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CBS Begins March Madness but Eyes Summer

3/16/2010 7:52 AM Eastern

New York — CBS tips off its multiplatform
“March Madness” coverage of the NCAA Division
I Men’s Basketball Championship on
March 18, culminating with the title game on
April 5.

CBS College Sports will have tournament
games on March 18 and 19 and some 80-plus
hours of complementary tournament fare, which
will be seen in some 56 million households as the
cable network expands its reach via a free preview
with many of the nation’s top distributors.

But CBS and its cable cousin, as well as executives
in the TV-sports community, will
also have their eye on college hoops throughout
this summer and on July 31 in particular.
That’s when the NCAA can opt out of the three
remaining years — worth some $2.1 billion —
of its 11-year, $6 billion dollar contract for the
tourney.

The NCAA, which is exploring that option and
possible expansion of the 64-team tournament
to a 68- or 96-squad field, sent out a request for
proposal last year that has reportedly drawn interest
from a number of parties: Turner Sports,
which might team with the incumbent; ESPN;
Fox; and Comcast, which is undergoing federal
review for its proposed $30 billion joint venture
with NBC Universal.

On its March 9 media day here, CBS Sports and
News president Sean McManus said the network
“expects to be carrying the tournament next year
and beyond. We have a history at CBS of keeping
events that we want,” he said, listing The Masters
and PGA golf, its SEC football and basketball
packages, and the U.S. Open tennis championship.
“We plan to follow with the NCAA tournament
as well,” he said.

McManus, in a published report, also indicated
that he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of
more tourney games appearing on CBS College
Sports.

Also potentially up for bid: other college championship
events, including the women’s basketball
tournament, soccer, softball, lacrosse and
the College World Series, the rights to which are
currently held by ESPN and its properties. When
that pact was renewed for some $200 million by
ESPN in 2001, CBS didn’t have an outlet to accommodate
those competitions, which could
now be leveraged by CBS College Sports as a
means to add cache to its extant properties and
build its subscriber base.

September