A Little Summer Madness For Your Basketball Jones

Posted by rtmsf on July 16th, 2010

It’s the middle of summer and hotter than hell pretty much everywhere, and college basketball feels a long way away.  Luckily, CBS College Sports has realized that some of us will watch great college hoops year-round if given the opportunity, and they’re using the next couple of weeks to replay the entire 2010 NCAA Tournament for people of our ilk.  They started this feature last week, but there are still plenty of great games on tap.  Here’s a taste of some of when some of the better games will be on — set your Tivo accordingly…  (although make sure to check the complete listings because most of these games and many others are televised multiple times over the next week).

Um, Why Does Summer Madness Have a Football Field in the Background?

Saturday July 17

  • 4:30 pm – St. Mary’s vs. Villanova (2d Round)
  • 6:30 pm – Murray State vs. Vanderbilt (1st Round)
  • 11 pm – Northern Iowa vs. Kansas (2d Round)

Monday July 19

  • 6 am – Old Dominion vs. Notre Dame (1st Round)
  • 12:30 pm – Michigan State vs. Maryland (2d Round)
  • 6:30 pm – Xavier vs. Pittsburgh (2d Round)
  • 9 pm – Texas A&M vs. Purdue (2d Round)

Tuesday July 20

Wednesday July 21

  • 6 pm – Butler vs. Kansas State (E8)
  • 11 pm – Tennessee vs. Michigan State (E8)

Thursday July 22

  • 12 pm – Baylor vs. Duke (E8)
  • 2 pm – Butler vs. Michigan State (F4)
  • 6 pm – Butler vs. Duke (Ch)

Friday July 23

  • 8:30 pm – Wake Forest vs. Texas (1st Round)
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The New NCAA Tournament — We Can Live With It

Posted by jstevrtc on July 12th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences and an occasional contributor.

The NCAA got around to announcing “The Decision” regarding the layout of the now 68-team tournament and specifically the makeup of the competitors in the four “play-in games” today, and the end result?  Punt.

Getting the terminology out of the way first, these games are officially no longer part of the Opening Round, nor are they “play-in games” (not that they ever were). They now make up the entirety of the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, otherwise known as the First Four. Those games that get played on Thursday and Friday? Those are now the Second Round, with the weekend games now the Third Round, with the winners there still advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.

We knew before today that there were three main options that the NCAA was considering: the final eight at-large teams matching up, the lowest eight automatic qualifiers matching up, or some combination of the two. That last one, that’s what we got. And you know what? That’s probably the best decision.

The NCAA dropped back and punted, here -- but the resulting field position isn't that bad.

If the NCAA had chosen to send only the lowest eight qualifiers to these games, there would have been numerous problems, not the least of which would be a continuation of the idea that those first four games aren’t really part of the NCAA Tournament. The teams that advance from one-bid conferences like the MEAC, SWAC, American East and Big Sky (to name just a few of the usual suspects) would battle it out in Dayton in relative anonymity for the right to advance to their chance to get killed by a one-seed, while your typical college basketball fan would ignore the whole thing. In the process, sure, the teams involved would have a better chance at winning a game in the NCAA Tournament and thereby earning themselves an extra share of the proceeds from the tournament, but once the “actual” tournament started, there would be four less automatic qualifiers sticking around for their chance to get on national television and test out their slingshot against Goliath. Then there’s also the fact that after spending $10.8 billion on the rights to the tournament, the first four games of the package would be a total wash for the television networks, stuck broadcasting games like Mississippi Valley State against Northern Arizona to a national television audience of almost four digits.

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NCAA Tournament Gets Hybridized

Posted by jstevrtc on July 11th, 2010

The First Four starts it, the Final Four ends it.

We’ll have a more in-depth discussion on this later this evening, but the new format for the 68-team NCAA Tournament has just been announced.  This article by ESPN’s Andy Katz describes how the NCAA is going with what people call the “hybrid model.”  The last four at-large teams will play each other for the right to get into the main draw, and the last four automatic bid teams will do the same. They’re calling it the “First Four,” or the new official first round.  The seed line will be determined independently for each game, meaning that two teams may be playing for the right to snag a 11-seed and play a six, and another First Four game might have two teams battling for a 12-seed to play a five, and so on.

