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Tourney in empty buildings? CBS’ McManus and Turner’s Zucker are in constant contact with NCAA

Barkley questions why the NCAA would consider shutting down buildings to fans.: "They're not going to lock themselves in their homes."

  • Charles Barkley was asked whether the public was overreacting to the coronavirus. He essentially said that the red flags are warranted but wondered why the NCAA would consider closing buildings to fans. Charles said that people are not likely to lock themselves in their homes. So why do it?
  • President Trump’s good friend, Jeff Zucker of CNN and Turner fame, was on the NCAA media call with Sean McManus of CBS. Both men have responsibility for their respective sports divisions and co-manage the companies’ NCAA partnership. They were asked several times by media members, and in various forms, what they’d do should the NCAA play the games with no fans. Both said they’ll face the hypothetical should it eventuate. The broadcast parties are in constant contact with the NCAA leadership and they underscored that the decision isn’t theirs. It’s fully the NCAA’s.
  • The media asked Jeff how he handles responsibilities for overseeing both news and sports and he gave the proper answer, “I have good teams who run both divisions.” Zucker said that it’s a juggling act. This Sunday CNN is running the Democratic debate in Phoenix and he’s going there. As such, he won’t be able to watch the production of the selection show which runs at roughly the same time. McManus ran both CBS News and Sports for a chunk of years. Now he chairs CBS Sports and is no loner affiliated with CBS News. He had a similar answer when asked how he handled both divisions. “Good people at the top of each division,” is what he said. McManus reminisced about what it was like during the tournament when he had to scurry from watching the production of CBS News to running upstairs to monitor production of the tournament which was coming in from four venues. Sean said it was exhilarating.
  • Unsolicited, McManus told the media a couple times that the tournament has been sold out since February. (Congrats to CBS’ Chris Simko and John Bogusz and their counterparts at Turner for hitting the sell-out position.)
  • Jim Nantz was asked the same question. What happens if the tourney is played in front of no one? Jim gave a good answer. He said it would likely be a challenge to keep up the energy necessary to call a game at that level with no ambient noise.
  • A couple thoughts along those lines. Listening to Nantz say this, I was reminded of the old generation baseball announcers who called games from the road by recreation and had to picture themselves being in a vibrant stadium while recreating a broadcast from a quiet studio. Red Barber was a master at it. Marty Glickman told me that Barber would stare at the ceiling and envision for instance Stan Musial’s stance in the batter’s box. He’d then call the at-bat pitch by pitch off the wire. As Red said, “I had to put flesh on a skeleton.” The wire provided no more than Ball (1-0), Ball (2-0), Strike (2-1) and so on.
  • The other incident that this coronavirus triggers is the 1981 NCAA title game which took place hours after President Ronald Reagan was shot. There was lots of uncertainty on whether the game would be played. It was. NBC televised it with Dick Enberg, Billy Packer and Al McGuire. Developments with regard to the president’s condition was handled by NBC News.
  • Clark (Kent) Kellogg and Charles were both told by a reporter on the call that the Ivy League had just announced that it cancelled the post season tournament. It left Charles speechless. That’s not easy.
  • Leave it to Charles. Talking about his beloved Auburn team, he said, “We don’t get McDonald’s All-Americans. We only get players who eat at McDonald’s.”
  • Asked if he would prefer doing color as opposed to working the studio, Barkley said he would enjoy it, pointing out that it would likely require less work. The studio requires prepping for a slate of matchups in the early rounds. Doing color means doing just one game.
  • Nantz will be doing his 35th NCAA Tournament in some form. He’s done the every Final Four since 1991. So this marks his 30th Final Four of play-by-play. Jim took over for Brent Musburger who was fired on the eve of the 1990 title game.
  • Nantz on what makes this year’s NCAA Tournament different: “There are fewer blue-bloods at the top. It’s unusual having schools like Dayton, Baylor, San Diego State and Florida State on a one or two line.”
  • There’s one added feature on this year’s tournament broadcasts that’s noteworthy. Like Turner and ESPN do on NBA telecasts, the coaches will be interviewed in-game, a quick two question ask.

In-game assignments are as follows:

Play-by-Play / Analyst // Reporter

Jim Nantz / Bill Raftery / Grant Hill // Tracy Wolfson**

Brian Anderson / Chris Webber // Allie LaForce*

Ian Eagle / Jim Spanarkel // Jamie Erdahl*

Kevin Harlan / Reggie Miller / Dan Bonner // Dana Jacobson*

Brad Nessler / Jim Jackson // Evan Washburn

Spero Dedes / Steve Smith / Wally Szczerbiak // Lisa Byington

Andrew Catalon / Steve Lappas // Lauren Shehadi

Carter Blackburn / Debbie Antonelli // John Schriffen

* Will also work the regional weekend

** Will do regional weekend and Final Four

The 2020 NCAA March Madness Selection Show, featuring the exclusive live first-time announcement of the pairings for the 2020 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship is on CBS – Sunday, March 15, at 6:00 PM, ET

TBS runs both rounds of the Final Four, Two additional channels will also pick up each of the Final Four games, providing TeamCasts. Announcers on the TeamCasts will call games with a tendentious perspective,  They’ll be announced after the Final Four participants emerge.

New commentator roles for this year’s coverage will include:

  • Dwyane Wade joining studio coverage from Atlanta for the Final Four and National Championship
  • Wally Szczerbiak moving into a game analyst role through the Tournament’s first weekend
  • Adam Zucker hosting the Atlanta studio show for the first week of Tournament action
  • Lauren Shehadi serving as a game reporter through the Round of 32
  • Adam Lefkoe joining televised coverage for the first time, providing game updates from New York.

The tournament will tip off Tuesday, March 17, and Wednesday, March 18, with the NCAA First Four on truTV.  Brad Nessler will call Tuesday’s games with analysts Jim Jackson and Steve Lavin, alongside reporter Evan Washburn. Andrew Catalon will handle play-by-play on Wednesday with analysts Steve Lappas and Lavin and reporter Lisa Byington. 

Ernie Johnson and Greg Gumbel will again host studio coverage from the CBS Broadcast Center in New York during the first full week of the tournament, joined by Charles Barkley, Clark Kellogg and Kenny Smith. Johnson will host studio coverage from Atlanta during the second week of tournament action on Thursday and Friday, while Gumbel will anchor coverage from CBS Studios. Studio coverage originating from Turner Studios in Atlanta, hosted by Adam Zucker during the first week, will feature Brendan Haywood, Seth Davis, Candace Parker and college coaches to be announced. Adam Lefkoe will provide game updates.


David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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