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Brush up on these new Dance steps

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / March 11, 2011

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Following last year’s NCAA Tournament, CBS took heat from fans and media grumps alike for messing with “One Shining Moment.’’ The upbeat montage of highlights set to a song of the same name traditionally airs at the conclusion of the championship game.

No disrespect to Jennifer Hudson, a spectacular singer, but the consensus on her revamped rendition was that it was the musical equivalent of a missed layup.

Considering the reaction to that small matter last year, it’s going to be fascinating to monitor the response to the significant alterations to the tournament and the way it is covered this year.

It all began last June when the NCAA reached a deal with CBS and Turner Sports giving them the rights to broadcast the tournament for 14 years. Tournament games, which have aired on CBS since 1982, will now be divided among CBS and Turner properties TBS, TNT, and truTV, with four games airing simultaneously on each channel during the Rounds of 64 and 32 next week.

“It’s a new world out there, really, because of this partnership,’’ said Jim Nantz, CBS’s lead play-by-play broadcaster. “Every game is going to be national, so it’s a different equation than in years past. That’s the beauty of this alliance. Every game is going to be broadcast to every part of the country.’’

As part of the nearly $11 billion deal, the tournament was expanded from 65 to 68 teams, with a single play-in game replaced by four games that the networks are referring to as “first round.’’

Two of the games will feature the four lowest-seeded teams in the bracket. The last four teams to earn at-large bids will play in the other two matchups. All four games will air on truTV Tuesday and Wednesday, leading into the beginning of play among the remaining field of 64 on Thursday.

A determination as to which games will air on which networks will not be made until after Sunday’s selection show (6 p.m., CBS), when executives from CBS Sports and Turner will sit down and hash it out. What is certain is that 13 games — including that “first round’’ — will be on truTV, which reaches approximately 92 million homes. By comparison, TBS and TNT reach about 100 million homes each, so while truTV seems like a bit of an odd spot for college basketball, it is hardly obscure.

(The truTV telecasts will not be available in high definition in some markets nationally, but a Comcast spokesman confirmed that they will air on Ch. 902 in the Boston market. The games are also available in HD on DirecTV.)

CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus confirmed that the “first round’’ games were a compromise for some rights bidders’ desire to expand the field to 96 teams. He said he doesn’t believe the spirit of the tournament has been altered, even though the viewer experience will be different.

McManus said there is an obligation to show each game in its entirety, meaning that split-screens, live look-ins to other games, and quick switches to catch the possibility of a buzzer-beater — all familiar elements of CBS’s telecasts — will be kept to a minimum or outright eliminated.

“There will be no flexing,’’ McManus said. “Once a game is established on one of those four networks, for better or for worse — and sometimes it will be better and sometimes it will be worse — on each network, that’s the game that you’re going to see.’’

The benefit, McManus said, is that viewers will frequently be directed to watch the best game. The scoreboard graphic on the screen will note the network on which each matchup is airing, and broadcasters will acknowledge that there is a better game on another network if such is the case.

“Say the viewer is watching CBS and it’s a 25-point game,’’ McManus said. “He may say to himself, ‘What is CBS doing, why are they sticking with this game?’ Because in the past, we would protect the local market and switch to another game. There is no switching to another game in this format of four national broadcasts.

“Once the viewer gets used to it, he’s going to like it. He’s going to play the role that CBS used to play, he’s got the control in his hands. He doesn’t need to rely on some CBS executive to decide what game he’s going to switch to. We’ve empowered the viewer.’’

A look back If reminiscing about compelling tournament teams of the past helps get you in the mood for March Madness, there are two outstanding documentaries debuting this weekend that you’ll enjoy. HBO Sports’ “Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV,’’ a look at the controversial and wildly entertaining reign of coach Jerry Tarkanian, debuts tomorrow at 9:30 p.m. Then at 9 p.m. Sunday, ESPN will premiere “Fab 5,’’ an insightful look at the trend-setting quintet of Michigan basketball freshmen from the early ’90s, produced by one of the Fab 5, ESPN analyst Jalen Rose. Which documentary is better? The slight nod here goes to “Runnin’ Rebels,’’ mostly because a void is left in “Fab 5’’ by Chris Webber’s refusal to participate . . . MLB Network will debut the documentary “Down the Line’’ immediately following its 1 p.m. broadcast of Red Sox-Marlins tomorrow. It takes a look behind the scenes at the bat boys, clubhouse attendants, and other essential and often unsung personnel who make a ballgame at Fenway Park possible . . . The Bruins stumbled during their anticipated matchup with the Canadiens Tuesday night, but the game was a big winner for NESN. The telecast of Montreal’s 4-1 victory earned a 4.9 household rating in Boston, the network’s most-watched Bruins game of the season. The last three Bruins games on NESN have earned the network’s three highest ratings of the season.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.