Brad Nessler is the only new play-by-play announcer for this year’s NCAA Tournament, sliding in with Verne Lundquist sitting out March Madness 2018 while he recovers from back surgery. The 61-year-old Nessler will be calling his first men’s Tournament since 1992, joining analyst Steve Lavin and reporter Evan Washburn in Wichita, K.S. for Thursday and Saturday games.
Nessler will call Midwest Region games during the day on Thursday, with top-seeded Kansas playing Ivy League champion Penn and Seton Hall taking on N.C. State in the 8-9 matchup. At night, Wichita hosts West Region action, with Houston facing San Diego State in the 6-11 matchup, followed by third-seeded Michigan against 14th-seeded Montana. All four games will be televised on TBS.
Nessler called the 1992 Winter Olympics, the NCAA Tournament, and the women’s Final Four before he “went to the other network over there,” being ESPN, as he put it, in the fall of 1992. At last week’s media day in New York City, Nessler spoke to Awful Announcing about his March memories, how he handled not calling Tournament games last year in his first season back with the network and how he plans to handle references to the ongoing FBI investigation.
Note: The following has been edited for length and clarity
What do you remember from that 1992 tournament?
Not that much, to be honest with you. You know, I didn’t have any dramatic moments. Verne always seems to get the greatest stuff. The great shots, the great putts, all that. I was just telling somebody, I think I remember mostly actually working the women’s tournament because I was with Ann Meyers Drysdale, and she was so spectacular that I probably learned more basketball from her than I did a lot of people I’d been with. Yeah, I didn’t have any shining moment that I remember, other than it was so much fun because when you see lower seeds beat somebody higher, that was always kinda cool.
I think I was in Boise one of those years, which was weird because they have a regional this year too, and I was with Irv Brown, I think. Irv Brown used to be a coach and a referee, and I worked with Mike Pratt, I worked with Tommy Heinsohn. It was like different guys every year. So I never had a consistent group that I worked with.
Working with Heinsohn must have been interesting
Oh that was cool. There were great stories, especially off the air, after the games were over. That was spectacular.
Any that you remember or that you can repeat?
[Laughs] From Tommy? No! I can’t repeat any of that stuff. No, it really was so long ago that it’s kind of hard to comprehend. Everybody says, it’s the first time you’ve done the tournament in 26 years, but I’ve probably done— I tried to do the math the other day— almost 1,000 basketball games in that stretch, be it college, NBA, whatever. So the hardest part is the four games in the first day. That part I remember.
The bosses used to tell us, if the hotel is in close proximity, you might want to go back after the first two games and actually take a shower and change shirts and ties and everything. I was telling Sean McManus yesterday that our bosses used to tell us that, and he asked “how’d that go?” And I said, not well at all [laughs]. You’re still really tired after four games.
Your clothes don’t help you wake up.
You might smell a little better…
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly.
Have you done any games this year for CBS?
I’ve done six or seven. Like every other week, kind of. I did the [CBS Sports] Classic doubleheader in New Orleans. I’ve had kind of a nice mix. I’ve done Big Ten, AAC, SEC, ACC, North Carolina, Kentucky, Arizona, Stanford. Just getting all over the map, a little bit. Which is good.
I should have prepared better, but were any of those games with Steve Lavin?
Nope, I worked with [Bill] Raftery mostly, Clark [Kellogg]. I haven’t been with Lav yet.
Are you going to go in blind, or try to do practice games? How’s that gonna go?
We worked together at ESPN, so we did stuff there. We did Saturday games, sometimes SEC. We did the slam dunk, three-point show for ESPN, which you can’t prepare for that. But we’ve known each other for a long time, and it’s gonna be easy, actually.
When you moved over to CBS to do mainly football, was there an expectation from you that you were also going to get to do the Tournament?
That was my hope. Last year, it didn’t work out. You’d have to talk to somebody else about that, but…
How did you feel about that?
Oh, I wanted to do hoops, you know. And there’s gonna be a time, probably, when I’ll just do football, maybe. But the time’s not up yet. I like doing basketball, and I love being involved in the Tournament. So last year I was hoping to do it, but it didn’t work out. I didn’t press the issue. I just kept telling them that I wanted to do the Tournament, and it didn’t work out.
I don’t think it’s really because of Verne not being here or anything like that, it just worked out better this year. There are contracts involved and all that kind stuff with other people, and Turner, it’s not just CBS, you know. It just took a minute to get it together.
What are you looking forward to the most?
Day one, I love it. I hate it and love it at the same time. Doing that many games is really, really taxing on everybody, regardless of your age. There’s a lot of guys that are 20 years younger than me that the physical part of it doesn’t even bother them, and when I did it, I was in my 30s or whatever.
So 26 years later, I know it’s going to be taxing a little bit, but the adrenaline takes over and once you get through the first game, you kind of go half by half. You get through the first half, you get through the second half and you’ve got one game under your belt. You get the second game, and then it just kind of flies. And just the fact that there’s so much going on, not just with the game you’re doing but everything else going on in the country, and you know that everybody in the world is watching for their brackets and all that kinda stuff. It’s a remarkable event. It’s like the Super Bowl, except it lasts three weeks. It’s pretty cool.
One last question: The elephant in the room is the FBI investigation. How do you and Steve plan on addressing that?
You know, if we have a team that’s been involved, it’s a bigger thing. If we have eight teams that have nothing to do with it, the studio’s gonna handle most of that anyway. Like a couple of weeks ago, it came out that Louisville lost their 2013 [championship] and you 123 victories, or whatever. So we had to deal with that, but Greg [Gumbel] and Clark and Seth [Davis] did that in the pregame show with [NCAA President] Mark Emmert, and they kinda covered it all.
But when we came on the air, you assume there’s a different audience listening, and so that’s the first thing we had to address, which was hard because you want to just get that out of the way nice and clean, and then go on and do basketball. And then we kind of re-looked at it at the 16-minute timeout and the four-minute timeout in the first half, and then we just did hoops.
So in a perfect world, we’ll get teams that aren’t involved at all and we’ll just do basketball, because all my friends and most people I know only care about their brackets and the games. They’re not that concerned about all that [FBI] stuff right now. And let it clear itself out as time goes by, but I’m not gonna deal with it too much.