New March Madness format for TV viewers

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Kansas' Brady Morningstar sits on the court after Kansas' Brady Morningstar sits on the court after being called for a foul during a Big 12 quarterfinal game against Oklahoma State. (Mar. 10, 2011) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.

It always has been a guilty pleasure of watching the NCAA Tournament: Screaming at unseen executives behind the TV screen for failing to switch to a better game in a timely fashion.

Those days are over, presumably forever. Effective next week, you're on your own.

"It's a totally new concept, one that's going to take some getting used to," CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said. "The viewer is playing the role CBS used to play."

Added Turner Sports president David Levy, "The consumer now is the producer . . . It's not about us telling you what game to watch."

The good news is that with added responsibilities come added privileges -- at least for the vast majority of homes that receive TBS, TNT and truTV.

For the first time in the event's history, every game will be available in its entirety on a national network, sometimes four at once -- 41 on the Turner cable channels, the other 26 on CBS.

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Live cut-ins will be limited; viewers will be able to monitor scores during the game they are watching and switch when the mood strikes them. Tipoff times will be staggered.

The new system is the product of a partnership between CBS and Turner that yielded a 14-year, $10.8-billion deal with the NCAA, staving off a rival bid from ESPN.

CBS would have been unable to afford keeping the tournament by itself; Turner's deep pockets and bevy of cable outlets made it a natural fit.

So did its roster of big-name play-by-play men and analysts, even if they are NBA specialists.

Among others, Marv Albert will work through the regional finals, Steve Kerr will join Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg for the Final Four and Charles Barkley will hold court in the studio.

In the short term, Turner only will carry games through the regional semifinals (Sweet 16). But starting in 2016, it will alternate Final Fours with CBS.

Who gets first dibs on the best early-round matchups? McManus and Levy said that would be worked out in the best interests of the tournament. But CBS' reach and tradition figure to play a role.

Speaking of which, there are about 115 million households in the United States, but TNT and TBS are in just under 100 million and truTV is in 92 million or so.

(The availability of Turner's channels is more of an issue nationally than in the New York area, where less than five percent of homes do not receive them.)

Is Levy concerned about disenfranchising millions of fans?

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"I think it's a nonissue; I have to be honest with you," he said. "We have carried postseason baseball. We've carried the [NBA] Western Conference finals."

Many familiar NCAA patterns will be altered. For example: When CBS leaves the tournament Sunday night March 20 for "60 Minutes," Turner will offer a full slate of prime-time games.

The new era begins Tuesday on truTV when Nantz, Kellogg and Kerr work a doubleheader born of the expanded, 68-team field.

Which reminded Levy of perhaps the most important change of all: "Most of you will have to fill out your brackets by 7 o'clock Tuesday -- not noon on Thursday."

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