NCAA Pleased with CBS/Turner Partnership

A year ago, a number of critical question marks hovered around the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. What would CBS’s partnership with Turner Sports mean for the availability of games? What the heck in this First Four thing? TruTV? What’s that?

By the time Kemba Walker, Jim Calhoun, and the UConn Huskies were cutting down the nets in Houston as national champs all the questions had received resounding positive answers. The production level and synergy between the media companies was superb, the First Four produced a Final Four team in Virginia Commonwealth, and viewers loved the ability to channel surf through full games on their own terms. They even had no trouble finding TruTV.

“We couldn’t have asked for much more from day one,” says Greg Weitekamp, director of broadcasting for the NCAA at a tournament preview press conference in New York hosted by CBS and Turner. “They’ve been great partners from the start as far as bringing this together. Overall, the reality of what we wanted was simply to allow the fans to see all of the games and, with the evolution of technology, certainly we had March Madness On-Demand before, but now having all on the networks has been great for us. Membership has been pleased with it and certainly the viewers have been pleased with it.”

Last year was the first where CBS wasn’t the sole home for the NCAA Tournament. Now, as many as four games at a time can air in their entirety on CBS, TNT, TBS, and TruTV. TruTV was the lone, unknown of the group, though the reality television-based network proved to be a suitable home. Even CBS Sports president Sean McManus cracked that he knew the CBS/Turner partnership would work when he “heard Marv Albert read a promo for the Masters and Jim Nantz read a promo for Hardcore Pawn.”

“We were aware of [TruTV] and had lengthy conversations about each of the networks and how [the tournament] fit,” said Greg Shaheen, interim vice president of the NCAA. “We knew that part of the strategy here was to be aware of what each network brought to the table and what the tournament could bring to the network. We have to be serious about what we stand for, but we also have to be careful not to take ourselves so seriously that we’re not aware of what goes on in the real world.

“TruTV is a platform that we are pleased to have involved in our first weekend,” he added. “Turner has kept its promise to keep an eye on the type of programming that airs there.”

Once the tournament field is set on Sunday night, the NCAA’s main role will be to coordinate between the braodcasters, teams, and venues to ensure everything goes smoothly.

“We do a lot of planning with them in terms of some of the restrictions in regards to what should be done,” says Weitekamp, who will be stationed in Atlanta with Shaheen during the tournament’s first weekend. “We make sure the teams are well aware of their obligations for sitting down and doing interviews whether its at halftime or for pre-production interviews. So Sunday night as the schedule is being looked at we will be working hand-in-hand with both Turner and CBS in terms of what the game schedule will be. We allow them to take the first crack at it than we go through it with a fine-toothed comb.

“Than throughout the tournament its all about being in constant communication,” he added. “We hope that we have done our job ahead and that there are no issues.”

This year’s field will again begin with the First Four on Tuesday and Wednesday. A group of eight teams – comprised of the four lowest seeded teams and the four last at-large teams – will play to enter the field of 64. From 2001 to 2010 the NCAA added a “Play-in game” which added a 65th team to the field. The two lowest seeded teams played to see who would meet the field’s number one overall seed in the first round.

“The 64-team bracket is symmetrical,” says Shaheen, who attended every play-in game in Dayton since 2001. “Once it went to 65 it was great but you couldn’t get around how the teams participating felt. They felt like an afterthought and every year I took that to heart. So the conversation in our meetings was do we go back to 64 or do we go to 68. We felt there was an opportunity to do some special things there by doing the First Four.”

The First Four tips off on TruTV on Tuesday night with Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg, and Steve Kerr – the same broadcast team that will handle the Final Four – providing the call.

“Its great to see the legitimacy that Jim, Clark, and Steve bring by being there,” says Shaheen. “Those things mean a lot to our committee and our membership, and it means a lot to the kids.”

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