The traditional gripes on Selection Sunday usually revolve around which teams cracked the NCAA men’s basketball tournament field unjustly and which bubble teams deserved better than to have their hopes burst.
There was plenty of that this year, of course, during and after TBS’s two-hour program Sunday night, the first year the Turner property has hosted the selection show since reaching a 14-year mutual rights agreement to broadcast the tournament along with CBS in 2011.
Oklahoma and Syracuse in, Southern Cal and Notre Dame out. The correct decisions by the selection committee? Have at it.
But there was one thing viewers did agree upon, no matter their rooting interests: TBS’s selection show – especially the attempt at creating artificial suspense with an unconventional approach to revealing the field of 68 teams – was poorly conceived at best. At worst? It was a mess.
How frustrating was it? TBS’s presentation practically unified Twitter, which happens about as often as Charles Barkley watches a college basketball game not involving Auburn.
There were technical glitches almost immediately. Audio didn’t synch up with video when the studio hosts and analysts were talking. Mascots were misidentified and old logos were used in a couple of instances. The lights in the New York studio cut out during a split screen with the main studio in Atlanta. A studio audience, appearing to be no more than 40 people, was an awkward new twist.
Ernie Johnson, arguably the best studio host of his time, was caught in a cringeworthy moment of product placement. Johnson did a read for Pizza Hut while standing amid the studio audience, took a bite of a slice, and then suggested wryly that the audience could show a “little more enthusiasm’’ when its response was lukewarm to his praise of the pie.
But the most frustrating moment came with TBS’s most important obligation: the reveal of the bracket. Rather than following the standard CBS had set for so many years of unveiling the field of 68 region by region, TBS instead altered the tried-and-true format.
This time, for the first time, the field was revealed alphabetically, with the automatic bids – old news, in one sense – coming first, and then the at-large selections. This took approximately 10 minutes, with the intention being to let anticipating teams know right away whether they had made the tournament or not. Theoretically, it also allowed TBS to get two reveals into the show rather than one, with the field first and then the bracket.
But viewers wanted one thing, the one thing they were used to: The reveal of the bracket. TBS delayed the entire reason viewers were tuning in, and the backlash on social media was overwhelming.
This might have been the best tweet. It certainly captured the mindset of a major consensus of college basketball fans:
Please do not call 911 to complain about the format of the NCAA tournament selection show. We can’t do anything about it, no matter how bad it is.
— Lawrence Police (@LawrenceKS_PD) March 11, 2018
TBS did manage to reveal all of the brackets just shy of 40 minutes into the 2-hour show. Last year’s reveal on CBS, on a 90-minute show with the familiar brackets-first format, also took approximately 40 minutes to complete.
Two years ago, the last time there was a 2-hour show, the second half of the bracket was not revealed until more than an hour had passed.
TBS’s decision to structure the show the way it did might have seemed inexplicable. But it was actually explained to several reporters last week by Craig Barry, Turner Sports’ executive vice president in chief content officer.
He told USA Today he wasn’t worried that announcing the teams that had made it before revealing the bracket would affect the suspense.
“I think teams will appreciate getting the information as fast as possible,’’ said Barry. “If that means we lose one or two reaction shots from teams, that’s a small price to pay for doing what’s best for the viewer and the teams in the tournament. Whenever you make a change, there’s always some risk.’’
He was right. He just didn’t recognize how much.