There's Plenty of "Madness" Associated with NCAA Basketball Tournament, Opines Prof. Jeff McCall '76

There's Plenty of "Madness" Associated with NCAA Basketball Tournament, Opines Prof. Jeff McCall '76

March 31, 2016

Pointing to the "super-hype" surrounding the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament, Jeff McCall asks, "One must wonder whether this is a basketball tournament being covered by television, or gee-whiz television programming that has some basketball content."

In a newspaper column, the professor of communication at DePauw University writes, "Given how much money CBS and Turner Broadcasting pay the NCAA to broadcast the March/April madness, it is no wonder television’s interests reach far into the competition. The 14-year deal for CBS and Turner to jointly sponsor the tournament went into effect in 2011. The television outlets pay the NCAA approximately $770 million a year for the rights ... The current deal is responsible for the expansion of the tournament field from 65 to 68 teams, thus giving television three more play-in games in the week leading up to the round one regionals. The influence of television doesn’t end with bracket expansion. Many decisions in the tournament process are done with a nod to television. Bracket decisions are made to create as many made-for-TV match-ups as possible and to make sure high-profile teams don’t knock each other out of the tournament too early."

Wils Basketball 011zDr. McCall continues, "The tournament committee asserts that seeding decisions are driven by complex, mathematically driven, MIT-like calculations. But the calculations that matter most are projected television ratings that can be pushed on advertisers. The committee’s interest in setting up a ratings-rich second round match-up between Indiana and Kentucky surely never figured into the seeding decisions. And it was surely just coincidence that Texas and Texas A&M were set up for a second round match-up. Northern Iowa messed up that plan with a first round upset of the Longhorns."

The professor adds, "The CBS show that announces the tournament brackets now runs a full two hours, dragging out the process in order to sell more commercials. A shot clock is needed to rein in the ceaseless yammering. And by the way, you won’t be able to watch this year’s Final Four or championship games on free, over-the-air television. That’s because the current rights contract gives these games to TBS on alternating years with CBS. TBS, of course, is only available to people who pay for cable or satellite television packages."

The column concludes, "The television exposure of college basketball has contributed greatly to the sport’s popularity. The 1979 title match-up between Larry Bird’s Indiana State and Magic Johnson’s Michigan State sparked a surge of fan interest that carried for two decades. But the 10 highest-rated title games of the last 40 years were all played before 1995. The huge money and television ballyhoo now surrounding the tournament might actually be diminishing it."

Access the complete essay at the website of the Indianapolis Star.

A 1976 graduate of DePauw, Jeffrey M. McCall is a former journalist and serves as faculty adviser to student radio station WGRE, where he worked LGL 6216as an undergraduate. He authored the book Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences. The media studies professor is regularly quoted in news articles, including recent pieces in the Los Angeles Times and Entertainment Weekly. His recent opinion column on the state of television programming appeared in the Indianapolis Star, Detroit News and other papers. 

A year ago today, McCall moderated a discussion with Dan Quayle, the 44th Vice President of the United States and 1969 graduate of DePauw, in a program presented by the Ubben Lecture Series.  Video of the event is embedded below.

Source: Indianapolis Star

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