This is year three of the CBS/Turner 14-year partnership to broadcast the NCAA men's basketball tournament and the marriage has been successful for everyone, especially viewers. The tournament airs over four networks (CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV) and offers viewers the power to be sports television programmers. The networks have also held up their pledge to alert viewers when a better game exists away from the one they are watching.
Last year's tournament averaged 9.6 million viewers, down six percent in viewership from the previous year (10.2 million) but up from 2010 coverage. The championship game proved a ratings highlight: Kentucky's victory over Kansas was seen by an average of 20.9 million viewers, an increase of four percent over the previous year.
CBS/Turner has wisely kept the changes to a minimum this year. Here is a primer on viewing this year's NCAA tournament:
When does the basketball start?
The tournament tips off on truTV on Tuesday with first-round games in Dayton, Ohio (North Carolina A&T vs. Liberty and Middle Tennessee vs. St. Mary's). Marv Albert and Steve Kerr will call those games, with Craig Sager as the courtside reporter. Last year Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr called the opening games, but CBS/Turner opted for a change this year. Nantz, Kerr and Kellogg will call the first-round games on Wednesday in Dayton (LIU Brooklyn-James Madison and Boise State-LaSalle).
"In Year One of the partnership we felt we needed Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr because we wanted to show the importance of this partnership," said Turner Sports president David Levy. "Having Jim, who had done the finals for many years, be on truTV showed there wasn't going to be any 'This is CBS' or 'This is Turner.' Now that you've seen what this partnership is about, we think it was OK to move away from that. But I think whether you have Jim Nantz or Marv Albert, there is no drop-off."
How many games will each network broadcast?
Turner Sports will televise 41 games across its three television networks (TBS, TNT and truTV). TBS will air 16 games including games in the second round, third round and Sweet 16. TruTV will air 13 games including the First Four games, second and third rounds. TNT will televise 12 games including second and third round games. CBS will broadcast 26 games including the Final Four and national championship.
What happens if I'm watching a blowout?
Same thing as last year. Game announcers (as well as the scoreboard on the top of the screen) will inform you when a tight game is taking place on another network. Eric Mann, who has produced studio shows for CBS Sports for years, said that the network will also alert viewers during halftime coverage.
Are there any significant broadcasting changes?
Not too many. Doug Gottlieb will work the opening round before heading to the studio. Rachel Nichols and Allie LaForce are new sideline reporters. Lesley Visser will serve as a contributor on features after years on the sideline. The first four teams below will call the regional rounds while Nantz, Kellogg and Kerr will broadcast the title game. The complete list of teams:
Jim Nantz/Clark Kellogg/Tracy Wolfson
Marv Albert/Steve Kerr/Craig Sager
Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery/Rachel Nichols
Ian Eagle/Jim Spanarkel/Allie LaForce
Brian Anderson/Dan Bonner/Marty Snider
Tim Brando/Mike Gminski/Otis Livingston
Spero Dedes/Doug Gottlieb/Jaime Maggio
Nantz/Kellogg/Kerr (Final Four and title game)
What about the studio coverage?
Very similar to last year. Turner and CBS will again have two studios, one based in New York and one based in Atlanta. The main studio hosts will be Greg Gumbel and Ernie Johnson. Barkley, Greg Anthony and Kenny Smith will be based in New York City while Matt Winer anchors the coverage from Atlanta with Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and Steve Smith.
Starting with the regional finals, Gottlieb will join the studio team in New York and Johnson will head to the Atlanta studio to host alongside Davis and Smith. The studio coverage for the First Four games Tuesday will originate from Atlanta and consist of Barkley, Kenny Smith, Steve Smith and Winer. Davis and Steve Smith will be the studio analysts for the games on Wednesday from Dayton. "I think Doug Gottlieb will have a major impact in the studio," said McManus. "Doug is someone who has a lot of opinions and expresses them."
Anyone around in case a rules controversy occurs?
Yes. John W. Adams, NCAA coordinator of officials, will be at the Atlanta studios the first week and New York City the following week. He'll be available to all networks.
We should expect a coach to eventually get a studio gig, right?
Of course. CBS and CBS Sports Television will definitely add coaches to its studio coverage starting with the first weekend's set of games. Last year, St. John's coach Steve Lavin and Villanova's Jay Wright were among those added. "It all depends who is available," Mann said. "It is often a marquee coach whose team gets upset. A lot of the coaches in college are very TV-savvy. But we're not rooting against anyone."
CBS and Turner are very different companies with different philosophies and locations. Why has this partnership worked?
"When Sean and I first started talking we said from Day One, this can't be a cable-broadcast package," said Levy. "This has to be two media companies going in equally. The second thing is it comes down from the top. There has never been a situation where we needed to go back to the contact to see what it says. Anything that has come up the last two and half years, Sean and I have been able to handle it."
"We set up a completely equal partnership on all levels," McManus added. "We agreed to share production, sales and sat down and figured out who are the best announcers we can put together from both places. With over $10 billion at stake plus the production costs, I think David and I realized that this was going to be a project we handled completely hands-on from Day One."
Any other studio notes we need to know?
The CBS Sports Network will air 90 hours of live studio programming during the tournament including encore showings of every tournament game that aired on CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. At the Final Four, the network will provide live coverage of Final Four Friday team practices from the Georgia Dome on April 5 (11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m., ET).
How much will Twitter be part of the on-air broadcast?
Both top executives said they were in favor of it as long as it was not intrusive. Look for it during halftime or pregame rather than game coverage. "It's a question of balance -- how much does the viewer care what our announcers say on Twitter," McManus asked. "It has to be additive."
What should we know about the women's tournament?
ESPN treats the tournament like a serious sports property and that's appreciated by those of us who follow the sport. The field will be announced Monday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, and every game of the tournament (63 games) will air on the ESPN networks. ESPN and ESPN2 will present its telecasts in a whip-around format with home market protection through the first two rounds. (ESPN3 will offer first- and second-round games in their entirety as a supplement). The final 15 games, beginning with the regional semifinals, will have national telecast windows on ESPN or ESPN2. Kevin Negandhi replaces Trey Wingo as the main studio host alongside Kara Lawson and Carolyn Peck.
Can I watch the tournament at my office again?
Absolutely. March Madness Live will offer free streaming of every game of the tournament across online, mobile and tablet devices to pay TV subscribers. Viewers can get access to all games on TNT, TBS and truTV on the digital device of their choice by logging in with their TV service provider information. (The games broadcast on CBS do not require registration.) If you are not a pay TV subscriber or opt not to log in through your provider, March Madness Live does have a feature where you can watch up to four hours of live game streaming without viewer registration. The coverage will be available on NCAA.com, CBSSports.com and Bleacher Report along with Google Play and the App Store. Fans will also have direct access to live radio broadcasts, courtesy of Westwood One/Dial Global Radio Network.
What are the major production changes this year?
"You might see some new cameras, including some slo-mo cameras," said Levy. "We also have some talent that's new. But the gist of the biggest changes will be mostly on the digital side. The March Madness Live app will have new social network areas, new bracket opportunities, and more interaction between consumers and information."
What do CBS employees think of working with Barkley?
"I had Terry Bradshaw back in the day and to me he is very similar to Terry," Mann said. "He can do serious. He can do funny. He can say something outrageous. You never know what he's going to say and the viewers at home don't know, either. There's always great discussions going on at commercial breaks with Charles. He'll go after me in the control room, saying, 'I cant believe we are out here for 12 hours.' One of the first times I saw him I told him, 'Charles, my first tip for you is don't drink a lot of water during this tournament because there are very few bathroom breaks. We are doing 12 straight hours.' He said, 'I don't know if I can do that.' I said, 'Well, you'll learn.' Whenever we get a break for commercial, I'll say, 'We can take a five' and I'll hear him yell, 'Make it a 10.'"
Anything off the beaten path we should keep our eye on?
Sports Business Daily media reporter John Ourand recently reported that CBS and Turner are negotiating to allow Turner to show the Final Four as soon as next year as part of an option under their NCAA tournament deal. Turner was set to begin televising the Final Four in 2016. If Turner ends up with the final weekend -- and Ourand predicted they would -- it would be another major sporting event migrating to cable.
What happens if you are in your car during games?
Dial Global Sports owns the radio broadcast of the tournament. Check your local listings for the station in your area which has the games. Sirius XM Radio will broadcast every game of the championship on Sirius channels 91, 92, 93, 94 and 85 and XM channels 91, 190, 191, 192 and 85. SiriusXM College Sports Nation will also feature daily talk and analysis from a roster including former coaches Tom Brennan, Bobby Cremins, Steve Lappas, and Bruce Pearl, as well as former National Champion at Michigan State Mateen Cleaves.
Is there a super team this year?
"I think we would have had a team, had [Duke's] Ryan Kelly not gotten hurt, they would have separated themselves from the rest," said Kellogg of Duke. "The way they were playing, who they had played, they were on the verge of beginning to create that kind of separation where you would have pretty much a consensus No. 1. But that did not happen."
So who is going to win?
Most of the CBS and Turner analysts admitted they had no clue. "Last year we had Kentucky that was so dominant but to me that is the exception rather than the rule," Kerr said. "Two seasons ago we had VCU and Butler in the Final Four. That's what it feels like this year. There could be teams sliding in from anywhere. Every team that has been No. 1 this year has almost immediately lost. I do think the Big Ten this year is best, conference depth wise, but I think plenty of teams could make a deep run.
