Friday, March 27, 2015

The tournament television schedule

Without getting too much into what was actually said the past week or so, some coaches complained about the turnaround time in between rounds.  Using one of the complainers as an example:  Wisconsin played late, late Sunday night, then had to play a Thursday Sweet 16 game, while the other 3 teams in their regional played on Thursday/Saturday the previous week.  This means an extra day of rest/prep.

Now, this kind of thing is unavoidable in the current system.  Wisky just happened to be closest to a Friday/Sunday pod in week 1, just like Arizona just happened to be closest to a Thursday/Saturday pod.  We could rig the system to make sure every team in a region plays the same day on week 1, but we'd lose significant, significant ground in terms of travel.  The whole pod system that we have today is contingent on making this sacrifice in days off.  Sure, in an ideal world, everyone in the West region would be playing Thursday/Saturday, but it's not feasible, and we're past the point of no return there.

A bigger issue is the TV times itself.  It's no secret TV execs control what games are shown when, and on which channel.  It's done to maximize eyeballs to TVs.  No surprise.  But even with that, I'd like to see some consideration to common sense.

The smoking gun:  at a game on Friday in Columbus, Ohio, Dayton/Providence tipped off, at a local time of 10:52PM.  That is ridiculous.  Period.

Let's look at the Friday schedule a little deeper.  There were 4 sites in play:  Charlotte, Columbus, Omaha, Seattle.  Logic would say Charlotte and Columbus should tip first, and Seattle and Omaha should tip last, so that they'd have the final game of the day.  And, actually, the tip times in Seattle are reasonable.  It's the tip times in Omaha that went haywire.

Scheduled tip times in Omaha, in local time:  11:15AM, 1:45PM, 5:50PM, 8:20PM.  Seem reasonable on the surface.  However:
Scheduled tip times in Columbus, in local time:  2:10PM, 4:40PM, 7:27PM, 9:57PM.  And the last tip time extended an hour past schedule.  Note the turnaround time in between the 2nd game and 3rd game - most regionals have at least an hour in there, to switch out crowds and things like that.  Columbus was scheduled to have no turnaround time.

This is insane.  Why didn't the times for Columbus and Omaha flip with one another?  Why are they waiting until 2PM local time to tip in Columbus?  Columbus was the LAST of the 4 regions to tip.  The answer seems to be TV.

The Maryland/Valpo game (in Columbus) would get the awkward 4:40PM start time where viewership is minimized.  They wanted Maryland/Valpo in that spot because the other 3 games had Indiana, Louisville, and a highly-ranked Virginia team, who are better TV draws.  Why did the WVU/Buffalo game in Columbus tip last?  Because Kansas tipped first (in Omaha).  And the first game to tip has a national audience for nearly a full half.  Can't have WVU anchor a whole 35 minutes of television.

The real crime, though, were the Saturday/Sunday schedules.  Let me break down how they work.  With 4 regionals, there are 4 "windows".  These windows, let's call:  CBS Early, CBS Late, TNT, TBS.  Each name is self-explanatory.  The CBS Early window is a national window - no other games play at the same time as the CBS Early games.  This is by design, I'm sure.  I imagine it's the type of thing CBS wanted in the TV contracts - if they're giving up games to the Turner sports networks, they want the exclusive window in return.

Well, here's a problem.  CBS obviously wanted the Kentucky game for its Early window on Saturday.  Obviously.  However, because there's 4 sites in play, and the schedule is set in advance, the other game in Louisville was automatically going to get a national audience as well.  That means UAB/UCLA got a national audience while many, many good games got aired opposite each other.  Blargh.

And another problem:  since the networks (correctly) want to straddle the games to make sure none end at the same time...that means one or two sites are going to have very, very late games.  This led to the Wisconsin situation, among others.  Playing late, late into Sunday night is an issue.  If you're wondering, back when it was just CBS showing the games, they had to pack in a quadruple header, in order to get out of the way of 60 Minutes, so there were actually no Sunday night games.

I know CBS doesn't want to hear this, but for the sake of both competitive balance and viewership balance, they need to give up their exclusive Early window.  The schedule for Saturday/Sunday really should be as follows, using these year's sites as example:

Charlotte:  12:00, 2:40
Columbus:  2:00, 4:40
Omaha:  4:00, 6:40 (local time 3:00, 5:40)
Seattle:  5:30, 8:10 (local time 2:30, 5:10)

You still essentially have one national window, early in Charlotte from 12-2.  If you assume on-schedule and 2 hours per game, the 8 games end at:  2:00, 4:00, 4:40, 6:00, 6:40, 7:30, 8:40, 10:10.  Pretty good balance.  Everyone's done playing by 10:10 EST, and no one plays past 8 PM local time.  3 games going on at once in the later games, but the overlap is rather minimal (very end of one game while another starts).  This is much better, frankly.

And note what happens with the late Seattle game, that last game is a de-facto national game.  So CBS, by picking up the Charlotte and Seattle regionals, would still get their 2 national games, only on opposite ends of the day instead of both early.

The only obvious thing is that if a game goes OT, some of this gets wrecked.  The 40 minute gap might not be enough, and it might take some finagling to get right.

I wouldn't change much with the Thursday/Friday schedules, except for which regionals tip at which time.

No comments: