Call it the Greg Anthony effect. When CBS and Turner Sports executives made the decision to indefinitely suspend the broadcaster in January, it set off a series of broadcaster changes for the partnership’s NCAA tournament coverage. Remarkably, all eight of this year’s NCAA broadcast teams are new in some form.
No. 1 Team:
Jim Nantz (play by play), Bill Raftery and Grant Hill (analysts), Tracey Wolfson (sideline).
No 2. Team:
Marv Albert (pbp), Chris Webber and Len Elmore (analysts), Craig Sager (sideline).
No. 3 Team:
Verne Lundquist (pbp), Jim Spanarkel (analyst), Allie LaForce (sideline)
No. 4 Team:
Kevin Harlan (pbp), Reggie Miler and Dan Bonner (analysts), Rachel Nichols (sideline).
No. 5 Team:
Ian Eagle (pbp), Doug Gottlieb (analyst), Evan Washburn (sideline).
No. 6 Team:
Brian Anderson (pbp), Steve Smith (analyst), Lewis Johnson (sideline)
No. 7 Team:
Spero Dedes (pbp), Mike Gminski (analyst), Jamie Maggio (sideline)
No. 8 Team:
Andrew Catalon (pbp), Steve Lappas (analyst), Jamie Erdahl (sideline)
The broadcast executives, naturally, are championing that the changes will be good for viewers. Viewers will soon see if they are right.
“Obviously we made a change in our number one broadcast team which we had to do and the ripple effect basically cascaded down through all eight teams,” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. “[Turner Broadcasting President] David Levy and I sit down every year and look at the pairings and decide who we think will be better and where we can improve and add. It’s always a subjective decision but I think we’ve been stronger every year.”
Said Levy: "Because that [Anthony] happened, it gave us a chance to look at the whole portfolio and ask, Can we get some better teams and matchups? Sometimes you could get a little dry in some areas.”
While game broadcasters have zero impact on television ratings, they do have major impact on your enjoyment of the game. So significant talent changes for an event of this interest is worth keeping an eye on and this column will do so during the tournament. As we have done in years past, here’s a Viewer’s Guide to all things March Madness.
When does the tournament begin?
The tournament tips off on truTV Tuesday at 6:40 p.m. ET with Manhattan at Hampton followed by BYU at Ole Miss. Brian Anderson, Steve Smith and Lewis Johnson will call Tuesday’s games. The following day, Ian Eagle, Doug Gottlieb and Evan Washburn get the assignment for North Florida vs. Robert Morris (also tipping off at 6:40 p.m. ET) and Boise State vs. Dayton. Those games will also air on truTV. The studio for both nights will air from Atlanta and feature host Matt Winer and analysts Seth Davis, Mateen Cleaves and Wally Szczerbiak.
What is the network breakdown of games?
• CBS will broadcast 22 games including the national title game, Elite Eight, Sweet Sixteen and second and third round games.
• Turner Sports will air 49 games across its three networks (TBS, TNT and truTV). TBS will air 20 games including the Final Four, Elite Eight, Sweet Sixteen and second and third round games; truTV will air 15 games including the First Four, second and third rounds, and Final Four Teamcasts. TNT will telecast 14 games, including second and third round games, along with the Final Four Teamcasts.
What about the studio coverage?
CBS and Turner will mix and match talent along the way but the main group at the Final Four and title game will be host Ernie Johnson and analysts Charles Barkley, Clark Kellogg and Kenny Smith. Greg Gumbel will also serve as a host throughout the tournament. Davis, Miller and Smith will appear for multiple rounds as studio analysts. Johnson and Gumbel will host studio coverage from CBS’s studios in New York during the first week of the tournament, with Johnson hosting from Atlanta for the second week. Winer will host a studio show from Atlanta with Davis and Cleaves.
What network gets the Regional finals?
The Regional finals games will again be split by CBS and TBS, with TBS airing the games on Saturday, March 28, beginning at 6 p.m. CBS airs the games on Sunday, March 29, starting at 2 p.m. The top four broadcast teams get assigned the regional finals.
Who will broadcast the Final Four?
For the second consecutive year, TBS gets the main Final Four telecast. The first game comes April 4 at 6 p.m. ET Nantz, Raftery, Hill and Wolfson are the broadcasters for the TBS coverage. The on-site Final Four studio coverage airs on TBS beginning at 3:00 p.m.
