Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Making Sense Of Madness

Despite best ratings in almost 20 years, Greg Gumbel and Greg Anthony being part of four-network setup hurt presentation of NCAA Tournament. (Photo courtesy of The Big Lead)

As the dust settles on Connecticut's third national championship in thirteen years, it's time now (at long last for some fans of mine) to give my thoughts on this year's edition of the gripping real-life drama that twists and turns its way through three weeks of the spring; an event known as the NCAA Tournament. I won't comment on what turned out to be the Final Four and national championship game, but rather on some happenings behind the scenes and on the set of all four networks that broadcast the tournament. So, without further ado...

This four-network setup gets mixed reviews from me before I go any further. I did like the fact that I was able to watch every game at some point without having to rely on the ever-popular live look-in; as whatever I couldn't get on the big screen (I knew where to find TruTV by the way, months before hand in fact) could be had through the power of the iPhone and the March Madness On Demand app. Thankfully it was available for free, but I would have paid the $9.99 like I did last year if necessary. In addition, the decision to revert to the Luther Vandross version of "One Shining Moment" after a disastrous experiment with the Jennifer Hudson cover was a plus for all real college hoops fans. Unfortunately for CBS, TruTV, TBS and TNT, most of the accolades end there.

The quality and presentation of each of the 67 games made me wish that ESPN had shelled out more for the broadcast rights to the tournament. Gone was the authentic and sometimes emotional free-flowing CBS production, replaced instead by a more contrived and forced (at least in the eyes of this broadcaster) presentation that relied WAY too much on Turner influence, Turner graphics, Turner personnel and Turner insights. Let's face it, the only tolerable aspect from the Turner camp was Ernie Johnson in one of the studios; perhaps because he had CBS analysts Seth Davis and Greg Anthony there to back him up. Greg Gumbel, on the other hand, was not as lucky. Never mind the fact that Gumbel referenced ESPN during a pregame show, which you can see below:

Gumbel was also stuck with NBA guys in Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith that proved that they had no place working the tournament through most of its on-air stay. CBS did, however, redeem themselves with the analysis of Rick Pitino and Jay Wright in guest spots after the coaches were eliminated from the "Big Dance" on its second day. Honestly, the best analysis came before the tournament from CBS College Sports. Never mind the fact that the two names I'm about to mention next are both friends and colleagues of mine, because I'm complimenting them from a professional and unbiased standpoint. The insights shared by Rutgers coach Mike Rice and MSG/1050 ESPN New York college basketball insider Jon Rothstein to those able to watch their six-hour preview hours before the First Four games tipped off should be recorded and shown to producers and network executives at CBS and Turner weeks in advance of next year's tournament in order to get an idea for what the standard should be moving forward.

Finally, I offer this nugget: Suppose ESPN did acquire the broadcast rights to their NCAA Tournament. Here's a look at what their announcer and studio pairings might look like:

1) Sean McDonough, (play-by-play) Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery (color)
2) Brent Musburger (play-by-play) and Bob Knight (color)
3) Dan Shulman (play-by-play) and Dick Vitale (color)
4) Gus Johnson (play-by-play) and Len Elmore (color) - I know Gus works for CBS, but he used to be employed by ESPN; and a profit-seeking venture like the "Worldwide Leader" would recognize the ratings potential and likely boom they would get by bringing the one and only Gus in for two weekends in March.
5) Dave O'Brien (play-by-play) and Dan Dakich (color)
6) Mike Patrick (play-by-play) and Fran Fraschilla (color)
7) Dave Pasch (play-by-play) and Doris Burke (color)
8) Brad Nessler (play-by-play) and Jimmy Dykes (color)

Sideline reporters: Any combination of Erin Andrews, Holly Rowe, Beth Mowins and anyone else whose name currently slips my mind.

By the way, it's also worth noting that ESPN could have done the four-network setup too; airing games on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ABC, (being that ABC is a Disney property as well) with ABC carrying the Final Four. A two-studio rotation could also have been done as it was by CBS/Turner, with the following personnel:

Studio Crew #1: Rece Davis, (host) Digger Phelps, Hubert Davis and Jay Williams (analysts)
Studio Crew #2: John Saunders, (host) Andy Katz, Doug Gottlieb and Adrian Branch (analysts)

Just a little something to think about for the future.

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