March Madness men’s tournament viewer’s guide: How to watch, who’s on the call and more – The Athletic

By Richard Deitsch7h ago

Those charged with broadcasting the NCAA men’s basketball tournament have always been honest about the realities of the tournament. They want Cinderellas, of course, but they prefer these magical creatures make an early arrival and a short stay. Because at a certain point in the tournament, when it comes to historical television viewership, you need teams that are proven TV draws.

Last year’s Final Four consisted of a No. 4 seed (UConn), two No. 5 seeds (Miami and San Diego State) and a No. 9 (Florida Atlantic), and as fun as it was to see some unexpected teams advance deep, it was a disaster for ratings. UConn’s 76-59 win over San Diego State in the men’s title game drew 14.69 million viewers on CBS, the least-watched men’s title game on record. Viewership was down 14 percent from the 2022 title game between Kansas and North Carolina on TBS, TNT and TruTV.

Advertisement

One of the biggest media-centric stories for this year’s tournament is whether last year’s viewership was an aberration. The national semifinals and title game will air on TBS, which has fewer households than CBS. It presents challenges for the production. But the tournament will always have interest given how many people fill out brackets and gamble on the games.

“I think a lot of this is sort of (matchup)-driven,” said Luis Silberwasser, the Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery Sports. “When you look at sports in general, I think the trend in viewership across the board is very positive. Whether it’s us on NBA and NHL or whether the Super Bowl that CBS just did, the ratings in sports in general are on an upward trend. Clearly, a lot of these things have to do with who’s playing at the end of the day. We can’t guarantee who ends up in the final. We’ll see what the ratings are.”

One of the most important jobs this year for broadcasters and behind-the-scenes people is to educate viewers on who the players and teams are. This tournament lacks Zion Williamson-type stars, and many traditional blue-blood programs — including Kentucky, Duke and Kansas — are ranked outside the top 10.

“You’re not going to know about all 68 teams that are in the tournament, and it’s our job to not just tell you the story of Kentucky and UConn and those players, but also those kids who are, say, the SWAC champion,” said CBS lead director Mark Grant. “They have parents who are in the stands (and) are going to pray that their son makes the free throw. They have stories to be told as well.”

March is always an exciting time for college basketball and below, we provide a guide to watching the men’s tournament. Note: All times listed are ET.

How can I watch the games?

All 67 games will be televised across four national television networks — TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV — and streaming via the NCAA March Madness Live app for those with access to those channels through a TV provider. Games airing on CBS will stream live on Paramount+ while games on TBS, TNT and truTV will stream live on Max’s B/R Sports Add-On. NCAA March Madness Live will be available to download across 19 platforms.

Advertisement

How do I watch the Final Four?

The national semifinals and title game will air on TBS. We repeat: TBS will televise the men’s semifinals on April 6 (game times of 6 and 8 p.m.), and then the national championship on April 8 (9 p.m.). This year’s Final Four is not on CBS as part of the latest media rights deal, which has CBS and TBS alternating coverage each year.

What about the rounds before the Final Four?

The Elite Eight games are split between TBS and CBS. TBS will air the East and West Regional finals on March 30, beginning at 6 p.m., while CBS will broadcast the South and Midwest Regional finals on March 31 starting at 2 p.m. Sweet 16 games begin on TBS at 7:30 p.m. on March 28 and CBS at 7 p.m. on March 29.

The first round begins Thursday at 12:15 p.m. on CBS with No. 9 seed Michigan State taking on No. 8 Mississippi State. Here are the full schedules for Thursday and Friday.

The First Four, with all games on truTV, began Tuesday and continues Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, with back-to-back games starting at 6:40 p.m.

In total: TBS will televise 21 games throughout the tournament; CBS will broadcast 21 games; truTV will air a total of 13 games and TNT will televise 12 games.

Who will call the games involving my team?

The broadcaster assignments only go through the opening rounds. Click here for the full schedule.

The lead team of Ian Eagle, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson will call Friday and Sunday games from the Brooklyn, N.Y., pod, including East Regional No. 1 seed and defending champion UConn and South No. 4 seed Duke.

Brian Anderson, Jim Jackson and Allie LaForce will call Thursday and Saturday games in Charlotte, N.C., including the Spartans-Bulldogs first-round opener and West No. 1 seed North Carolina.

Kevin Harlan, Dan Bonner, Stan Van Gundy and Andy Katz will be in Indianapolis, which includes Midwest No. 1 seed Purdue. Spero Dedes, Jim Spanarkel and Jon Rothstein get the First Four and the Memphis pod, which features South No. 1 seed Houston.

