Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chronology of NCAA Tournament TV coverage (1991-present)

This is the third part of a series. The first installment covered 1969-1981 while the second one covered 1982-1990. All times are ET except where noted.

In 1991, CBS took over the entire NCAA tournament. For the opening Thursday and Friday, CBS provided regional coverage with somewhat staggered starts in two afternoon windows starting at noon and two prime time windows. For sites in the Mountain or Pacific time zone, the first game aligned with the second afternoon window while the second game started around 5 pm and was outside of the CBS regional windows. CBS carried the 5 pm game but only in limited markets. The Mountain/Pacific sites lined up with  the same two prime time windows as the other sites. This meant there was a much shorter break between sessions at those arenas. For the prime time coverage, CBS came on the air at 7:30 pm only in those markets which got a 7:30 pm game. In most of the country, CBS came on the air at 8 pm and carried a game starting at that time. The same was true for the regional semis coverage.

For the rest of the opening weekend, CBS continued to show a Saturday quadrupleheader starting with a national game at noon. On Sunday, CBS carried a regional tripleheader staring with two games at noon. In  previous years CBS had featured a national game at noon on that Sunday. This was also the first year that the early Saturday regional final started at 3:30 pm. Also, in 1991 CBS installed Jim Nantz as the lead play-by-play announcer and he worked the Final Four with Billy Packer.

In 1995, CBS expanded the Selection Show to one hour and started it at 6 pm. CBS also started its prime time coverage at 7:30 pm in all markets for the opening Thursday and Friday and for the regional semis. This was also the first year that the early Sunday regional final started at 2:30 pm.

1996 was the last year that CBS ran two regional games in the noon window on the opening Sunday. Staring in 1997, CBS would feature a national game in this timeslot.

1998 was the first year that first round games at Mountain time zone sites aligned with the CBS afternoon windows meaning these sessions started around 10:30 am local time. The 5 pm games were limited to Pacific time zone sites.

1999 was the first year of the DirecTV Mega March Madness package which enabled viewers to see all out-of-market regional games during the first three rounds of the tournament.

In 2000, CBS moved the start of the opening Saturday to 1 pm. This was also the first year that the early Saturday regional final started at 4:30 pm.

In 2001, the NCAA expanded the tournament to 65 teams. This added a play-in game on the opening Tuesday night which was televised by TNN.

In 2002, the Tuesday play-in game moved to ESPN. CBS moved the Final Four to its current 6 pm slot.

In 2003, CBS provided Iraq war coverage on the opening Thursday and Friday afternoons. ESPN picked up the CBS feeds and provided regional coverage in the afternoon windows. CBS handled the prime time windows both days. This was also the first year that the CBS prime time coverage started at 7 pm for the opening Thursday and Friday and for the regional semis.

In 2007, CSTV provided national coverage of the CBS feed for one of the CBS regional games each day on the opening Thursday and Friday. In areas which received this game regionally on CBS, the game was on both networks. The CSTV game on Thursday was the 5 pm Pacific time zone game. This pattern continued through 2009 by which point CSTV had been renamed to CBS College Sports.

In 2008, CBS moved the first Saturday regional final to 6:30 pm. But in 2009 this game was back in its typical 4:30 pm slot. Also, in 2009, Clark Kellogg became the #1 CBS analyst replacing the retired Packer.

2011 featured a major change to the tournament TV coverage as all games were nationally televised across four networks. The tournament expanded to 68 teams and the play-in round was branded as the First Four. The tournament kicked off with doubleheaders on Tuesday and Wednesday night on truTV starting at 6:30 pm. CBS, TBS, TNT, and truTV handled the first weekend with four games on each network on Thursday and Friday. CBS televised a quadrupleheader on Saturday and a tripleheader on Sunday. CBS started both days at noon with a standalone doubleheader. TBS and TNT had doubleheaders each day and truTV picked up the other Sunday game. Both Saturday and Sunday ended with a game starting at 9:30 pm, so these days featured basketball from noon to almost midnight. CBS and TBS aired the regional semis while CBS handled the rest of the tournament. For the Final Four, CBS added Steve Kerr to call the action along with Nantz and Kellogg.

The 2012 and 2013 tournaments followed the same pattern as in 2011.

In 2014, the Saturday regional finals move to TBS with the first game shifting to 6 pm. And in a very significant change, TBS will cover the national semifinals. For the Final Four games, CBS/Turner will provide a three-network "Teamcast". This feature will supplement the main feed with separate telecasts geared to fans of the participating teams on TNT and truTV. Greg Anthony replaces Kellogg on the #1 broadcast team and will call the Final Four with Nantz and Kerr.

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