Turner Sports and CBS Sports are headed to San Antonio for the March Madness Final Four, and then the National Championship. Loyola and Michigan face off in one semifinal March 31, 6:09 p.m., while Kansas and Villanova play in the other at 8:49 p.m. that night.
Those games are on TBS, as is the final April 2.
Turner and CBS have revealed the TeamCast teams for the Final Four—team-specific telecasts tailored to the schools involved in the semifinals. Each TeamCast commentator team has three people with connections to that university.
For Michigan, that includes Dr. Sanjay Gupta, host of Vital Signs on CNN. That TeamCast airs on TNT. Villanova has former NBA player Randy Foye, whose journeyman career included stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Denver Nuggets. That runs on truTV. Kansas has Rob Riggle, actor and an NFL pre-game show guy on Fox, with the Kansas TeamCast on TNT. Loyola has Jerry Harkness, who captained the 1963 Loyola (IL) team that won the National Championship. One can see that on truTV.
The TeamCast presentations offer “unprecedented local flavor, including comprehensive team and player storylines, music, custom graphics and show packaging,” according to Turner and CBS.
The initiative “gives us the opportunity to delve into the culture of the school,” says Craig Barry, executive VP and chief content officer, Turner Sports. “It’s people who offer a fan’s point of view and exude passion for their alma mater.”
Barry likes the teams in the running for the championship—three “Bigs,” he says, in Villanova, Michigan and Kansas, and a Cinderella team, Loyola, that’s in a major market (Chicago), and has a prominent nun rooting for the team (Sister Jean).
“It creates a really good balance,” he says.
Ernie Johnson and Greg Gumbel host studio coverage from the Final Four and the National Championship, and the analysts are Charles Barkley, Clark Kellogg and Kenny Smith. Four players who won college basketball’s National Championship—Kris Jenkins, Christian Laettner, Danny Manning and Candace Parker—offer the champion’s perspective from San Antonio.
“They’ll set up the narrative about what it’s like to be there and what their experiences were like,” says Barry. “Hopefully it’ll be a dynamic panel that speaks to the whole experience of the Final Four and the finals.”
Barry and Ernie Johnson both say what makes March Madness such a unique sporting exposition is that it appeals to the casual sports fan. “You don’t really have to be a diehard fan to take part in March Madness,” says Johnson, noting how co-workers in offices across America suddenly have something to speak about at the water cooler.
Barry says the one-and-done terms of engagement appeals to fans, while the bracket set-up “allows the most casual fan to be completely invested.”
Two years ago, Turner Sports got lucky when the National Championship went down to the wire, with Kris Jenkins—who you’ll find offering the champion’s perspective in San Antonio--hitting a three-pointer at the buzzer to win it for Villanova over North Carolina.
Johnson says the announcers and the producers will only worry about what they can control. “How the game plays out is out of your control,” he says. “We’re focused on being able to capture whatever happens and bring it to fans in the best possible way.”