NEW YORK – Accuse some of the announcers calling next month's Final Four on national TV of bias toward one team and their bosses at the networks will be flattered.
NCAA tournament rights-holders Turner Sports and CBS are experimenting this year with two additional telecasts of the semifinal games, using crews with a connection to each program.
Labeling the commentators "homers" will be considered a compliment.
As Turner Broadcasting System President David Levy notes, fans have long mused about how nice it would be to hear their favorite local voices on the biggest of games. Since he and CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus like to use their alma maters to illustrate NCAA tournament scenarios, imagine if Syracuse and Duke face off in one semifinal April 5. Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony and Steve Kerr will handle the main broadcast on TBS. The regular Syracuse radio announcers might call the game from the Orange perspective on TNT, while Duke's radio crew gives the Blue Devils take on the truTV "Teamcast."
"If you're a Syracuse fan or a Duke fan, ultimately you want to feel like you're watching that home team kind of game," Levy said Tuesday.
The conundrum is it's impossible to predict which four teams will advance to North Texas. The Final Four won't be set until six days before the semifinals.
So network executives have been meeting weekly for the four months since the plan was announced to prepare for that mad scramble. Turner Sports senior vice president Craig Barry already has a long spreadsheet of possibilities for the dozens of teams that could get that far. The schools' regular radio announcers may not be an option: They can't do the "Teamcast" if they're also handling their regular radio responsibilities, though Barry thinks the colleges are so excited about this plan they may free them to do television. Other possibilities include local TV hosts, commentators who call the conference's games for regional sports networks, even celebrities linked to the university.
Once the Sweet Sixteen squads are known, the networks will start negotiating with crews, though only a quarter of those will ever work games for them. As a backup, they plan to line up regional or national announcers for each broadcast, but ideally the hires will have a close connection to the programs — and the deep knowledge and passion that come with it.
"That's where the most energy's going to come from," said Barry, who oversees production and serves as executive creative director.
The Turner and CBS names will still be on this coverage, though, so the networks need to feel confident the commentators can provide a solid call. The level of the play-by-play announcer is especially important.
"Just because we're being innovative doesn't give us an excuse not to execute at the highest quality," Barry said.
There will be three TV trucks parked next to each other with a producer and director for each telecast — crews who just came off broadcasting the regionals for Turner and CBS. The production will use four additional cameras to offer team-centric angles. Each will also have its own replays, graphics (in team colors) and halftime show. The ads will be the same for all three telecasts, which also will be streamed online.
For this year, it's one giant experiment, with plenty of tweaks likely to come in future seasons. ESPN aired coverage on multiple channels in connection with this year's college football championship, but those offered various studio analysis options instead of different game telecasts.
McManus figures "there's no downside whatsoever." If viewers hate the "Teamcasts," they can switch back to TBS, which is airing the semifinals for the first time on cable. The title game remains on CBS this year.
CBS and Turner's joint deal to televise every tournament game live across four channels, now in its fourth year, was a grand experiment itself, and so far it has been wildly popular. The "Teamcasts" may turn out to be a cute gimmick or a harbinger of a new way of watching sports.