The NCAA Selection Show was a disaster, and alarmingly low ratings reflected that

The Dagger

The NCAA tournament Selection Show, in many ways, is unnecessary television. Unlike a game or musical performance, the bracket reveal, and the official start of March Madness, don’t require live visuals.

But for years, the NCAA tournament Selection Show was still excellent television. It was suspenseful. It was exciting. It was dramatic.

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Turner and CBS Sports, however, seem determined to drain the show of its suspense, its excitement and its drama. And as they do, rather than endure the changes, viewers are simply turning away.

Millions turned away from this year’s Selection Show, whose opening segment was marred by an embarrassing, out-of-sync audio/video lag. The show earned a 1.6 rating, an all-time low by far, down from 3.3 the previous year. That’s a precipitous 52 percent decline year-over-year, a stunning fall for a show that once dominated its (previously shorter) Sunday evening window.

The reasons for the decline are plentiful. The flawed format and audio issues were only two of many. The biggest factor was the switch from CBS to the less popular TBS. There was also the lack of a relevant lead-in. For years, CBS transitioned right from the Big Ten tournament final to their studio show, and then, at 6 p.m. ET, to the bracket reveal. TBS was airing a random old movie right up until 6 o’clock.

There was also ratings competition, and Tiger Woods playing on Sunday of a PGA Tour event made that competition unusually strong. Tiger, a NASCAR race and the NBA game between the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves (which concluded around the time the bracket reveal began) all outdrew TBS’ Selection Sunday coverage.

TV ratings for the NCAA tournament Selection Show hit all-time lows. (Getty)
TV ratings for the NCAA tournament Selection Show hit all-time lows. (Getty)

Selection Show ratings have been declining for years, so the general trend is nothing new. CBS’ numbers fell relatively consistently for two decades, from 6.5 in 1998 to 3.3 in 2017. The elongating of the show, from 30 minutes now all the way to two hours, has hurt. So has the increasingly immediate availability of the bracket online.

Still, the 1.6 rating is dreadful. Sports Media Watch predicted a 2.2 rating. TBS obviously fell well short of that.

And when you think about it, the steep drop makes sense. TBS opened its show with low production quality and an irrelevant, drawn-out listing of the 32 automatic qualifiers for the tournament. In other words, it opened a show predicated on revealing new information by revealing absolutely nothing. Who the heck would want to watch that?

Over a million people who previously did watch decided they didn’t want to this year. They wanted the bracket. TBS wasn’t going to give it to them right away, so they decided they didn’t want to waste their time. And it’s hard to blame them.

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer and college basketball for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

More NCAA tournament on Yahoo Sports:
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Selection Sunday winners and losers: Kentucky, Duke get rough roads
Five biggest tournament snubs
Everything you need to know before filling out a bracket
For beginners: Tips and tricks to filling out a bracket
Non-traditional ways to spice up your bracket pool

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