Charles Barkley ESPN TNT Charles Barkley on TNT’s “Inside The NBA.”

The men’s basketball NCAA Tournament is in full swing, and Charles Barkley is again in the center of the action. As he has done since 2011 under the deal between CBS and the then-Turner Sports (now TNT Sports, part of Warner Bros. Discovery), Barkley is again providing studio analysis for the men’s version of March Madness. And on a preview call last week, Barkley said this event remains a highlight of each year for him.

“The Olympics are the greatest sport I’ve ever been a part of in my life, and this is a close second. It’s amazing. Every year, something happens that you’re like ‘Wow, I’m glad I was a part of watching that.’ And I’ve said, even Republicans and Democrats can’t screw up March Madness. That’s how awesome this product is.”

The politician criticism there is typical for Barkley these days, but it’s still notable to hear him vouch for the NCAA Tournament in these terms. And he said some of that is about the people he works with, even those like Greg Gumbel that aren’t there this year.

“We miss you, man. He’s such an awesome dude. And as Clark [Kellogg, also on the call] knows, Greg has the best jokes, so we’re going to miss those jokes every single day. Whatever’s happening, we don’t know, but bless you, Greg Gumbel and your family.”

Barkley said the whole team of TNT Sports and CBS Sports people involved makes this a joy despite its challenges.

“But man, I look forward to working with not just normally Greg, and Ernie [Johnson], and Kenny [Smith], and Wally Szczerbiak, but just the entire CBS crew, man. These guys work so hard. Anybody that claims they know every game going on, they’re full of s***.”

“It’s a lot of moving parts. You kind of glance at every game, but you have to make a lot of your assumptions off the stats, and these guys do such an incredible job with the stats. We can ask them any basketball question and they can have it to us in a couple seconds. But man, nothing can screw up March Madness. It’s just incredible.”

On those challenges, Barkley said the first two days of the tournament proper are the toughest due to the time on set required.

“It’s going to be a great tournament. It’s always fun. Well, other than Thursday and Friday, it’s always fun. I always tell people, and Clark knows this, when you’re on television for 12 hours straight, it takes every ounce of energy. It’s a long day. It’s fun, because you’ve got four games going on at a time, but when you go in that building at, like, 10:30 in the morning and don’t come out until after midnight, you’re like…but once you get past the first two days, it’s smooth sailing.”

“But when you’re trying to sit there and you’ve got four games on at a time and your head is on a swivel, like, ‘Charles, you’re going to talk about this game, Kenny, you’re going to talk about this game, Clark, you’re going to talk about this game. And thank God we’ve got a great research crew. But the first two days of March Madness, man, they are a lot of work. And Clark knows; 12 hours! Any time you go into a place and it is daylight you don’t come out until it’s dark, you know it’s been a long day.”

A follow-up question on if this had gotten easier for Barkley after a decade led to Kellogg roasting him for only working half of one of those days, though.

“No, I’m going to answer that for him, because he still takes a day off!”

Barkley responded with “Half a day, Clark, half a day!”

And Kellogg shot back with “We do two back-to-back 12-hour days, and you laying sideways the other day, and then show up fresh and ready to go on Sunday.”

Barkley then brought up one of his favorite NBA pet peeves, load management.

“Clark, I’m like NBA players, man. They can’t work two days in a row in a week for those 35, 40 million dollars they’re making. You know, Adam Silver changed the schedule so they don’t have to play back-to-back any more, those poor babies we’ve got in the NBA.”

At any rate, Barkley also said on this call the tournament is special thanks to its one-and-done nature, even when that leads to unusual results. He mentioned discussing that on his The Steam Room TNT podcast with Johnson, where they recently featured CBS analyst Jay Wright (who was also on this call), and spoke to him about the upsets he had suffered as a coach.

“The one thing about this tournament I love and hate, man, one-and-done. It’s so much. We had Jay on our podcast last week, and he talked about when you’re the number one seed, and ‘Man, I got upset a couple times.’ It’s just the luck of the draw, man. In a one-and-done scenario, you can’t have a bad second half, and you can’t have a bad game.”

Barkley said he’s also appreciative of how his regular Capital One commercials during the tournament with Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, and others (now including Jim Nantz) have raised his profile.

“Thanks to Capital One and Sam and Spike, and Jennifer Garner, and Magic Johnson, and this year, we got Dionne Warwick. So it’s always cool to work with all those people, and Jim Nantz.”

On this particular tournament, Barkley said he thinks it will be fun thanks to the lack of major favorites outside the defending champion UConn Huskies.

“What’s interesting about this tournament, if you take out UConn, like Clark says, they are the prohibitive favorite, but if you take out UConn, I’m not joking, you can put all these teams in a hat and you can pull out seven to 10 different winners. I think that’s what’s very unique about this tournament. It’s been crazy.

“Looking at the Ws and Ls by number-one teams and teams that were ranked throughout the season, you can say to yourself, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’ And it literally has been crazy. Like I said, most people are going to take UConn, but I’m really looking forward to the rest of these games, to be honest with you.”

There was also a notable discussion here of gambling, which has become even more significant in retrospect thanks to the current drama around MLB’s Shohei Ohtani. Barkley said he doesn’t think that’s the biggest issue facing NCAA basketball, though; instead, he cited NIL funds and the transfer portal there.

“Gambling and sports go together like peanut butter and jelly, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said. “We don’t need to worry about that right now, we need to figure out this NIL b*******, and this transfer portal. Listen, other sports are in serious trouble right now, but we have to address the NIL and the transfer portal.”

He then went on to make a claim about college sports’ perceived uniqueness with the lack of a salary cap.

“College sports are the only system in the world, out of all sports, that don’t have a salary cap. Think about that. Out of all the sports in the world, college sports, whether it’s football or basketball, we’re the only thing in the world that don’t have a salary cap. …I said this three years ago, we’re going to ruin the smaller programs, they’re not going to be able to compete.”

Barkley is not completely right there, with everything from international soccer to MLB not featuring a full salary cap. But he certainly can make his case on complaints about NIL and the portal, which he’s often done before. However, despite those grievances with the current state of college sports, it is notable to hear him talk about how much he loves commentating on this tournament.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.