There will now be no speculating as to who the last four at large teams into the Big Dance are — you’ll know who they are by their presence in one of the Tuesday/Wednesday games.  Unfortunately, there won’t be any “mixing” of the automatic qualifiers and the final at-large teams.  As aforementioned, the at-larges will play each other and the automatic qualifiers will play each other, so you won’t get that small-conference tournament winner relishing their chance to knock off a BCS-conference team who’s among the last four at-larges.  And, interestingly, after several years of seemingly downplaying the importance of a team’s RPI, it’s certainly important now, because that is the instrument that will be used to determine the lowest-rated automatic qualifiers.

The NCAA goes with the hybrid model. We're still evaluating this...

The First Four games will be broadcast on Tru TV, so you better check your cable lineup to make sure you get it.  Also, according to Katz, there was no early indication that the games would be moved from Dayton, the traditional site of all previous play-in games, though we expect that’s where the discussion will move to, now.

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What Should the NCAA Do With Its Four Little PiGs?

Posted by rtmsf on May 4th, 2010

This has been discussed repeatedly since the late April announcement that the NCAA Tournament would be moving to a 68-team design beginning in 2011, but we’ve yet to come across a piece that outlines all of the iterations that the new four-PiG format might take.  Hashing it out on the phone with The Kiff (a longstanding member of the Cult of 64) last weekend, we ultimately settled on two major bones of contention — who gets to play in the four play-in games, and how do you structure it so as to maximize interest, revenue and bracketing?  We’ll discuss each of these questions in turn, but first, it’s interesting to read a quote from one prominent member of the NCAA Selection Committee for insights as to what may or may not be on the table here.  Laing Kennedy, the Kent State athletic director who will finish up a five-year term as a member of the NCAA Selection Committee, has this to say about it:

Going from 65 to 68 means four first-round games. Our committee, when we meet in May, will look at some models on how to bracket that. For example, you can have two afternoon and two night games in Dayton, or two games at two different sites.  But the big question to be decided by the committee is which teams should play those play-in games, and how the winners will be seeded into the field.  Speaking individually, I would look at the last eight, and rewarding the AQs [automatic qualifiers].  Those would be highly competitive first games. But those are things we have to look at in May.

Additionally, Greg Shaheen, the NCAA Senior Executive VP who got lit up by the media in the week leading up to the Final Four, said during a radio interview with Doug Gottlieb recently that all options are on the table with respect to logistics but one of the primary considerations of the committee in structuring the new games will be to remove some of the stigma from them.  A noble endeavor, indeed.

How to Avoid the Dreaded Stigma?

With the hope that reasonable minds ultimately will prevail, here are our thoughts on the matter.

Who Plays In It?

This is the part most fans care about, and with good reason — they want to know whether as standard practice they can continue to ignore PiG Tuesday.  As it currently stands, roughly 99.9% of America* fails to so much as recognize that there is a Tuesday night game ostensibly involving NCAA Tournament opponents.  Only the truly anal among us wait until Wednesday to fill out our bracket on the ridiculous off chance that the winner of the PiG is the “right” matchup to give its corresponding #1 team trouble (and you know who you are).  So let’s cut right to it.  For the last ten seasons, there have been only four groups of people who care about this game.

* unscientific sampling of the three guys walking around the office hallway

  1. #16A’s fans, players and families.
  2. #16B’s fans, players and families.
  3. Overly nervous fans of the corresponding #1 seed waiting on an opponent for Friday’s #1/#16 game.
  4. The good citizens of Dayton, Ohio, who keep attending this thing year after year.

Just about six weeks ago, we saw this played out in real time as the “Opening Round” of the NCAA Tournament between Arkansas-Pine Bluff-Winthrop competed directly with the first round of the NIT and several interesting matchups that included UConn-Northeastern, UNC-William & Mary, Texas Tech-Seton Hall and NC State-South Florida.  From that night’s ESPN coverage to the trending Twitter topics and later to the Nielsen ratings, it was painfully clear that on this mid-March evening, the NIT games were the preferred matchups for college hoops fans.  As anyone working at 700 West Washington Street in Indianapolis is surely aware, that should NEVER happen.  Even on its worst night, for an NCAA Tournament game to be overshadowed by another basketball-related sporting event in March should be an impossible achievement, and yet on that particular evening it was not.

This NIT Contest, Not the NCAA Game, Was the Featured Event of the Night

And therein lies the problem.  Most people, even hardcore college hoops fans like us, don’t consider the Tuesday night PiG to be a legitimate part of the NCAA Tournament.  It involves the two worst-rated teams in the field, which means nobody knows anything about them; and it has zero impact on our brackets, which means there’s no corresponding reason to care to learn about them either.  So the question for the NCAA becomes: how do you legitimize it?  How do you remove that stigma that Shaheen mentioned as problematic?  How do you make people care about the (now) four play-in games on Tuesday so that random NIT games involving struggling national powers don’t take priority over NCAA games on the sports page?  Here are the two viable alternatives as we see them.

Status Quo (x4)

Keeping things as they are now where the #16s play the ‘other’ #16s (or possibly #17s in the new scheme) wouldn’t seem to do much to enhance the legitimacy of the PiGs, but there is precedent for this.  From 1978 to 1985, the NCAA Tournament doubled in size from 32 to 64 teams (can you imagine the outcry in today’s environment??).  There were several fits and starts along the way as it expanded a little more almost every year in-between, but suffice it to say that in 1983, the NCAA invited 52 teams to the ball with the final eight automatic qualifiers slotted as #12 seeds into four play-in games (or the “preliminary round” as they called it then).  In 1984, there were five play-in games with an additional #11 seed added to the mix.  In both of these years, all of the play-in games were played on the Tuesday prior to the first round games, and the teams were sent to PiG sites of Philadelphia’s Palestra or Dayton’s UD Arena depending on relative proximity to the school(s) involved.  The winners advanced to play #5 seeds in the true “first round,” with the one exception of the #11 seed (Northeastern) in 1984 who played a #6 seed in that round.

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Greg Shaheen is in a Much Better Mood These Days

Posted by rtmsf on April 30th, 2010

You may not have heard because it was such a formality, but yesterday the NCAA Board of Directors approved the recommendation made by its basketball committee to expand the NCAA Tournament to 68 teams.  The committee will now spend the next two months reviewing possibilities as to how to structure the expansion, but one of the key criteria they will consider is to design a system that will remove the stigma of teams who are invited to the play-in game.  Doug Gottlieb interviewed NCAA Senior Executive VP Greg Shaheen on his radio show yesterday, and you may recall that Shaheen was the mouthpiece who set the world on fire with his discussion of 96-team expansion during the week of the Final Four.  It’s good to hear considerably less stress in his voice as he discussed several of the options on the table; not bad for a suit who has morphed from one of the most despised men in American sports to one that everyone now praises.  Gottlieb said at the end of the piece, “thank you,” and we’d be remiss if we didn’t say likewise.  In an era where the almighty dollar seems to always win out, thanks for listening to the fans, Greg. 

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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.

Credit: Indy Star/S. Riche

Coming soon to TBS. . .

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.

Credit: DickVitaleOnline.com

We won't be seeing these two broadcasting NCAA Tournament games any time soon

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68!!!

Posted by rtmsf on April 22nd, 2010

Has there ever been a non-prime number so beautiful as this one? 

The NCAA made the right decision, from its release this afternoon:

Late Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee unanimously passed a recommendation to the Division I Board of Directors to increase tournament field size to 68 teams beginning with the 2011 Championship. The recommendation will be reviewed by the Division I Board of Directors at its April 29 meeting.

Much more later…

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ESPN Giving Up on NCAA Tourney Rights?

Posted by rtmsf on April 16th, 2010

Word has leaked through Sports Business Daily that the NCAA has two offers on the table for consideration of a new multi-year contract for coverage of college basketball’s premier event, the NCAA Tournament.  A joint bid from CBS (the existing rights-holder) and Turner Sports amounted to an $840M annual deal over fourteen years, while an ESPN bid came in at around $800M annually for the same duration.  The NCAA’s current exclusive deal with CBS (involving only 65 teams) is at $710M per year through 2013, so either of the proposed deals looks better in comparison.

