the whole 68 team thing in a bit just bear with us while we go through the TV issues.
While everybody is familiar with CBS’s work on the NCAA Tournament since they have broadcast every NCAA championship game since the 1982 Tourney which involved a freshman named Michael Jordan hitting the game-winning shot, Turner’s association with college basketball is a little less well-known. When I say “less well-known,” I mean that I am unaware of any prior association between Turner Sports and college basketball. Some news reports are indicating that the NCAA was leaning towards the joint bid because of their desire to have every game broadcast nationally, which would require four channels broadcasting games. Even though ESPN would have that capability (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, and ESPN Classic) and we are still searching for truTV on our local cable provider (Comcast in Boston) it is being reported that this desire favored the CBS/Turner deal. All of the games will continued to be streamed online. What this will do is eliminate the need for Greg Gumbel to switch you to a different game (often at inappropriate times) and allow those of us who don’t get DirecTV’s March Madness package to watch two close games at once on a split screen (assuming you have picture-in-picture on your TV). [Ed. Note: TNT/TBS reaches almost six times as many households as DirecTV (99 million versus 18 million).] It is unclearexactly how much ESPN bid for the NCAA Tournament, but it is believed to have been relatively close to the CBS/Turner bid.
Now for the details of how the CBS/Turner deal will work:
- From 2011-15: The first three rounds will be broadcast on all four networks and the Elite Eight through the Championship Game will be on CBS.
- From 2016-24: The first two weekends will be split between CBS and Turner while the Final Four will alternate between CBS and TBS.
- The announcers? While we have not seen a formal announcement, we are hoping that Turner will pick up the usual CBS guys who will no longer be announcing the regionally broadcast games for CBS instead of using their NBA analysts.
Ok, now that we’re done with the TV specifics we can get onto the hot button issue the past few months: the number of teams. To be honest the NCAA has not provided many details about this including who will play in the four play-in games. Will it be the eight lowest seeded teams (who are now the 15- and 16-seeds) or the eight bubble teams? I think I can speak for the rest of the RTC brain trust in saying that I hope it is the latter because we might actually watch the game instead of putting the “little guys” against each other. At the very least they should move the play-in games to the actual first round sites instead of shipping them all off to Dayton (not that there’s anything wrong with Dayton. . .). Interestingly, the NCAA left the possibility of expanding to the dreaded 96-team monstrosity saying that they were moving to 68 teams “for now.” Opinion on the expansion to 68 teams was mixed but much more muted than it would have been had they expanded to 96 teams.
The crowd in favor of adding three more teams (or in favor of adding more):
- Jim Boeheim: “As a coach I’d like to see more people get in but 68 is a good step and the easiest way, to have the least amount of turmoil. There’s really no way to do a little bit bigger expansion. You can’t expand by eight, 10. There’s no way to figure that out. This is the easiest way and hopefully down the road there will be a bigger expansion.”
- Paul Hewitt: “It’s a missed opportunity to include more student-athletes in the tournament.”
- Bill Self: “Sixty-eight is fine. I still think the movement will be to go to 96 in the future, but this is a positive for college basketball and for the tournament.”
Others were less than thrilled:
- Jim Calhoun: “I have a tough time seeing why we have to change a concept that has been so good. This year, the parity was incredible. If you have something that has become magical and what has enhanced it is not more games, but the Butlers and the parity. Those things are what have done it. George Mason. It’s been proven time and again.”
- Zach Spiker: “Why mess with something that is very good the way it is? It’s perfect the way it is. Why do we have to reinvent the wheel?”
For his part, interim NCAA president Jim Isch said, “A lot of people made assumptions that we were going to 96 when in fact we were doing our due diligence. No decision had been made.” While I am not in favor of expanding the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams, I have to say I am ok with increasing the number of play-in games especially if they are at the site of the first round games and even more so if they involve bubble teams. Now we just have to hope that limiting expansion “for now” lasts a long time.