Back in the good ol’ days, Selection Sunday was simple. March Madness’ official commencement was 30 minutes of organic, uncorrupted drama. Take 1996 as an example: CBS’ Selection Show went to Andrea Joyce no less than 42 seconds in. Her first words – “lots of anxious people out there, so we will not waste any time” – were music to America’s ears. The formula, for so long, was untouchable: No. 1 seeds right off the top; bracket reveal, region by region, immediately thereafter. And viewers loved it. Millions of them.
The geniuses behind that idea are righting their wrong a year later, scrapping the ill-fated alphabetical reveal, returning to something close to the norm. But even prior to last March, there was grumbling. There always is. So what can be done? How can we fix Selection Sunday?
Yahoo Sports put the question to three of our college hoops writers. Their ideas range from the practical to the revolutionary – and begin with the latter.
Bushnell: A two-part reveal, but done right
Henry Bushnell: Here’s a hot take: The thinking behind last year’s changes wasn’t completely moronic. Because there was, and still is, a flaw in the tried and trusted formula. There are two different types of Selection Sunday drama, the bubble and the bracket. Separating them into two different reveals makes sense – if you do it right.
The traditional region-by-region, pod-by-pod format doesn’t do the anxiety of a bubble wait justice. The bubble monopolizes tourney coverage in the 48 hours leading up to 6 p.m. ET. But as the Selection Show’s host speeds through matchups, it’s darn near impossible to track and absorb.
Last year’s changes didn’t solve that problem – they, instead, necessitated a handy alphabetical list of all bubblers, something the vast majority of viewers didn’t have.
But there’s a way to have the best of both worlds. Hear me out. What if we piggybacked off the two-part concept, but replaced the alphabetized reveal with a segmented 1-through-68 countdown?
Start by listing the 32 automatic qualifiers – no drama there. Then give us the No. 1 seeds, just like old times. Then, split the 36 at-large picks into tiers, based on the committee’s 1-68 ranking. First give us the top 12 at-larges – again, not much drama. Then give us six more (13-18) at once. Then another batch of six (19-24).
Then, for the final 12, count them down one by one. Flash a school’s name up on the screen. Cut briefly to their watch party. Rinse and repeat, until we’re down to around 10 realistic bubble contenders for three spots. Then two. Then one. This is how we conceive of and talk about the bubble. X teams for X spots. Shouldn’t that be how it’s revealed?
Then go to commercial break with the field of 68, the top four seeds and the First Four (the last four in) known. Coming out of break, reveal the bracket. The focus can now be on matchups and Final Four paths. The mid-major AQs still get their live reaction cuts – their moments in the sun.
Is there a worry it could drag on a bit? Sure. But we’ve waited for days, weeks, months. What’s the harm in prolonging the tension by a few minutes to ensure it unravels in the most dramatic – and digestible – fashion possible?
Eisenberg: Build drama; boot Chuck and Kenny
Jeff Eisenberg: Much as I hate to admit it, I’m with Henry here.
The two storylines that dominate the lead-up to Selection Sunday are who the four No. 1 seeds are and which bubble teams will make the field. Therefore I have no problem with devoting the opening segment to answering those questions as long as it’s done in a more clever, intuitive way than the debacle CBS and Turner thrust on us last year.
Lead off the show by unveiling the No. 1 overall seed and the three other teams on the top seed line. Only a couple minutes into the broadcast, you’ve already generated goodwill by answering one of the two biggest audience questions.
I admit that to avoid confusion it’s necessary to list the NCAA tournament’s automatic qualifiers before running through the at-large bids, but there’s absolutely no reason to do it one-by-one in alphabetical order like last year. There’s no bigger snooze than beginning the show with five minutes of information people already know.
Briefly show a graphic that includes all 32 automatic qualifiers — or eight at a time or something if that’s more visually digestible. Then go straight into the at-large qualifiers, as Henry said, in a countdown format from best to worst.
Henry’s idea of splitting the at-larges into tiers is truly brilliant, so I’m stealing it here. Whatever it takes to devote the least amount of time to the teams we already know will make the field while building drama for a one-by-one reveal of the final bubble teams.
The downside to revealing which at-large teams made the field before unveiling the bracket is that you do risk losing some of the audience. Fans of snubbed bubble teams have no reason to keep watching. Even fans of bubble teams who did get in might be content to step away from the TV and check later where their school landed in the bracket.
That’s a risk worth taking for a few years, in my opinion. If Turner and CBS did the unveiling of the at-large teams in concise yet dramatic fashion, there’s no reason it can’t be a crowd pleaser once viewers adjust.
The other adjustment I’d make is to boot Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith off the Selection Show. They’re a highly entertaining pairing that can successfully transition to college basketball when analyzing games, but the Selection Show is too far outside their comfort zone.
The conversation on Selection Sunday is all about bubble teams that were snubbed or teams that were over- and under-seeded, discussions that require having followed college basketball closely. Hire a knowledgeable college basketball analyst to pair with Seth Davis for that role rather than trying to force feed viewers more Chuck and Kenny.
Owens: Get to the point
Jason Owens: Here’s hoping the CBS and Turner crews take some more cues from the viewing public to get the show right.
Most notably — get to the point. Fans are tuning in to see the bracket revealed. But like so much else in sports broadcasting, the bracket reveal has become a bloated monster saturated with filler and sponsor gimmicks.
Yes, the networks pay exorbitant amounts of money to broadcast the NCAA Tournament, so maximizing TV eyes — and how long those eyes tune in — is of paramount concern. But viewing habits have changed. Attention spans are short. People simply don’t have the patience to be led on when the information they’re seeking will be readily available on their devices within the hour.
Or, in the case of a leak, it’s already out there. It’s happened before. It will inevitably happen again.
Viewers made their case last year, tuning out the TBS broadcast in record numbers leading to an an all-time low 1.6 overnight rating.
The response was swift. The show will return to its longtime home CBS. It will be one hour instead of two. They’re steps in the right direction.
Let’s hope producers keep things moving in a format that respects the viewers who are electing to spend a Sunday afternoon on the eve of spring in front of their televisions. Cut the artificial drama.
There’s plenty of time for analysis after the reveal, and people will be hungry for whatever information they can find to help them fill out their own brackets. Entice viewers to stick around organically with compelling analysis that makes them believe they can find an edge in the largely random practice of bracket prognostication.
And, as Jeff mentioned, maybe that includes less Barkley. We all love Chuck. We are also all fully aware that he’s watched as little college basketball as most of the rest of the public just now tuning in.