ESPN Going Out Like That?

But what does this mean?  If this really represents ESPN’s final offer to carry March Madness, then CBS/Turner will probably have the rights for the foreseeable future, which would be fine if the Blinking Eye Network had a competent business partner in this venture.  No disrespect to Turner Sports when it comes to covering the NBA or MLB, but college basketball?  Does the network even carry a single game all season long?  Yet they’re going to switch off every other year with CBS on Final Four coverage?  This is insanity.  With the additional 31 games, we’ll have Marv Albert and Doug Collins doing random first round games where they’ll be calling Brad Stevens “Bud” and his star player “Dwight” Howard.  If you need a parallel example, look no further than how Fox has crapped the bed covering the BCS Bowls the last few seasons.  Yeah, the NFL and CFB are the same game, right — we can do that!  Ugh.

According to the NCAA, though, they are seeking to re-engage the WWL in an effort to integrate what only makes complete and total sense — for a cable network that devotes much of its existence from November through March to finish off what it starts each season.  You’re rarely going to find us around here shilling for ESPN, but this one appears to be a no-brainer from all possible perspectives except one.  Guess what that one is?  You got it — money.  It’s no secret that CBS is losing money on its current $710M annual deal to carry the Tournament, so how does ESPN expect to be able to make those dollars back with a bid at $800M or more?  Ahh yes, the mystifying and little-understood cable carriage fees.

Put very simply, ESPN is in a prime position to take complete control of college basketball from start to finish of every season for the next generation if it simply ups its bid by about $50M per year.  We’re certainly not saying that is an insignificant number, but with the inherent revenue advantage that ESPN has at its disposal based on cable carriage fees in addition to the increased advertising bump, this needs to happen.  ESPN needs to act like the monopoly that it is and take control of this situation.  Stay tuned.  A decision will likely be made within the next two weeks.

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Step One to NCAApocalypse: Opt Out

Posted by rtmsf on April 14th, 2010

According to a piece published in Sports Business Journal yesterday, NCAA president Jim Isch is close to an announcement to recommend that the organization opt out of the last three years of its 11-year, $6B contract with CBS, and in so doing open the Grandest Postseason Spectacle in All of Sports open to the highest bidder(s) under a 96-team format.  An announcement on his recommendation could come as soon as this week, and the NCAA Executive Committee will meet on April 29 to formally make a decision.

CBS is Driving This as Much as the NCAA

One aspect of these negotiations that has been lost on many commentators to date, including us, is the admission that over-the-air network CBS is in favor of such a move just as much as the NCAA.  The Blinking Eye is seeking some relief for the over two billion dollars it’s on the hook for over the final three years of the agreement, and the possibility of picking up a partner cable network such as Turner Sports or allowing ESPN to take it over completely would defray some of its considerable costs. Despite improved ratings and a great all-around Tournament from start to finish in 2010, the network still took a bath on this year’s Big Dance.  This quote from an executive within CBS is telling:  “It’s pretty clear that an over-the-air network can’t afford this event by itself.”

All those emails we hope you’ve been sending to Isch (jisch@ncaa.org) do not appear to be working, and we certainly understand why.  Dollar signs are all anyone cares to see here, and short of Myles Brand coming back from the grave to pull a Ghost of March Madness Past on Isch and company in their sleep, nothing is going to change.  As we said last month, prepare yourselves.  We’re going to have all summer to bitch and moan about this isch.

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Around the Media World: Expansion 96

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2010

So much is being written this week about the NCAA’s money grab to expand the NCAA Tournament, we thought it would be helpful to collate some of the better quotes from articles around the MSM and blogosphere for your perusal.  Pretty much everybody agrees on two key points: it’s all about money, and it sucks.  Discuss.

Gary Parrish, CBS Sports.com

I realize money drives college athletics, and if the NCAA granted me that, I could shrug my shoulders and move on. Obviously, I’ll watch the regular season and NCAA tournament no matter what. But Thursday’s message about creating more opportunities was insincere and, frankly, insulting because expansion isn’t about creating more opportunities. It’s about creating more revenue. Anybody who tells you otherwise is insincere at best, lying at worst. And if my choices are to hear a lie or total silence, I’ll take Greg Shaheen sitting on a stage staring straight ahead, mouth closed, not a word, awkward as it may be.