Advertisement

The other broadcast crews: Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas and Evan Washburn (Pittsburgh pod); Lisa Byington, Steve Smith, Robbie Hummel and Lauren Shehadi (Spokane, Wash.); Tom McCarthy, Deb Antonelli, Avery Johnson and AJ Ross (Omaha, Neb.); and Brad Nessler, Brendan Haywood and Dana Jacobson (Salt Lake City).

Eagle, Anderson, Harlan and Catalon’s crews will call the four regional final rounds in the tournament’s second weekend, with specific assignments to be determined.

Grant Hill and Bill Raftery return as analysts on the lead broadcast crew, this time joined by Ian Eagle on play-by-play. (Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

Who will be in the studio?

Ernie Johnson will host studio coverage from the CBS Broadcast Center in New York, joined by Charles Barkley, Clark Kellogg and Kenny Smith. Greg Gumbel, normally a staple of the coverage, stepped away this year due to family health issues.

Adam Lefkoe will host studio coverage from TNT Sports Studios in Atlanta alongside Jay Wright, Candace Parker and Seth Davis. Adam Zucker will also serve as a host from New York with analyst Wally Szczerbiak. Jamie Erdahl will provide game updates.

What’s the biggest story involving a broadcaster?

Eagle has replaced Jim Nantz as the lead voice of the tournament. He, Raftery, Hill and Wolfson will call the entire Final Four in Glendale, Ariz., airing on TBS. Eagle said that he and Raftery have called 600 basketball games together — they were longtime partners on the NBA’s Nets broadcasts. Eagle has also previously worked with Hill in college basketball.

“It’s great to be part of a team that are close friends and people that I have a lot of chemistry and familiarity because we’ve all worked together and known each other for so long,” Eagle said. “In normal circumstances, it might feel like this is going to be a completely different role, a completely new position. But in many ways, it doesn’t feel like that at all because of all of the shared experiences with Raf and Grant and Tracy.”

“This is our first time together with the NCAA Tournament, but I know him like I know my brother,” said producer Mark Wolff, who has produced Eagle’s NFL booth for the past 10 years. “There’s nothing new there. … It’s our duty to create an environment where they flourish, and I think we have a great starting point to do that.”

Advertisement

Anything else notable with the broadcasters?

Catalon and Lappas will call games through the regional finals this year (and Katz will be a reporter). Hummel, the former Purdue star who has earned praise for his work with the Big Ten Network, has joined as a game analyst for the first and second rounds. Erdahl, the host of the NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football,” will provide updates as she is due to give birth next month. Gene Steratore will serve as rules analyst throughout the tournament and will be on-site in Phoenix for the Final Four.

How does the number of cameras change for the NCAA Tournament?

For a regular-season college basketball game, CBS would normally use 12 to 14 cameras, including eight manned cameras. The number goes up to 20 for the early rounds. The Final Four might provide 50 or so.

“There was a play last year where a player (Miami’s Nijel Pack) blew out his tennis shoe and one of the managers had to run down the down the hallway to go get another,” Grant recalled. “We were able to take a shot of that manager running down the hallway because we had a camera in the hallway. The bigger the stakes are, the more equipment we have.”

 

What if I live in Canada?

TSN and TSN+ (which costs extra on top of TSN) will have coverage of all men’s and women’s tournament games. Both finals will air on TSN, TSN.ca, and the TSN app.

Have any fun facts to leave us with?

Did you know that Grant Hill’s first college basketball game as a broadcaster was Notre Dame at Duke in 2015 where he served as an analyst for … Ian Eagle.

“He wasn’t sure exactly who the play-by-play announcer was,” Eagle recalled. “He thought Jim Nantz was staying at the hotel under a pseudonym, Iron Eagle, like the movie. Then he realized, no, it was going to be actually Ian Eagle to call the game. Now all these years later, we’ll be calling the games together.”

(Top photo of Ian Eagle, the new TV voice of the Final Four: G Fiume / Getty Images)

Get all-access to exclusive stories.

Subscribe to The Athletic for in-depth coverage of your favorite players, teams, leagues and clubs. Try a week on us.

Start Free Trial

Richard Deitsch is a media reporter for The Athletic. He previously worked for 20 years for Sports Illustrated, where he covered seven Olympic Games, multiple NCAA championships and U.S. Open tennis. Richard also hosts a weekly sports media podcast. Follow Richard on Twitter @richarddeitsch

Source

×