Sunday, February 26, 2012

Chronology of NCAA Tournament TV coverage (1982-1990)

CBS took over the network rights to the NCAA Tournament in 1982 and expanded its coverage over what NBC had done. Here is a summary of my research on NCAA tournament TV coverage for this time period: (all times are ET)

Note: The above link takes you to a section of 506sports which contains detailed TV schedules and announcers for these tournaments (free registration required to view).

UPDATE: This is the second of a three-part series. The first installment covers 1969-1981 while the third one covers 1991-present.


CBS introduced a half hour show on 3/7 at 5:30 pm to announce the 1982 tournament bracket on what is now known as Selection Sunday. CBS added coverage of the opening round with live late night games from the West Region on Thursday and Friday at 11:30 pm. On the opening weekend, CBS televised a tripleheader on Saturday beginning with a national telecast at noon and a regional doubleheader on Sunday. CBS actually televised an NBA game at noon on Sunday before its NCAA coverage, but would never cover an NBA game on an NCAA Tournament day again. For the regional semifinals, CBS carried a live 11:30 pm game from the West Region on Thursday and a tape delay game in the same timeslot on Friday. CBS also moved the first Final Four Saturday game to 3:30 pm. When NBC had the rights, the first Final Four game often started at 1 or 2 pm. The #1 CBS announcer team was Gary Bender and Billy Packer.

NCAA Productions televised all tournament games not picked up by CBS. ESPN continued to pick up many of these feeds and carried live doubleheaders on the opening Thursday and Friday nights. ESPN also ran many games on tape delay after the CBS 11:30 telecast both nights. For the regional semis, ESPN carried a prime time doubleheader each night along with a tape delay game after the CBS late night window.

In 1983, the tournament added four play-in games on the opening Tuesday. ESPN carried a live prime time doubleheader that night and showed the other two games on tape delay. Otherwise, the tournament coverage was similar to 1982.

In 1984, CBS expanded the opening weekend to a Sunday tripleheader which begin with a national telecast at noon. The rest of the CBS coverage was the same as the previous two years. This year there were five play-in games on the opening Tuesday. ESPN showed three of these live and the other two on tape delay. In the late night window on the Friday night of the 1984 regional semis, CBS provided regional coverage between a live game and another on tape delay. Otherwise, all of the CBS late night games of this era were national telecasts.


In 1985, the tournament expanded to 64 teams which eliminated the Tuesday play-in round. ESPN expanded its opening round coverage to carry five live games starting at noon on Thursday leading up to the 11:30 pm game on CBS. Then ESPN ran other games on tape delay overnight and the next morning. ESPN did the same thing on Friday. This resulted in almost non-stop basketball for 55 consecutive hours from Thursday noon through early Saturday evening. During its coverage, ESPN would also provide live cut-ins on other NCAA Productions games often providing the finish of a close game. However, the NCAA placed limits on how much live action ESPN could show from games other than the one it had selected as its primary telecast in that timeslot.

CBS also expanded the regional semifinals to a doubleheader each night in 1985. On Thursday CBS provided regional coverage of two games at 9 pm and carried a tape delay game at 11:30 pm. On Friday CBS aired a game at 10 pm and a tape delay game at 12:30 am. This left ESPN with only one live game each night. CBS also set the game times for the regional finals as 1:30 pm and 4 pm on both Saturday and Sunday, a pattern that would remain intact through 1990. Brent Musburger took over in 1985 as the CBS lead play-by-play voice and called the Final Four with Packer.

The 1986 and 1987 coverage was essentially the same as 1985. One interesting note from 1987 is that CBS televised a live game in the Friday night regional semifinal 12:30 am window. This marks the latest start time ever for a live NCAA Tournament telecast. Also, 1987 was the last year that CBS televised a tournament game on tape delay. During this era, when CBS aired a game on tape delay, in some cases a CBS affiliate in the local market of one of the schools would televise the game live.


In 1988, CBS took over the entire regional semifinals round showing doubleheaders both nights with two games regionalized in each window with tip times staggered by about 25 minutes. On these nights, CBS would only come on the air at 7:30 pm for tournament coverage in those markets which aired the 7:30 pm game in the early regional window. In all other markets the CBS prime time tournament coverage didn't start until 8 pm. CBS also moved the opening Final Four Saturday game to 5:30 pm. The 1989 coverage was similar to 1988.

In 1990, CBS expanded the opening Saturday to a quadrupleheader. Otherwise, the coverage was similar to the previous two years. This was the last year of the 11:30 pm CBS games from the opening round. It was also the final year of the ESPN/NCAA Productions involvement as CBS would take over the entire tournament the following season.


  1. what i remember about 1987 is that the unlv Wyoming game started after the late local news and because the first game went to ot it sarted at 1am!

  2. in 1986 we got a fourth game due to a tar heels game out west on saturday

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I also remember in the 2nd round in 1987 on Sunday we got the last game from the West Regional as the University of Iowa was playing UTEP and since we didn't have cable yet all of our channels were OTA. The Iowa game aired OTA on our DMA's CBS station which was out of Mason City IA. We had a booster on our TV antenna which allowed us to pick twin cities channels though.(remember those)

    1. I'd imagine that game preempted "60 Minutes" in the Iowa area.