Dano O’Neil, ESPN.com

To be exact, 2,505 words were uttered in the opening address by Greg Shaheen, the NCAA’s vice president for basketball and business strategies.  Yes, I counted.  And for the record, there were 1,666 words in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Abe Lincoln needed just 268 words to define the importance of the Civil War in his Gettysburg Address.  Which is a long-winded way of saying, this was a spin that Baryshnikov would envy.  By either next season or 2014, the 96-team bracket is coming to a centerfold near you.  So before making the official announcement to destroy what many consider to be the perfect postseason, the NCAA needs you to understand why 96 teams is good for you — even if the folks in charge sound an awful lot like a mom trying to shove Brussels sprouts down a toddler’s throat.

Tommy Craggs, Deadspin

In sports, everyone is a winner—some people just win better than others. Like sportswriter John Feinstein, who badgered a hapless NCAA VP yesterday over tournament expansion and thereby became a hero to anti-expansionists for all the wrong reasons.  The NCAA’s press conference yesterday amounted to little more than a Tupperware demonstration of the locked-in freshness and burping seal of a 96-team tournament

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Feinstein’s Thursday Lunch: Shaheen-Kebabs

Posted by jstevrtc on April 2nd, 2010

Now that spring is here and the weather has improved over much of the country, we’d like to announce that grilling season officially kicked off today in Indianapolis, but probably not in the way you’re thinking.

The president of the NCAA and/or some other high-ups has always made it a point to take some time on the Thursday or Friday preceding the Final Four to have a press conference to talk about the NCAA Tournament in general and the tournament specific to that year.  This little get-together happened today in Indy.  The media got the chance to hear from Dan Guerrero, chair of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee; Kevin Lennon, VP for academic and membership affairs; and one Greg Shaheen, the NCAA’s senior VP for basketball and business strategies.

Shaheen Isn't Speechless Here

RIGHT HERE is the transcript of this press conference.

IMPORTANT:  Listen, we post a lot of links on this site.  We want you to click every one of them.  We wouldn’t put them up there if we didn’t think it would enhance your enjoyment or understanding of a story or article.  But YOU MUST CLICK ON THAT LINK if you want to get a glimpse into the minds of the people who are trying to change the greatest sporting event in the world, the people who want to increase the number of teams in the NCAA Tournament from 65 to 96.

Before you do that, we need to make sure you understand something — this thing is happening.  The 96-team tournament isn’t something that’s just being discussed, anymore.  This press conference wasn’t an official announcement, but it was everything but that.  We don’t like it any more than you do, but we might as well get used to it. We know why they’re doing it.  Like Joe Pesci said in Casino:

“Always the dollars.  Always the f***in’ dollars…”

You see, the NCAA has to make a decision this summer.  Their current college basketball contract with CBS runs through 2013, but states that the NCAA can opt out of the deal by the end of this July to go searching for a better deal, meaning more money.  The current contract with CBS was finalized in 1999 and is worth about $6 billion.  It also applies to a 65-team tournament.  If they opt out, the NCAA can do whatever it wants to the tournament and market the new version (like, say, one with 96 teams) as their new product as they negotiate for even bigger bucks.  They could even renegotiate with CBS (we wonder if CBS also sees possible bigger profits and actually wants the NCAA to opt out of this thing).

Back to this press conference.  Here’s a little rundown of what happened.  First, Mr. Guerrero took the mic, and to be honest you really don’t have to read his short introduction.  He said very little and then introduced Mr. Lennon.  Lennon’s portion is quite interesting, because he used his time to tell everyone about the improved graduation and retention rates among student-athletes, specifically men’s basketball players.  He noted that student-athletes in ALL sports, and “certainly men’s basketball, are continuing to outperform the student body” as a whole.  Sounds good.

Then came Mr. Shaheen’s turn.  That’s when it got interesting.

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Not an April Fool’s Joke, Unfortunately…

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2010

Like we wrote yesterday, you’d best prepare yourselves…


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