At the 2019 NCAA Tournament, the Sweet 16 will involve regional semifinals at two game sites, just as it does in every other year. The games will start 20 minutes apart on both Thursday and Friday: 7:09 p.m. Eastern time in the West (Thursday) and East (Friday), 7:29 Eastern in the South (Thursday) and Midwest (Friday).
This is 2019. This is a joke. Why has this ridiculous setup not been changed?
I distinctly recall the 2014 Sweet 16 and the Friday night when the East Regional semifinals and Midwest Regional semifinals took place. Michigan State-Virginia and Kentucky-Louisville were the late games in their respective regional semifinal doubleheaders. One of the two game sites — Madison Square Garden in the East and Lucas Oil Stadium in the Midwest — ran late, which meant that both games came down to the wire at roughly the same time.
Here we were, on one of college basketball’s most important weekends, with two tremendous showcase matchups… and THEY WERE COMPETING AGAINST EACH OTHER!
College basketball journalists had to flippin’ CHOOSE between a No. 1 seed (Virginia) and Tom Izzo and, on the other hand, Kentucky versus Louisville (Calipari versus Pitino), in the frickin’ SWEET 16.
This is all because CBS and Turner Sports staggered the tip times by less than half an hour.
WHY IS THIS STILL HAPPENING, and moreover, WHY IS NO ONE ELSE TALKING ABOUT IT?!
We should all be up in arms about this, and you don’t have to be Bernie Sanders to point out this injustice. EVERYONE should be outraged!
Think about this for a second: What if the AFC Championship Game started at 3:05 Eastern time, and the NFC Championship Game started at 4:40 instead of 6:40? You would be VERY UPSET, wouldn’t you? There would be no good reason to have to start one game in front of the other like that, demanding divided attention.
Think about this for a second: What if two NBA playoff conference semifinal series — aka, the second round — both went to a Game 7 on a Sunday, and the East Game 1 started at 1 Eastern on ABC, and ESPN aired Game 2 in the West at 2:30 Eastern (from a Central time zone location such as Oklahoma City)? You would be furious, and rightly so. GAME 7, AND YOU HAVE TO MISS THE WHOLE FIRST HALF IN ORDER TO WATCH THE SECOND HALF OF ANOTHER GAME 7?
Think about this for a second: The NHL first round would have back-to-back Game 7s on consecutive nights, one in the East and one in the West on both nights. You would entirely expect one Game 7 to air at 7 Eastern, maybe even 6:30, and the other one at 10, maybe 9 at the absolute earliest if it was in, say, Nashville or Chicago.
You would be PISSED if one Game 7 aired at 7:30 and the other one aired at 8 or 8:30. Game 7s are showcase events and should not be competing with each other. There might be a small amount of unavoidable overlap if the Western site is in the Central time zone, but for sure, one game should be in the third period while the other game is just starting. There shouldn’t be a situation in which the games are only one period (or 15 game minutes) apart, but a half-hour difference would create exactly that.
Think about this for a second: What if one World Cup quarterfinal is scheduled one hour or 90 minutes after another one? YOU WOULD GO BONKERS! Three hours is all one needs for a World Cup match viewing window: Two hours for regulation time, then a third hour for the 30 minutes of extra time followed by the penalty-kick shootout. There would never be any need to start one quarterfinal during another one.
Yet, THIS IS WHAT THE NCAA TOURNAMENT DOES IN THE SWEET 16!
WHY IS THIS NOT A BIGGER DEAL?
What is especially notable — and confusing — about this setup is that CBS, which used to be the exclusive broadcaster of the Sweet 16, has now partnered with Turner Sports (TBS) to share coverage.
I totally get that CBS cannot experiment too much with tip times, because local affiliates need to show local news in various markets. CBS, specifically, is constrained, and has other obligations to adhere to. I totally understand that… but here’s the thing: YOU HAVE TBS FOR THE OTHER TWO GAMES NOW!
TBS should not have to be similarly constrained. There is no local news on TBS, no network TV obligations it should be tethered to.
Have the CBS regional semifinals at normal times, but have the TBS regional semifinals either very early, or very late, or both.
Imagine this setup: 6 Eastern TBS semifinal, 7:09 CBS semifinal, 9:39 CBS semifinal, 11 Eastern TBS semifinal (with that late semi involving Western teams in Western markets).
