Forgive the non-Gopher football-related post -- with spring drills beginning next week, we'll soon have plenty of them:
Consider me completely sold on CBS and Turner Broadcasting's new format for covering the NCAA men's basketball tournament. I wrote in Sunday's paper about all the changes the networks had planned for the first year of their 14-year, $10.8 billion contract, and I'll admit, I was a little skeptical. Like a lot of viewers, I had grown used to Greg Gumbel's breathless interruptions to tell us that Bucknell was within three points in the final minute out in Boise, and we're switching you there now.
Leave it up to us to decide which game to watch? Force us to switch channels to catch the buzzer-beaters? I feared I would feel disconnected, not empowered, by the format.
Well, those fears appear completely unfounded through the busy first two days of the tournament. Instead, I found myself wondering: What took us to long to get to this point? Making every game available, start to finish, has made the tournament even more engrossing. I've loved the control, I've become a virtuoso of the remote, and I haven't missed a thrilling ending yet.
(One caveat: If you don't have cable, or don't like operating the remote control, you probably didn't enjoy the tournament nearly as much. And it's only going to get worse -- beginning in 2016, the Final Four, including the championship game, will be on cable every other year.)
It's a little odd that there are two studio shows, and after two days, I think the really bizarre part is that the studio show without Charles Barkley even bothers. He tends to be the highlight of every break.
But the control of the TV experience has been a revelation. (I'd love to hear your impressions, objections and opinions, too -- leave a comment, or write firstname.lastname@example.org.) When I've been busy working, I've been able to pick the most interesting game to have on in the background. When I'm able to focus on the tournament, I've taken advantage of the networks' commitment to keeping me posted. It's easy to keep track of the other games through those score boxes at the top of the screen, and it's not hard to keep the TV on the closest games. Staggering the start times with a half hour between games, so no two games (generally speaking) come down to the finish at once, has helped, too.
I can watch blowouts to the end, if I want. (Did that during the UConn game, trying to spot my sister in the crowd.) I can stay with a game of particular interest to me (like pulling for BYU to lose), or avoid that game if I don't like how it's going. I tend to switch to other games during commercials (though somehow it still feels like I've seen the N-N-N-Napa commercial or the strange Old Spice ads a few dozen times apiece), and even started flipping around during free throws.
And every team of announcers has been aggressive in letting viewers know about a potential buzzer-beater. In short, the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA Tournament has gotten even better, and I wasn't certain that was possible.