CBS/Turner Keep NCAA Rights; Tourney Expansion Coming Next Year

(Editor's note: With the news release out early, I've scrapped the original post to revise for new information.)
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↵The NCAA Tournament is expanding in 2011, just not the way you expected. Starting next season the field will expand to 68 teams -- not the 96 teams many feared. ↵

↵First, my reaction: ↵

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↵Second, the news straight from the NCAA's news release: ↵

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↵⇥INDIANAPOLIS--- The NCAA today announced a new 14-year television, internet and wireless rights agreement with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., to present the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship beginning in 2011 through 2024 for more than $10.8 billion. As part of the agreement, all games will be shown live across four national networks beginning in 2011 – a first for the 73-year old championship. ↵⇥

↵⇥Additionally, CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting have been licensed and will collaborate on the NCAA’s corporate marketing program. ↵⇥

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↵⇥Late Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee unanimously passed a recommendation to the Division I Board of Directors to increase tournament field size to 68 teams beginning with the 2011 Championship. The recommendation will be reviewed by the Division I Board of Directors at its April 29 meeting. ↵⇥

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↵⇥[...] ↵⇥

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↵⇥Beginning with the 2011 championship, opening- , first- and second-round games will be shown nationally on CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. CBS and Turner will split coverage of the regional semi-final games. CBS will provide coverage of the regional finals, as well as the Final Four® including the National Championship Game through 2015. Beginning in 2016, coverage of the regional finals will be split by CBS and Turner with the Final Four and the National Championship game alternating every year between the CBS Television Network and Turner’s TBS. ↵⇥

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↵A few bullet points: ↵

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↵-- The Final Four/title game will be on TNT in even-numbered years starting in 2016. ↵
↵-- Beginning in 2011, the first- and second-round games will be on four networks: CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. ↵
↵-- There is no mention of DirecTV in the news release. ↵
↵-- Speaking of digital rights, there's this bit: ↵

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↵⇥Under the new rights agreement, NCAA March Madness on Demand®, the Emmy Award-winning video player that provides live streaming video of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, will continue to be launched from NCAA.com and CBSSports.com. Turner has also secured the rights for any Time Warner digital property. The player will be operated and developed by Turner and have enhanced digital rights allowing the NCAA to deliver content for multiple Turner and Time Warner platforms. ↵
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↵There's a lot of optimism today that the field didn't expand to 96 teams, but obviously that optimism is guarded, knowing that it could always happen down the road. At least for now we've avoided disaster. Now just make that Gus Johnson/Conan O'Brien booth pairing happen! ↵

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↵And to put a pin in this thing, at least until there's more news later this afternoon, a statement from ESPN on coming up short in the bidding:
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↵⇥We made an aggressive bid and believe our combination of TV distribution, digital capabilities, season-long coverage and year-round marketing would have served the interests of the NCAA and college fans very well. We remain committed to our unparalleled coverage of more than 1,200 men's and women's college basketball games each season. ↵
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↵A few bullet points from today's conference call discussing the deal. ↵
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↵-- "Various structure options" being evaluated for a 68-team field. Decision coming during mid-summer. ↵
↵-- CBS Sports president Sean McManus, possibly quelling some concerns about future expansion: "We’re very comfortable with 68. It meets all of our financial and programming needs." In other words, expansion isn't necessary to make this deal work. ↵
↵-- The tournament will be jointly produced by Turner and CBS. ↵
↵-- They've confirmed every game will be televised nationally, but kind of side-stepped questions about the future with DirecTV. ↵
↵-- The deal has flexibility in our deal to accommodate expansion if that happens ↵
↵-- Describing 68 as "for now" and certainly not ruling out 96 down the road. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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