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ESPN firing led to Bill Walton's lowest point
1:57 | College Basketball
ESPN firing led to Bill Walton's lowest point
Wednesday March 30th, 2016

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This is the sixth year of the 14-year partnership between CBS Sports and Turner Sports to present the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship— the two entities paid $10.8 billion for the privilege—but 2016 is a monumental year in the deal: It marks the first time in history of the 78-year tournament that the national title game will air on TBS. The title game tips off at 9:18 p.m. on Monday.

CBS and Turner Sports executives will tell you that there is little difference between network and cable and that matchups determine the ratings. They’ve also said they will judge viewership success on the collective engagement on all platforms. That’s a smart answer when the television ratings go down, which they inevitably will with the title game not airing on CBS, as well as the ratings for the Elite Eight down significantly from last year.

“This tournament has consistently been driven ratings-wise regardless of networks,” said Turner Sports executive vice president Craig Barry. “It’s matchup-driven and I see that going forward.”

On the issue of educating consumers that the final is on cable television this year, Barry said Turner Sports has been very aggressive in marketing the change on various properties including the NBA as well as the tournament itself. “We have overcommunicated the destination for the championship game,” Barry said. “Hopefully as the partnership goes on and as we alternate years [with CBS], people will get used to the different networks.”

Here’s a mini viewer’s guide for what to expect for the Final Four and title game.

What times are the games on and where can I watch?

Oklahoma and Villanova will tip off Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET on TBS. North Carolina against Syracuse will follow 40 minutes after the conclusion of the first game. Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery and reporter Tracy Wolfson are the broadcasters for both games. Longtime CBS hands Mark Wolff (producer) and Bob Fishman (director) are the key production staffers.

What about the studio coverage?

Ernie Johnson will host studio coverage from the Final Four on Saturday and the title game on Monday. He’ll be joined by analysts Charles Barkley, Clark Kellogg and Kenny Smith. There will also be a second studio crew including host Greg Gumbel, analysts Reggie Miller and Steve Smith and insider Seth Davis.

What is happening with the team-specific broadcasts?

For the third consecutive year Turner will offer team-specific broadcasts for the Final Four. (This is the first year they will exist for the national title game.) TNT and truTV will air independently produced, team-specific coverage for both games. For the first game, the Oklahoma-specific broadcast will be featured on TNT, while the Villanova-specific broadcast will air on truTV. The second game will feature the North Carolina-specific broadcast on TNT; the Syracuse broadcast will air on truTV.

Streeter Lecka/Getty

Who will be the announcers for the Teamcasts?

Here’s an SI.com piece on all the team announcers.

What about commercials?

Viewers across all the networks will see the same commercials during the same breaks.

How did the team-specific broadcasts do last year?

Per John Ourand of Sports Business Daily: Last year's Kentucky Team Stream had 4.5 million viewers on TNT. The Wisconsin Team Stream had 1.3 million viewers via truTV.

What about the radio broadcast?

College Basketball
SI experts make their picks for Saturday’s Final Four games

Westwood One Sports’s Kevin Kugler provides the play-by-play, with Clark Kellogg and John Thompson as game analysts. Bill Walton will contribute analysis to the broadcast and Jim Gray serves as courtside reporter. Jason Horowitz hosts the pregame and halftime shows, with contributions from Doug Gottlieb and Bill Frieder.

What are some major changes from last year?

CBS and Turner say that neither Luther Vandross or Jennifer Hudson will be singing “One Shining Moment” this year. There will be a new artist. Sports Video Group has a story on the live virtual-reality game coverage of the Final Four National Championship.

What else is of interest?

Fishman, who has been with CBS for 40 years, will direct his 34th Final Four.

The Noise Report

(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)

1. Episode No. 49 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features longtime CBS college basketball broadcaster Bill Raftery, who will call the Final Four and national championship games. Raftery also works for FS1 during the college basketball regular season and Turner during the NCAA tournament.

In this episode, Raftery discusses how he prepares for games, why he did not covet the top analyst job at CBS before getting it, the most memorable games he’s called, his longtime relationship with Verne Lundquist, when and how he uses the lines he’s most known for such as “onions,” whether he thought about returning to coaching, how he got into broadcasting, the last time he saw Jerome (“Send it in, Jerome”) Lane, whether his legendary drinking stories are myth or truth, the documentary his son, Billy, directed on his life, his relationship with coaches, his Jim Boeheim impression, and much more.

A reminder: you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher, and you can view all of SI’s podcasts here. If you have any feedback, questions or suggestions, please comment here or tweet at me.

1a. SBD’s Austin Karp reported that CBS and Turner Sports averaged a 6.0 overnight rating for the four NCAA tournament games last weekend, down 25% from an 8.0 overnight last year.

1b. Check out this feature on Flint, Mich., produced by CBS Sports producer Sarah Rinaldi.

2. Legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully discussed his final year with the Orange County Register.

3. Episode No. 48 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features WWE broadcaster Renee Young, who works in a number of on-air positions for WWE, including anchoring pay-per-view Pre-Show panels on the WWE Network and hosting WWE Unfiltered. Prior to her WWE role, Young—whose real name is Renee Pacquette—worked at the Score Network out of Toronto as an anchor and host. Young will be part of WrestleMania 32 coverage on the WWE Network, which airs on that channel on April 3 at 7 p.m. from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

In this episode, Young discusses how she became a WWE broadcaster, how much of her role is scripted vs. improv, the surreal nature of changing her name for a broadcasting job (including providing an alternate name while applying for her green card), auditioning for SportsNation after Michelle Beadle left ESPN for NBC, whether she fears getting typecast as a WWE-only performer, the blurring lines of having a relationship with someone in the company (she is currently dating the wrestler known as Dean Ambrose), why she considers Paul Heyman and Stephanie McMahon are genius on-air performers, whether she hopes to be on WWE Raw in the future, if she would be willing to take part in an in-ring storyline, the best dishes to eat when in Canada and much more.

3a. On Monday I examined why ESPN has increased its WWE content.

4. Some stories worth reading:

• SI’s Joan Niesen on two Somalia teens attempting to find soccer salivation in the States.

• ESPN’s Elizabeth Merrill on UConn All-America Breanna Stewart.

• Ryan Glasspiegel profiled the longtime NBA reporter and commentator Peter Vescey.

• SI’s Alan Shipnuck on what happened to Tiger Woods.

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5. ESPN will air the 1966 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball tournament championship game on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Texas Western’s 72–65 win over Kentucky was a seminal moment in the sport: the Miners started five African-American players in the game.

5a. NBC Sports will air 29 hours of coverage of the 2016 ISU World Figure Skating Championships from TD Garden in Boston, Mass., between NBC and NBCSN. The coverage begins this Wednesday, March 30, at noon ET with the short dance on NBCSN. It’s the first time since 2009 that the Worlds are being held in the U.S.

5b. The noon–1:30 p.m. ET SportsCenter will have bicoastal anchors starting April 5. David Lloyd will be based in ESPN’s Bristol, Ct., studios while Cari Champion will do the show from ESPN’s Los Angeles Production Center.

5c. MLB Network will debut Play Ball, a new weekly show hosted by Harold Reynolds geared toward kids, on April 9 at 10 a.m. ET. The show, according to the network, will feature one-on-one baseball demonstrations and conversations with some of the top players in the game.

5d. Jon Sciambi and analyst Chris Singleton return as the lead team for ESPN Radio’s MLB coverage.

5e. FS1 will air a marathon of The White Shadow beginning Thursday at 6 a.m.

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