Who will broadcast the title game?
CBS will broadcast the national championship for the 34th consecutive year on April 6, from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The pregame coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. ET. Nantz, Raftery, Hill and Wolfson are the broadcasters.
Will the Teamcasts be back for the Final Four?
Yes. The team-specific broadcasts—the “Teamcasts”—will return on TNT and truTV. The Teamcasts are tailored specifically for each of the Final Four teams competing and the four telecasts—two airing on TNT and two on truTV—will feature separate announcing teams and multiple viewing options highlighting each of the competing schools. Turner officials will start narrowing potential broadcaster options after the Sweet Sixteen games but they have a working list of potential broadcast candidates for most of the major schools.
What did the networks learn about last year’s Teamcasts?
For starters, they did need to do better at getting the word out so that viewers realize there are both ‘homer’ broadcasts and a middle of the road national broadcast. Last year, social media was filled with people blasting CBS and Turner, as they thought a Teamcast was the regular broadcast. "We need to do a better job from a company standpoint to get the message out socially, graphically, to let everyone know," Levy said.
What should I know about March Madness Live?
Once again, pay-TV subscribers will have unlimited live streaming coverage and access to the tournament on all screens including online, mobile and tablets. That coverage exists for the whole tournament. Fans will get access to games airing live on TNT, TBS, and truTV by logging in with their TV service provider. All games broadcast on CBS do not require registration. CBS and Turner say March Madness Live will offer a temporary preview period giving users access to live game streaming before login is required.
Where is March Madness Live accessible?
You can login at www.ncaa.com/marchmadness or www.cbssports.com or www.bleacherreport.com. It is also available on CBS Sports’s app, B/R Team Stream, the App Store, the Amazon App Store, Windows Store and Google Plus.
Do you have a link for the tip times and commentator assignments for the first- and second-round games?
Anything specific for the Final Four and title game with March Madness Live?
There will be three distinct live video streams of both Final Four games featuring the traditional coverage on TBS and the team-specific broadcasts on truTV and TNT.
Why are CBS and Turner bosses confident that Hill and Webber will excel with no experience calling college games beyond this year?
“Having watched the work they have done on Turner, both are very intelligent and articulate and I have no doubt that both guys will do a good job,” said McManus.
Why break up the excellent team of Eagle and Spanarkel?
“We thought Spanarkel had earned the right to move up and do a regional final,” said McManus.
Is Kentucky the best television team?
CBS is going to ride the Wildcats during this tournament and the ratings for those games are going to be sky-high given the undefeated streak and the passion of Big Blue Nation. “I don’t think there is just one TV team but I think this year it is Kentucky because they have [a chance to be] the first undefeated team since the 1970s,” McManus said. “But there are a number of teams like that: Michigan, North Carolina, Duke. I would put them all in the top-tier with respect to their attractiveness for television. But this year, as long as we can ride Kentucky’s coattails, we will.”
Who is Charles Barkley picking?
Tell me something that might surprise me?
We’ll give you two. First, Bonner is calling his 30th NCAA tournament for CBS. And Jim Nantz’s first NCAA college basketball partner was Bill Raftery when Nantz was 26.
Is the NCAA workload too much and too soon for Sager, who has returned to work the first week of March after missing 11 months for treatment of acute myeloid leukemia?
“We waited a long time for him to be ready,” Levy said. “There was no rush to bring him back. I told him every day that he had a job and this was not about a job but about him getting healthy. He got himself healthy. Does he look a little lighter and leaner? Yes. But he is healthy and ready to go.”
What should you look for next year?
Well, it’s a big one: The national championship game will air on TBS, the first time the college basketball title game will air on cable. “We are excited about it but it is still a partnership,” said Levy, the Turner man. “Whether it airs on CBS or Turner from a financial standpoint, both companies are excited. But from an emotional standpoint, we are excited to crown a champion on TBS. When Sean and I first talked about this from the beginning, we both agreed this was not a cable package or a network package."
Will finding TBS be an issue for some viewers?
The network suits say no. I say they might hear from more cord cutters than they think. “In this day and age, people find truTV,” Levy said. It’s not an issue. When you want to watch a championship game, people will find out where it is.”
