The broadcast partners confirmed plans for the tournament, which the NCAA said last month it would hold entirely in the state of Indiana (and almost all of it in Indianapolis) as a safety precaution. In 2020, the abrupt cancellation of the tournament as Covid-19 was starting to sweep across the U.S. became one of the grim early milestones of the pandemic. The absence of the tournament was estimated to have cost the NCAA $600 million, and networks and advertisers lost highly valuable live programming.
Beginning March 18, all 67 tournament games will be carried by four networks — TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV – and streamed on the NCAA’s March Madness Live app. CBS will air the two Final Four matchups on Saturday, April 3 and the national championship game on Monday, April 5.
Similar to college football, college basketball has had a bumpy season due to Covid-19, with dozens of games being postponed or canceled due to virus outbreaks. Several prominent coaches have suggested doing away with conference championships, which have become valuable ratings-getters for ESPN and Fox Sports, among other college basketball stakeholders.
As with all sports during the pandemic, many aspects of the annual college hoops ritual will be muted this year. While the NCAA said it is considering allowing a limited number of fans to attend, it appears certain that capacity crowds and marching bands are not likely going to be the backdrop for the games.
TBS and CBS will share the finals of the four regions of the tournament bracket, and each of those “Elite Eight” games will be played in primetime on March 29 and 30. The regional semifinals will air on CBS and TBS with each of the eight Sweet 16 games airing in its own television window on March 27 and 28.
Under the alternating-year part of the agreement between the companies, Turner will get the Final Four and championship game in 2022.
In all, Turner will carry 43 games, with 24 going to CBS. The two operations will team to produce pre-game and game coverage from studios in New York and Atlanta.