The burgeoning bromance between CBS and Turner Sports was on full display this week inside a third-floor hotel banquet room at the swank Le Parker Meridien hotel in Manhattan. With their bosses seated behind them at the head of the room, Turner's Charles Barkley and CBS analyst Len Elmore chatted amicably about the upcoming NCAA tournament. Barkley, who works exclusively on NBA coverage, conceded that the college game presented a staggering amount of players and teams. Elmore, a soft-spoken lawyer who has broadcast college basketball for CBS and ESPN the past decade, told Barkley he had covered nearly 70 college games this season and was happy to provide some tutelage. "Call me anytime if you need something, Elmore told Barkley. "Happy to help."
Barkley is not the only one who can use some March Madness guidance. This year represents a seismic shift for viewers as tournament moves to four networks (CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV) from one (CBS). But help is on the way. Below, SI.com offers a primer on viewing this year's NCAA tournament.
(Editor's note: Turner Sports is in partnership with SI.com and runs the site's business operations.)
The First Four winners will advance to what is now known as the second round. The scheduled start times for these games on March 17 (Thursday) and March 18 (Friday) are as follows: noon (CBS), 12:30 p.m. (truTV), 1:30 p.m. (TBS) and 2 p.m. (TNT). The second set of games begin at 2:30 p.m. (CBS), 3 p.m. (truTV), 4 p.m. (TBS) and 4:30 p.m. (TNT). Then we get to prime time. TBS opens the coverage with a 6:45 p.m. tip-off followed by games at 7 p.m. (CBS), 7:15 p.m. (TNT and truTV). The final games of the night begin at 9:15 p.m. (TBS), 9:30 p.m. (CBS), 9:45 p.m. (TNT), and 9:55 p.m. (truTV).
CBS will televise four games on the opening weekend, beginning March 19 at noon. CBS will also air games at 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. TNT will carry games at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. TBS will have games at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. The schedule the following day (Sunday, March 20) will be the same with the exception of truTV's airing the 7:30 p.m. game that CBS had the previous day.
The regional semifinal games on March 24 and March 25 will air on CBS (starting times are 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.) and TBS (7:15 p.m. and 9:55 p.m.).
CBS will broadcast the Elite Eight games (March 26-27). The Saturday start times are 4:20 p.m. and 6:55 p.m. The Sunday games will tip at 2:10 p.m. and 4:55 p.m.
The national semifinals take place on CBS on Saturday, April 2. The start times are 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. The championship game (Monday, April 4, 9 p.m.) will also air on CBS.
The new "March Madness Social Area" is a virtual meeting place for fans, as well as for Turner social hosts/reporters who will cull through social media (including CBS and TBS reporters) to provide the most interesting tweets and social trends regarding the tournament. Fans will be able to interact with the social hosts, comment on games, and vote on the most impressive highlight of the day. As part of a deal with Facebook and NCAA.com, fans can "Like" teams in each round and build a team's social score as part of a bracket.
David Aldridge, Sam Ryan, Craig Sager, Marty Snider, Lesley Visser and Tracy Wolfson will serve as reporters during the tournament.
CBS will also have a pregame show presence. The network's traditional "Road To The Final Four" show will air before its Elite Eight coverage on March 26 and March 27. CBS also has a pregame show before the Final Four, at 4 p.m. on April 2.
The opening night (March 15) studio team (airing from the Atlanta studios) will consist of Gumbel, Anthony, Barkley, Davis, Johnson and Smith. Turner will break the sextet into subgroups at different times during the evening. That group (sans Davis) will be in New York for Thursday's games. truTV's pregame and postgame on the opening Thursday and Friday features Winer, Davis and Smith.
Does Barkley actually know college basketball? We'll find out. Said Barkley: I'm not going to watch 100 college basketball teams play, that's bulls--t. I'm going to do the best job of watching 30 or 40 teams play and the rest I'm going to have to get my college coach friends [to help] and other college analysts [to help]. Some of these teams you can watch one time, but that doesn't mean I know them."