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Post 68 teams – a new plateau or a brief stop on the way to 96?

Thursday April 22, 2010

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament will expand to 68 teams in 2011 and will feature four play-in games to meet each of the top four seeds. It’s not the 96-team nightmare many feared, but I doubt that this move will silence talk of further expansion down the road.

Perhaps the bigger news is the new 14-year $10.8 billion broadcasting deal with CBS and Turner. Under the terms of the agreement, all tournament games will be available on one of four networks (CBS and three Turner stations – TBS, TNT and truTV (the former CourtTV)). The deal also means that CBS will eventually lose its exclusive control of the national title game.

Through 2015, CBS will cover the regional finals, the Final Four and the championship game. But starting in 2016, CBS and Turner will split the regional finals and the Final Four, and the national championship game will alternate annually between CBS and TBS.

That’s similar to the move of the BCS from strictly broadcast (FOX/ABC) to cable (ESPN). You’ll have to have cable or satellite to find much of the NCAA Tournament in the future. ESPN was another potential destination for the NCAA Tournament, but the CBS/Turner deal won out.

The deal is worth $771 million per year. That’s up nominally over 40% from the $545 million the former deal paid, but that previous deal was signed 11 years ago. You’ll have to do the math to see if the tournament has kept up its value in real terms (vs. inflation), but at first glance it doesn’t seem as if the tournament is worth a great deal more now than it was at the end of the 1990s.

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