The Noise Report
1. Since you do not see women under 30 years old solo-hosting shows on sports networks, Katie Nolan getting her show greenlit on Fox Sports 1 already makes her a breakthrough performer. Her new show, Garbage Time debuted Sunday night, and as for the show’s content, I typically like to wait a couple of weeks for a studio-based show to get its legs before offering a deep take.
Clearly, Garbage Time is going to be a work in progress, and as the famous quote goes, dying is easy, comedy is hard. Nolan led with a Weekend Update-style block and that’s very tough to do for seasoned comics, especially without a live studio audience to play off. The result was mixed. The show perked up when Nolan was counter-punching with guests, and I think she’ll do very well when she goes out into the field for segments. She’s accessible to the audience and that’s something you can’t fake. (One immediate thought: I think Nolan should tread lightly when it comes to putting Fox Sports staffers on as guests to avoid becoming yet another sports show that doubles as a marketing tool).
Fox Sports brass told this column last week that it is committed to the show for 20 episodes, a low-risk play given the Sunday night time slot. If it gets the millennial men it’s clearly aiming for, the Fox suits will be happy. I’ll write more on the show in the weeks ahead.
1a. Sarah Kustok normally handles sideline duties for the Yes Network’s coverage of the Nets but on Saturday she was assigned color duties alongside Ian Eagle. As sports television viewers know, it is rare to see women work as analysts on men’s basketball games. ESPN’s Doris Burke and Kara Lawson are the current exceptions who are assigned semi-regularly. Asked how much lobbying she did for the assignment, Kustok, who was the captain of DePaul’s women’s basketball program in the early 2000s, said there no lobbying from her end. She said the assignment came from her producer, Frank DiGraci, along with the telecast’s executive producer (John Filippelli) and coordinating producer (Woody Freiman) when the three regular analysts (Jim Spanarkel, Mike Fratello, and Donny Marshall) were unable to make the broadcast. How would she evaluate the broadcast?
“I think any former athlete and person in this business by nature is quick to critique everything they would like to improve,” she said. “In my opinion, I left plenty of room for that. But when working with the ultimate professional and best in Ian Eagle, along with Frank in his 16th year of producing Nets games, they make certain you're in a position to succeed.”
I asked Kustok why she believes we have not seen more women working as analysts on NBA games?
“At any level and any sport, the analyst position is typically someone who played that sport at that level,” Kustok said. “I think as viewers the instinct is a desire to hear from individuals who have first-hand experience being in the shoes of the athletes they are speaking about and giving deeper insight into game situations having been there themselves. Doris Burke is the gold standard for a female analyst in the NBA and credit to her for showing how diligently entrenching yourself in the game can set someone apart and give that same type of insight and breakdown. It is not only about the playing career and how well an individual knows the game, but the ability to articulate and deliver all that knowledge."
Kustok said she enjoyed the experience and would love to get another assignment. “Basketball is my first love and the chance to be a bigger part of the game is exciting, incredibly fun, and always a goal,” she said. “The first time was good to get a feel for calling an NBA game, but as with anything, repetition is a necessity to work on your craft and on-air rhythm in order to improve. That challenge is something I would definitely welcome.”
2. CBS Sports has searched far and wide to find the right grouping for the NCAA Selection Show and this year I thought it did well with the quartet of host Greg Gumbel and analysts Seth Davis (who works for SI), Doug Gottlieb, and Clark Kellogg. The three analysts are immersed in the sport year-round and that’s the resume you want for a show like this. It’s not an easy show to do given the analysts don’t have much lead time with the selections and it’s only 40-something minutes of content.
CBS never reveals when it gets the selections for the NCAA but in some years it’s been 15-20 minutes before airtime. One element that would improve the show: CBS would be wise not to give a segment to the broadcasters calling the Final Four and title game. No disrespect to Jim Nantz, Grant Hill and Bill Raftery but that’s valuable time that could be far better served for viewers with staffers such as Davis, Gottlieb (always beloved by Twitter Nation) and Kellogg breaking down matchups.
2b. The college basketball schedule on ESPN averaged 1,376,000 viewers in 2014-15, the network’s second most-viewed season behind 2013-14. The two most-viewed games of the season were the February 18 game between Duke and North Carolina, which averaged 4,136,000 viewers, and the March 7 game between the same two teams, which averaged 4,241,000 viewers.
