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CBS and Turner Broadcasting Excited About Raftery; Will Improve on Teamcast

On Tuesday, CBS and Turner Sports hosted their annual media day from the New York Hilton. Executives from both networks along with commentators for each network covering the NCAA Tournament took time to answer questions and comment on the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

CBS and Turner Broadcasting announced Bill Raftery will be broadcasting the Final Four for the first time on television.
CBS and Turner Broadcasting announced Bill Raftery will be broadcasting the Final Four for the first time on television.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It's crazy to think, but just a short five years ago, one could not watch every single game of the NCAA Tournament.

Really. I mean it. You couldn't just switch from CBS to TruTV to see a potential upset with only seconds remaining. If you were stuck with watching a No. 1 seed against a No. 16 seed in a blow out with 15 minutes in the first half remaining, you were stuck.

But thanks to CBS and Turner Broadcasting's merger in 2010, we have the luxury to watch any game at anytime.

As the two networks enter their fifth year together broadcasting the NCAA Tournament, CBS Chairman Sean McManus and Turner Broadcasting System President David Levy are excited for another tournament thanks to a strong regular season.

"Ratings are up against the board," said McManus.

But the two also know they can still improve the viewing experience for fans. Last year, "Teamcast" was introduced during the semifinals and championship game as an opportunity for fans to watch their home team's broadcast team and be more engaged with their own team. However, things did not run as smooth as planned. Confused fans complained about the broadcasters as being biased towards one team, not knowing they were watching a "Teamcast" telecast.

This year, Levy says they want to make sure they utilize social media more in an attempt to avoid confusion.

"We have to get the message [about watching Teamcasts] clearer," said Levy. "We need to focus on the fan first."

McManus knows that social media can certainly help generate buzz for not only college basketball, but for all sports.

"Social media can create stars overnight," McManus said.

When asked about who they believe are some of the premier teams in the nation in regards to ratings, McManus listed the likes of North Carolina, Michigan and Kentucky, praising Big Blue Nation. With Kentucky having a chance to complete a national championship season undefeated, McManus knows that whether fans love or hate Kentucky, people will tune in and is counting on them being the big story during this year's tournament.

"As long as [CBS/Turner] can ride UK's coattail, we will."

***

In addition to the excitement and improvements CBS and Turner have planned, the network and analysts alike are thrilled for Bill Raftery. Raftery, the long time broadcaster, will call the Final Four on television for the first time in his 33 year career. He'll be joining Jim Nantz and Grant Hill as the lead team for CBS.

"I'm excited for [Raftery] to be back by my side again," said Nantz, who will be calling his 30th NCAA Tournament. "I'm thrilled for the guy...everyone wants to see such a nice guy."

Grant Hill was ecstatic to be working with Nantz and Raftery, saying he is "Overwhelmed to be working with two legends."

After Nantz, Hill and Raftery were introduced to the media Tuesday morning, those in attendance gave Raftery a standing ovation, congratulating him on his promotion.

Of course, Raftery didn't think this day would come and downplayed the announcement.

"I'm just happy to be along for the ride," said Raftery.

Raftery, who played college basketball at La Salle University, knows a thing or two about broadcasting the Final Four, having done so on radio for the past 23 years. However, this is his first chance to do so on television. But Raftery doesn't think there will be a difference in transitioning from radio to television. When asked if there will be a challenge preparing for television, Raftery simply stated "We'll see."

In addition to answering questions about broadcasting, Raftery commented on college basketball in general and is excited for this year's tournament. He even may have a dark horse already in mind.

"St. John's will be a tough out. The kids are just resilient," Raftery said.

Continuing on the Big East theme, Raftery was asked about his favorite Big East venue, and a certain school in Indiana will like the answer.

"Butler comes to mind, Hinkle Fieldhouse. They have great fans, and the kids really play hard."

Raftery talked about his playing career at La Salle, and although they did not make the NCAA Tournament, his favorite memory was being able to play in the NIT. Raftery is still involved with the basketball team, as he participates in a golf outing that raise over $115,000 this past year for the program.

***

About halfway through the event, I found myself looking around as interviews are being conducted. At one table, I see CBS analysts Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith alone at a table just talking college basketball. I sat down to join the conversation. Barkley was advocating that NCAA athletes should not be paid, while Smith believes that athletes should receive compensation.

"First of all, there’s not that many good college players," Barkley said. "Less than one percent are going to play in the NBA. What about the other 99 percent that are getting a free education? Think about it."

Smith was on the opposite end of the spectrum. He believed that with all the revenue gained from events such as the Final Four, there's a lot of money to go around that should go to players.

"It's a billion dollar industry," Smith added.

When asked about PAC-12 deputy commissioner Jamie Zaninovich's proposal that college basketball should be a one semester sport, Smith agreed.

"The regular season is relevant. But I wouldn't mind seeing the regular season going to one semester." Smith continued saying that this gives players more opportunity to focus completely on school for a whole semester, and gives freshman the opportunity to get acclimated to campus and the rigors of their academic schedule easier.

***

Final notes from Media Day:

  • Former Villanova coach Steve Lappas will be part of  the CBS crew for the first time. He said that "St. John's being good is important for the Big East," and believes that the "old guard teams," such as Villanova, Georgetown and Providence playing well is paramount for the league's success.
  • Chris Webber was in attendance, as he will be calling the NCAA Tournament for CBS and Turner for the first time. "He is ready," said Levy when asked if Webber was the right choice to add to the broadcast team.
  • TBS will be home to the championship game in 2016. CBS has it this year.
  • A breakfast was held prior to the event. Ernie Johnson, studio host for the NCAA Tournament, said to Charles Barkley "When you think March, you think breakfast with the media."
  • Craig Sager was in attendance. Sager, who had battled with leukemia, was honored prior to the press conference and received a loud ovation.