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  • NCAA national semis headed to cable TV

    'Semifinal Saturday' games will air on TBS instead of CBS
  • It's hoops heaven for college basketball fans during the next three weeks, as major conference tournaments wind up today before the NCAA Tournament bracket is announced later in the day. The focus turns then to the don't-call-them-play-in-games Tuesday and Wednesday before the action really gets rolling Thursday.
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  • It's hoops heaven for college basketball fans during the next three weeks, as major conference tournaments wind up today before the NCAA Tournament bracket is announced later in the day. The focus turns then to the don't-call-them-play-in-games Tuesday and Wednesday before the action really gets rolling Thursday.
    And there are some major changes in the way the main event will be televised, as the national semifinals switch networks for the first time in more than three decades and a new commentator, Greg Anthony, will be broadcasting the Final Four.
    CBS has had the rights to the NCAA tourney since snatching it from NBC in 1982, but four seasons ago became partners with Turner Sports on a $10.8 billion, 14-year deal for the event. By combining efforts, the companies outbid powerhouse ESPN for the package and coverage has been spread across CBS and three Turner outlets — TNT, TBS and truTV — with announcers from either organization used on any of the four outlets.
    But a jewel event, the national semifinals, remained on CBS — until now. Though games will be spread across the four networks again for the early rounds this year, the Final Four games (on April 5) will air on Turner's TBS outlet as "semifinal Saturday" goes to cable for the first time.
    TBS also has regional final games for the initial time, showing the two on March 29 (South and West). CBS has the others the next day.
    "There's a lot of bounce in our step ... about this opportunity," Turner president David Levy said on a recent conference. "We're excited about this opportunity."
    Although the title contest remains on CBS and will begin a bit earlier (5:10 p.m.) than has been the case in recent years, the move of the semifinals to cable follows a recent trend in which major sporting events have left over-the-air TV — including the upcoming college football playoffs.
    But the move off so-called "free TV" isn't the only looming big change for the national semifinals. In addition to the traditional coverage that will air on TBS (with CBS' Jim Nantz on play-by-play), Turner plans customized productions geared toward each of the competing teams — one on TNT and the other on truTV — and will use announcers connected to those schools. For example, if Syracuse is playing Duke, one station would be slanted toward Syracuse, the other toward Duke.
    "We will basically have three different (telecasts) being produced simultaneous, but the ... advertising will be the same across all three (outlets)," Levy said. But those customized versions will be "unique and different — different (announcers) on the air, different (commentators) for the halftime show, different camera angles and different types of storytelling (from) the main telecast on TBS."
    That will lead to extra costs, but Levy says, "sometimes (progress) comes with expense."
    It also will lead to more exposure for advertisers, with the same commercials running on all three versions of the games.
    "I really don't think anybody loses here," CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said. "The only potential loser is if some guy's flipping around and he happens on one of the 'teamcasts' and thinks that's the game Turner is actually carrying and says, 'Wait a second, when did CBS come completely and totally rooting for Syracuse, this makes no sense at all? What happened to Nance? What happened to (commentator) Steve Kerr?'
    "We'll have to figure out a way to remind people occasionally that this is a separate telecast than the main one because I can just see Twitter lighting up and saying, 'We've known it all along, the CBS and the Turner guys are obviously rooting for Syracuse or obviously are rooting for Duke.' And if you watch one of these 'teamcasts,' it will appear that we are because it will be a team-centric telecast. All the people who like to write that Verne Lundquist or Brent Musburger or Al Michaels or Jim Nantz is rooting for a specific team, now they can actually say that legitimately."
    McManus said viewership for the tourney last season "were the best in almost in 20 years." So why move the semifinals off CBS and add the customized telecasts?
    "As successful as we have been, we are trying to continue to try to force ourselves to change and force ourselves get better and force ourselves to be innovative." he said.
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