If the second TBS semifinal does not involve Western teams, go with a traditional 6 Eastern-8:30 Eastern TBS doubleheader without a break between games at that regional site. CBS would go with its normal 7:09-9:39 setup. You would get a full hour stagger and would never have to watch dueling second halves in which the early game drags on and the late game speeds up. In 2014, you had to madly flip the channel when two huge college basketball games went down to the wire.
This setup would prevent that.
The bigger point is this, in anticipating some of the critiques which might be thrown in my direction as a result of making this argument: Some might say you can’t start a game too early for Western viewers, and some might say you can’t start a game too late for Eastern viewers. I would say you can’t have it both ways. You can make one critique on the time-slot issue, but not both.
First of all, I addressed the CBS affiliate issue, but I know that’s not the full story. What about people staying up too late, or — for the early game at 6 Eastern — being caught in the West at work and unable to see a game?
Point No. 1 on this: We already have the NCAA Tournament, an event in which weekday daytime basketball occurs. These are not seven-game series. This is part of the deal. First-Round Thursday and First-Round Friday, if you recall — when CBS had exclusive coverage and Turner had not entered the picture — had very little late-afternoon action. There was always the one West Region game which occupied 5 to 7 Eastern and was shown in select markets, but the rest of the country did not see that game. Now, though, with Turner and TruTV in the mix, there is always national TV action in that 5-7 Eastern window on Thursday and Friday in the first round.
Are we really going to play the “inaccessible for Western viewers” card here? It’s not as though a 4:09 Pacific start in Anaheim for Gonzaga and Florida State is an ideal arrangement to begin with, anyway.
If FSU-Gonzaga started one hour earlier, would anyone die?
The better arrangement, of course, would be for the South — in Louisville — to start at 6 Eastern and for FSU-Gonzaga to be the late game in Anaheim, with Texas Tech-Michigan starting in Anaheim at 7:39 Eastern, 4:39 Pacific. Florida State fans would complain, but hey: Gonzaga is the higher seed. I would think Gonzaga fans, as the fans of the higher seed, should get preference in terms of when their game starts. If Florida State was the 1 seed and Gonzaga the 4 seed, FSU fans would have a right to have their game start when they wanted it to. (Again, few people talk about these kinds of issues.)
Point No. 2 on this larger issue is as follows: NBA playoff games start at 10:40-10:45 Eastern time in the first two rounds. This is an accepted part of a national sports fan’s life and experience. Given that a college basketball game doesn’t last as long as an NBA game, why should we treat it as a profound crisis that an NCAA game — TWICE PER YEAR — might have a regional semifinal tip time of 11 Eastern?
Look, I think we should pay athletes. I think these are entertainers who deserve a lot more than what they get. This is true whether Sweet 16 games start at 9 or 10 or 8 or 4 or midnight. A 90-minute shift in when Sweet 16 games begin doesn’t change that. We have already turned the NCAA Tournament into a massive entertainment and TV extravaganza.
It’s a fact that the Sweet 16 involves four games which generally need to be accessible to viewers in the evening or nighttime slots. Would TBS be willing to show daytime regional semifinals before CBS shows night doubleheaders? I think the fans of the schools playing daytime Sweet 16 games would not like that. Then again, it would be like Major League Baseball playing four playoff games in one day — 12:30, 3:45, 6:45, and 10 — it has happened before and will happen again.
The idea that these time slots for the Sweet 16 can’t extend across a full day — from 1 p.m. Eastern until 10 — is sound. The Sweet 16 should be confined to the evening unless the NCAA wanted to play all regional semifinals on Saturday and stage four regional finals on Sunday. That would not seem reasonable. Players would deserve (and need) a day off.
Given that Sweet 16 games need to be confined to the evening and night, I fail to see how either starting one site early at 6 Eastern, or the other site (generally in the West) at 8:30 and putting the second game at 11, is such a crisis.
Having to basically choose between one game and another — as in 2014 with MSU-Virginia and Kentucky-Louisville — seems like a FAR bigger crisis to me.
This is easily the worst main-event sports programming problem in the United States no one else talks about. Maybe CBS and Turner can get it right next year.
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