NCAA Basketball And CBS Headed For A Split?

Since 1991, CBS has been the home of March Madness, broadcasting the entire NCAA men's basketball tournament (save for the play-in game, but no one really watches that anyway). It has been a growing, nurturing relationship for everyone involved, especially Gus Johnson. It many ways, it has been similar to a marriage -- ups and downs, new additions, a crotchety old uncle and now, like many marriages, it may be ending in divorce.

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That link ... could be severed after this year's tournament, if the NCAA exercises its right to opt out of its mammoth 11-year, $6 billion deal with CBS eight years in, as has been hinted in recent printed reports.

That eight-year mark just happens to coincide with the conclusion of the 2009-2010 season. If the NCAA walks out on the contract, it could set the stage not only for the possible expansion of the field from 65 to 80 or 96 teams, but for one of the biggest bidding wars in sports television history, not to mention a move of the telecast from broadcast to cable.

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If the NCAA were to leave CBS (the television company has first right of negotiation), then the tournament would need to find a new home: enter ESPN, "which has made its desire to get any part of the tournament known in no uncertain terms." The WWL already airs all 63 games of the women's tournament, and starting in 2011, it will also host all the games of the BCS. 

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On the hand, this seems like a great move -- ESPN (in theory) would be able to show more games at one time, using ESPN2, ESPNU, Classic, ESPN360, etc. And since they already air college basketball games throughout the regular season, their resume is polished and they have a whole lineup of analysts and announcers ready to go. But this of course ignores the key question in this entire situation: what becomes of the CBS theme music? Can that be included in the deal? Please?

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