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What if ESPN aired the Men’s NCAA Tournament?

Old school fans wax poetic about the days when ESPN aired the NCAA Tournament. You may not know that they did not use their own announcers for the broadcasts in the early 1980’s and depended on NCAA Productions to produce the telecasts. ESPN had Bob Ley and John Saunders as the hosts from Bristol, CT with Dick Vitale as the analyst. When CBS took over the rights in 1991, it ended a relationship with fans who became accustomed to the Whiparound format and jumping from buzzer beater to buzzer beater.

Some fans wish ESPN was still involved with the Men’s Tournament. And back in 2010, it almost happened as CBS tried to sell the NCAA Tournament to ESPN, but the deal fell through and CBS went to Turner instead to share the tournament. Let’s imagine that ESPN bought the rights. Taking a cue from Cosmos’ Ship of the Imagination, let’s speculate as to whom would call the Men’s Tourney if ESPN had the games.

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Studio Hosts – Rece Davis (main host) and Mike Tirico
Studio Analysts – Digger Phelps, Seth Greenberg, Jalen Rose

You have to have Mike Tirico as one of the hosts. He’s very smooth at the anchor desk and Rece Davis would be very good during the Final Four.

First Four Games
Mike Patrick/Len Elmore//Samantha Ponder

Giving Mike Patrick the First Four games in Dayton would be nice capper to a long ESPN career.

Second and Third Round Games:
Brad Nessler/Dan Dakich//Andy Katz
Carter Blackburn/Jay Williams//Allison Williams
Dave O’Brien/Doris Burke//Quint Kessenich
Joe Tessitore/Sean Farnham//Maria Taylor

With Jimmy Dykes back in coaching, Brad Nessler needs a new partner so why not Dan Dakich? Is having Doris Burke on the men’s games a stretch? Certainly not. Since she does men’s games in addition to the women, Burke knows basketball as well as anyone. Imagine the Rule of Joe Tess on a buzzer beater? Bringing in the ESPNU ACC Sunday Night team of Blackburn and the two Williamses would pay dividends for ESPN during the 2nd and 3rd round games.

Sweet 16 and Elite Eight:
Dan Shulman/Dick Vitale or Jay Bilas//Shannon Spake
Brent Musburger/Fran Fraschilla//Holly Rowe
Dave Pasch/Bill Walton//Samantha Ponder
Sean McDonough/Len Elmore//Jeannine Edwards

These teams would also call second and third round games. Dick Vitale does not work doubleheaders so Jay Bilas would team with Dan Shulman when Dickie V is off. With Sean McDonough’s regular Big Monday partner, Bilas with Shulman and Vitale, bringing in the experienced Len Elmore as his partner would form a very strong team. Having Bill Walton back on the NCAA Tournament would be a great listen based on his NIT experience. Walton got his national broadcasting career kickstarted when he worked on the NCAA Tournament in the early 1990’s with McDonough. And bringing Brent Musburger back to postseason college basketball would lessen some of the sting of being replaced by Chris Fowler on college football.

Final Four:
Dan Shulman/Jay Bilas or Dick Vitale//Shannon Spake//Holly Rowe

This team is based on what ESPN is doing with its international Final Four feed. Spake and Rowe would be added as reporters. Bilas would work one National Semifinal with Vitale on the other.

National Championship Game:
Dan Shulman/Jay Bilas/Dick Vitale//Shannon Spake//Holly Rowe

ESPN would probably want a three man table for the National Championship and why not? It has worked on North Carolina-Duke and when ESPN had the Big East.

ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ABC would be used for the first week. Then as we go to the second week, expect ESPN and ESPN2 to be the networks for the Sweet 16. ESPN would handle the Regional Finals, Final Four and National Championship making those events all-cable.

If ESPN did Teamcasts like Turner, it would super size and go Megacast as it did for the last BCS National Championship Game with perhaps a few more wrinkles.

So as we disembark from our Awful Announcing Ship of the Imagination and go back into reality, it’s interesting to think how ESPN might cover the men’s NCAA tourney.

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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