North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Expanded NCAA tournament raises hopes, questions

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Like everybody else on the planet, I assumed that when the NCAA expanded it’s men’s basketball tournament – I’d argue it was never a question of if – that it would be to the proposed 96-team plan, the bracket to end all other brackets and tournaments.

Thankfully, the proposed expansion is much smaller.

The plan, as I understand it, is that the tournament will expand to 68 teams, three more then what it currently stands at. It also means that there will be four play-in games now, not just one.

It’s a plan that’s savvy, smart and probably a little ominous. Savvy because it gives all number one seeds the same advantage of beating up on an overmatched mid major; smart because it adds two days to the NCAA tournament, making the opportunity to cash in that much longer; ominous because there’s some fallout with how the games are packaged and sold.

Let’s skip to that second part – the one where the NCAA tournament expands by another two days. The way it’s currently set up, there’s a play-in game on the Tuesday before the tournament tips off. It should count as part of the tournament, but for all intents and purposes it doesn’t feel like it. It’s played on a Tuesday, it’s not included on March Madness on Demand and it’s not even on CBS, home of the tournament.

This new plan solves that problem; it’s one I’m not even sure anybody noticed existed. One would assume that under the new plan, there will be two play-in games on Tuesday and two more on Wednesday. It’s likely also why Turner Sports was brought into the broadcast package – there’s no way that CBS gives up four days of it’s prime time programming in March.

So now, there’s another two days of the tournament and a new broadcast partner in Turner Sports, who have three networks on which to air games. This solves another problem with the tournament – most people get a national feed of the tournament with jumps around from game to game to game, usually to and from the most interesting ones.

But there are more places for the games to air now. I’d assume this new contract would have some flex schedule built into it and that CBS can dictate which games air where.

If so, that would mean that each game from the first weekend on could air in it’s entirety, something that most basketball fans could have only previously done by watching online. After all, there no more then four games played at once; there are four networks could theoretically air games (TNT, TBS, truTV and CBS), giving each game a home.

This would put the power to switch between games back in the hands of fans. Or will it?

DirectTV offers a package called Mega March Madness, where they offer complete broadcasts of every game in their entirety. It’s a packaged arrangement where Direct TV sells ads for 56 games. This new arrangement has the possibility of wiping out that package’s purpose – something I’m not sure has ever happened in sports before.

I have a suspicion that their reaction may yet dictate how this new TV contract will actually work – and if games will air on more then just CBS and TNT.

The utopian option is all the games get broadcasted. The nuclear option is a split between TNT and CBS to carry games – perhaps TNT during the day and CBS at night, or TNT on weeknights and CBS on the weekend.

For me, the biggest question about the new deal is how DirectTV will react to it. And until it’s been answered, I’m reserving judgment on if I like the deal.

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Written by M.

April 23, 2010 at 4:08 pm

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