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week)
1. An interview with Barkley always provides plenty of material and one of the things he said he tries to focus on during the NCAA tournament is not to evaluate college players in the same manner as he does the NBA. "They are kids, they are not making millions of dollars," Barkley said. "I make a conscious effort to separate it. I don't want to try to translate when I am watching a college kid to how he will be doing in the NBA. That to me is probably my toughest job. Because there's kids who are terrific college players who got no chance of playing in the NBA. I have to make sure that I don't confuse the two."
2. Barkley had plenty of opinions on who should stay in school after this year and why. "The [Kentucky's Nerlens] Noel kid needs to stay in school another year," Barkley said. "I know it's not an easy decision ... He is not better than Anthony Davis and Anthony Davis is struggling physically. I don't think these guys understand how physically imposing the NBA is. Kentucky had six guys last year and ain't none of them made an impact. Not one. It hurts my game, man. In the NBA, the draft is designed for a bad team to get help. My bad teams didn't get any help. That undermines the integrity of the game. Like as a fan, if my team is [expletive], I will say, 'OK, I got some good young players.' I loved all those Kentucky guys, but they're not making an impact in the NBA, and that's not fair to the game. I want to have a good young team if I got lottery picks. And I haven't seen anything from those Kentucky players to say, 'OK, I got a good player going forward."
3. Who would Barkley take at the top of the NBA draft? "I can't go wrong with [Ben] McLemore [of Kansas]. I'm not sure who I take if I need a point guard but if I need a two-guard, I take McLemore. I like him a lot. I think [Victor] Olidipo [of Indiana] is a two-guard. I don't know how well he shoots it but if he is a legit 6-4, 6-5, I would still take McLemore. I love how hard the kid plays. My shooting guard has to be a shooter and the McLemore kid is a better shooter in my opinion."
4. Like the rest of us, Barkley is not exactly sure who will win the NCAA tournament. "If anyone gets all these Final Four teams right, it will be a miracle," Barkley said. "Going into this tournament I don't think anyone will be shocked if anyone is in the Final Four. They keep telling me the Big Ten is the best conference but I think they are a little overrated. They don't have a bunch of great players. When I said a few years ago I thought the Big East was overrated, it was. The reason I said they were overrated was they had a bunch of good teams but no great teams."
5. Remember Manti Te'o? Well, Barkley thinks he knew what was going on with the fictitious Lennay Kekua all along. "He's a kid, but he was in on that thing," Barkley said. "And Notre Dame was in on it, too. It bothers me. Listen, as my girl Judge Judy says, if it don't make sense, I'm not going to believe it. If I am a college coach and my best player tells me his girlfriend died, I'm like 'Let's go to the funeral.' Or I am like, 'Dude, what are you at practice every day if your girlfriend died?' So everybody was in on it. It's crazy. I feel bad that they would perpetrate something like that."
6. Here's Pac-12 analyst Bill Walton on the dribbling plague in college basketball: "I love guys that shoot without dribbling. When I watch basketball, I say, 'What has happened to this game?' All it is these little guys dribbling incessantly, aimlessly, without purpose, only to draw attention to themselves. Please save us."
7. As first reported by SI.com in January, Ray Lewis officially joined ESPN as an analyst last week. He will appear on Monday Night Countdown at the site of each week's Monday Night Football game, Sunday Night Countdown and SportsCenter, and will also contribute to ESPN's Super Bowl coverage. ESPN said Lewis may also host specials similar to Jon Gruden's QB Camp series. He is expected to start on Aug. 1.
8. Among the memorable sports pieces over the last week
? Earl Badu hit one of the most famous shots in Maryland basketball history. Ten years later, he jumped off a bridge. Remarkable work from SB Nation.
? SI.com's Dan Greene wrote a great piece on Georgetown's Otto Porter.
? Brian Joiner of The Classical wrote a really interesting piece following the Twitter suspension of Bill Simmons for his comments about ESPN's First Take.
? A can't-miss non-sports piece: This is one of the greatest obituaries you will ever read.
9. HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel has a follow-up interview this month with former Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones, who is aiming to make the U.S. bobsledding team for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Among the other profiles on a loaded show: former boxer Mike Tyson, transgender athlete Gabrielle Ludwig, and an examination of extreme sports following the death of snowmobiler Caleb Moore at the 2013 Winter X-Games. The episode debuts March 19 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
10. Miscellaneous: ESPN will air every round of the NCAA Division I wrestling championships (from March 21-23) on its multiple networks, with the finals airing on ESPN on March 23 at 8 p.m. Referees will wear a microphone for viewers during the bouts.
10a. Former NFL quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Mark Malone will partner for a national radio show (McNabb & Malone) on the NBC Sports Network. The show will air from 3-7 p.m. ET Monday-Friday and will start on April 1.
10b. Barkley thinks it's time for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to coach the Olympic basketball team: "I love Mike Krzyzewski and he's done a great job but it's time for Gregg Popovich to be the Olympic basketball coach," says Barkley. "He should be the Olympic basketball coach sooner rather than later."