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.