Charles Barkley has spent the past couple of months watching and studying college basketball to prepare for his studio analyst role for CBS / Turner’s NCAA Tournament coverage – as he has every year since 2011.
“They send up stats every week,” he said on Tuesday at an event in Manhattan to promote the coverage. “I mean, I’ve got notes on probably every conference. We get a notebook every week.
“It is a little different having to do your own homework. It’s not like college [at Auburn] where I had somebody doing it for me. It’s a lot of work.”
Despite that, Barkley annually is criticized by some on social media for being less well-versed in the college game than he is in the NBA, the league he analyzes for TNT in his primary job.
Your thoughts on that, Chuck?
“You know that it’s basketball, right?” he said. “I’m not trying to do heart surgery. I’m pretty sure nobody wants me operating on them.
“I don’t understand. It’s probably easier for me to watch college basketball than it is the pro game. These players aren’t as good as pros. So it’s a bad rap. It’s basketball, man. I don’t want to do ankle surgery. It’s not like I was working at urgent care and I’m trying to go do brain surgery. I was watching basketball.
“I watch Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, SMU, Oregon. I’ve watched all the teams play. It doesn’t mean I’m going to get most of my stuff right. Man, the criticism, hey, if they don’t like it they can talk to my boss and I can sit at home for two weeks. I can deal with golf and fishing for two weeks. It won’t hurt my feelings.”
Barkley mostly seems to enjoy the college detour, but he often has complained about the long work days he and his fellow analysts put in early in the tournament. He has suggested a split shift to keep everyone fresh.
“They didn’t like my suggestion, which would have been a great suggestion,” he said. “I still think it would be a great suggestion to have two crews, because it’s hard to keep your energy level up for 12 straight hours. I mean, I love doing the tournament and I want these kids, and whoever watches, to know this is a big deal, because it is a big deal.
“Even going back to when I played in the NBA, March Madness was a big deal. I think the last thing you want is guys on TV who have been there since noon and by 8 o’clock at night he’s [tired]. But they didn’t like my suggestion.”
Barkley will have a shorter workday for the selection show on Sunday. What once was a half-hour program by last year grew to a bloated two hours, a stretch made even more awkward when the NCAA bracket leaked online. This year CBS pared the show to 90 minutes, starting at 5:30 p.m.
“The leaking of the brackets didn’t help [last year],” he said. “I think 90 minutes is fine. You don’t want to drag it out for two hours. That’s going to be good.”
As for the tournament itself, Barkley said, “I think this is the hardest tournament [to predict] we’ve ever had going in . . . Sometimes it’s [expletive] that you’re trying to make people think that everybody’s got a chance. But Clark [Kellogg] said 10 to 15 teams could win. I would agree with that.”