2c. ESPN2's Dec. 27 telecast of Kentucky at Louisville was the third most-viewed game (3,495,000 viewers) and also the network’s most-viewed men’s college hoops game ever.
2d. The network said it carried 1,714 men’s contests across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, ESPNEWS, SEC Network, SEC Network+ and Longhorn Network.
2e. All games on WatchESPN generated 607,000,000 minutes viewed, up 56 percent over 2013-14.
2f. ESPN’s highest-rated TV markets for men’s hoops: 1. Louisville (which was the top for the 13th straight year); No. 2. Greensboro; No. 3. Raleigh-Durham; No. 4. Kansas City; No. 5. Columbus; No. 6 Cincinnati; No. 7 Dayton; No. 8 Indianapolis; No. 9 Charlotte; and No. 10 Memphis.
2g. ESPN’s women’s college basketball telecasts averaged 405,000 viewers, up 36 percent from 2014. The top markets: 1. Hartford/New Haven; 2. Knoxville; T3. Louisville and Nashville; T5. Greenville, Dayton, Baltimore, Raleigh-Durham, Greensboro, Birmingham, New Orleans, and Albuquerque.
3. Kellogg will work as part of the Westwood One (radio) broadcast team as a game analyst for the Final Four and national championship. According to Westwood One, immediately following Kellogg’s work on the CBS/Turner pregame show, he will make his way courtside to the Westwood One radio broadcast position where he will join Kevin Kugler for the audio call. Then he will rejoin the television side for halftime, before repeating the process in the second half and postgame.
4. Sports pieces of note:
•Tremendous of Bryan Curtis to write this about the late Dave Goldberg, the longtime NFL beat writer for the AP and a solid guy.
•The Boston Globe’s Chad Finn with an enjoyable oral history of Larry Bird's 60-point game from 30 years ago today.
•SI’s Lee Jenkins on the success of the Atlanta Hawks.
•Feel-good story about bullying, a cheerleader and some junior high basketball players from Kenosha, Wisconsin.
•Enjoyed this from Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports on the beginning of the virtual reality revolution in football.
•SI’s S.L. Price, a Class of 1983 North Carolina graduate, returns to Chapel Hill following the academic scandal.
•New York Magazine’s Geoffrey Gray on Manny Pacquiao.
•Great work by SI’s Jenny Vrentas on the NFL draft's best OL prospect.
•The inspirational story of a missed half-court shot that went viral. Nice work by the Sporting News reporter Ryan Fagan.
•Nice work by CBS Sports producer Charlie Bloom on West Oso High School (Corpus Christi, Texas) coach Karl Turk.
4a. Non sports pieces of note:
•This piece by 16-year-old Anna Koppelman on dyslexia was terrific.
•"I Am Ashamed Of Who I Am On Twitter." Good think-piece by Jacob Brogan.
•Julia Ioffe, writing for The Washington Post, on Vladimir Putin’s disappearance.
•Grantland’s Rembert Browne invited Barack Obama for a chat on Air Force One. Well done piece here.
•Poynter’s Kelly McBride on journalism and public shaming.
•Via New Yorker: The Case to Release the Garner Grand-Jury Records
•If depression has hit you or your family, I’d urge you to read this from Grantland’s Mark Titus.
5. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas made his debut as co-anchor of ESPN SportsCenter Sunday night.
5a. The longtime Detroit News baseball writer Tom Gage—the winner of the 2015 J.G. Taylor Spinks award—left the paper on Friday after 39 years. This dude should be writing baseball somewhere.
5b. Here’s the television schedule for NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
5c. Sports Business Daily media reporter John Ourand reports that Colin Cowherd has discussed with ESPN president John Skipper the idea of a Bill Maher-style show.
5d. The prominent Los Angeles sportscaster Joe McDonnell sadly died last weekend. He was 58.
5e. In an SI exclusive, Fox will assign Pam Oliver to its No. 2 NFL team for the next two years.
5f. Peter Kafka of Re/code interviewed Bill Simmons this week at the South By Southwest Interactive festival and the interview produced a very revealing answer on whether his ESPN suspension last September has influenced his thinking about remaining with the company once is contract expires. The interview is here and pay particular attention to the last answer.