NCAA tourney expands to 68

Basketball: The NCAA has decided not to mess around too much with March Madness.

College sports’ largest governing body announced a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with CBS and Turner Broadcasting on Thursday that will begin with an expanded men’s basketball tournament next March. But instead of jumping to a 96-team field, a possibility that drew criticism from bracket-obsessed fans to coaches, the NCAA plans to expand by only three teams, from 65 to 68.

Every game will be broadcast live nationally for the first time in the tournament’s 73-year history.

The previous television deal, which gave CBS Sports the broadcast rights for $6 billion over 11 years, would have expired in three years. Both sides had opt-out clauses that had to be exercised by July 31, and the NCAA was preparing to do just that. The hope was to create a bidding war and strike a lucrative deal, generating more money for NCAA payouts to schools.

CBS Sports won the war, beating out at least an offer from ESPN. What’s new is that CBS will share broadcast rights with Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and its stable of cable channels – TNT, TBS and truTV – from 2011 through 2024.

The NCAA won, too: Isch said the new deal will provide an average of $740 million per year that will returned to conferences and schools.

Just a few weeks ago, a much-bigger NCAA tournament seemed like it was all but a done deal.

But college basketball analysts often called the 65-team format the perfect size, suggesting more teams would water down the tourney. Some coaches, whose jobs often hinge on tourney appearances, even rejected the notion that adding so many teams was a good thing.

The men’s tournament hasn’t expanded since 2001 when it added one team to a 64-team field that was established in 1985.

The NCAA Board of Directors can approve a plan Thursday that is likely to add three more opening-round games – one in each region – to the one that has been played since 2001.

Beginning next year, every game through the second round will be shown nationally on the four networks. CBS and Turner, an entity of Time Warner Inc., will split coverage of the regional semifinal games, while CBS will retain coverage of the regional finals, the Final Four and the championship game through 2015.

Associated Press

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