Selection Sunday is the official start to the NCAA tournament. It’s where we find out the bracket pairings, the top seeds, and, most importantly, the snubs ahead of the Big Dance. It’s also where we get the awesome clips of team reacting to hearing that they’re in.
But this year’s selection show had a different feel, and not in a good way.
1. It wasn’t on CBS
The network that broadcasts the Final Four actually has rights of first refusal to televise the selection show as well. TBS didn’t opt to do the selection show the first time it had the Final Four a couple years ago, but did so this year.
If you’re a millennial like I am, this didn’t bother you at all because you were watching on a connected TV device (like an Apple TV). But if you’re still on the ol’ cable box setup, then you had some searching to do at 6 p.m. ET.
2. The set
Here’s a shot from the show’s graphics package, which you might have missed if you weren’t paying close attention. You’ll notice the words “practice hanger,” in the visual.
The visual feel of the selection show took that hangar concept too literally. For the first time, the show was broadcast from Turner’s studios in Atlanta.
This is one of the biggest sets you’ll ever see for a sports studio broadcast. At a glance, it might be even bigger than ESPN’s colossal SportsCenter set.
The space behind hosts Greg Gumbel and Ernie Johnson was used to unveil graphics in a way that kept the hosts on screen alongside them. They populated the floor with some historical facts along the way.
That’s ... a lot to process
But maybe it was a prudent move to not have the thing in CBS’ New York studios. The lights appeared to go out in the New York set during the show.
3. There was a live audience
In addition to the massive set, there was a studio audience on hand for the proceedings.
Johnson even joked they were applauding because there was a sign compelling them to do so. Turner’s Kenny Smith had some fun during an impromptu call-and-response session with them.
The audience did serve to help the studio seem a little less cavernous in the end.
4. Alphabetical order
Earlier this week, Turner announced the way they’d do the show was a tad different than usual.
Brace yourself for a very different Selection Show on Sunday. All teams will be unveiled in alpha order (grouped by Auto-Bid and At-Large) in first 5-10 mins. Than matchups will be slotted into seeds/bracket. Also in front of a live studio audience. (from Turner's Craig Barry)— Brandon Costa (@SVG_Brandon) March 6, 2018
They did roll out the auto-bids as promised, and then hit the at-large’s in an order that must have been painful for teams on the bubble — especially ones that are at the end of the alphabet. But since the selection show expanded to two hours in 2016, it’s been tough sledding to find the sweet spot for viewers.
CBS Sports was rightfully excoriated two years ago for committing the cardinal television sin of alienating its audience during the NCAA Selection Show. The first bracket was revealed 20 minutes in and more than one hour into the show, at the 62-minute mark, viewers finally began to learn the second half of the bracket. When host Greg Gumbel read off the final teams in the tournament, Seton Hall and Gonzaga, viewers had waited 77 minutes for the completed bracket. The final viewership was equally ugly: It was the least-viewed Selection Show ever with 5.245 million viewers.
Last year the network changed course — as it said it would following intense negative viewer feedback — and the show moved along at a great pace. The first bracket was revealed two minutes into the show, the first half of the bracket was completed in a little over 20 minutes and viewers had 75 percent of the bracket by the 30-minute mark. The entire bracket was revealed by 6:07 p.m, when Maryland and Xavier were announced. That was 37 minutes in.
This year, the whole bracket was announced about 35 minutes into the show. Speed can help avoid getting scooped, like a few years ago when the bracket infamously leaked. That gave Turner about 90 minutes to fill with commercials and analysis.
5. The brief Pizza Hut advertisement
As far as cringeworthy product placement goes, Johnson joining the studio audience to eat Pizza Hut is cannon.
6. Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley knows he loves Auburn. But still doesn’t know much else about college basketball. Barkley may be endearing to the casual fan, but the hardcore CBB nuts still find him maddening.