The oral history of March Madness.

PART FOUR: Changes in coverage and the one-and-done rule

How have you seen coverage change with new technologies and new ways of delivering the game?

Tim Brando: It has changed a lot through the years. Obviously the most noteworthy was in 2010, when the arrangement between TBS, TNT and CBS became in vogue. Now, all the games in their entirety can be seen.

The first 14 years of the 18 years that I was doing the tournament, we were all out there doing games everywhere, but nobody could see all the games. You only got the games that involved teams in your region of the country.

There was always a lot of debate and controversy over why we aren’t getting this game or that game in certain cities, and what the collaboration between Turner and CBS did was enable people to make their own choices. Instead of switching people around from game to game, for buzzers beaters here or there, which was something that CBS had to do a lot of. And they were criticized sometimes for pulling people away from games to go to other games.

Clark Kellogg: The preponderance of studio shows, with the explosion of cable and multiple cable channels available, where before you had fewer networks carrying the game. The games are pretty much televised or streamed everywhere. That has been great for the fans, clearly. And it’s been great for us as broadcasters.

There are very few games that I can’t track down in one form or another to watch or to listen. That has been really good in terms of the presentation of the game and with the ability to show more things graphically with the sidebars. You can have the split screen now where you can keep an eye on the coach and the game at the same time.

It has become such a revenue generator at times. We have a lot of commercials that we are obligated to get in, which can sometimes disrupt the flow of the game. We wish there was something we could do to minimize the commercials.

[There’s] statistics and the growth of analytics. The amount of information that is available to us as broadcasters has grown exponentially. It’s more important that you filter that information. Not all of it is what you need or what you’re looking for. Everyone prepares a little differently. When you have such a tremendous amount of information, more isn’t always better. You have to be able to figure out what is pertinent and relevant, and you focus on that. Before, there wasn’t a ton of information or it wasn’t as easily accessible. You have to be better at disseminating the information and filtering it out.

Len Elmore: There are far more graphics, far more bells and whistles with regards to camera angles, presentation, slow motion, telestrator and things of that nature. Those force you to be even more technologically savvy as an announcer. The broadcast camera angles are such that you get an opportunity to see things that you wouldn’t normally see during the early years.

Gary Parrish: I wake up and rank basketball teams. I give picks of the top 25 teams everyday. I do video hits everyday. Twitter, just keep updating it. They’re also probably going to want a video hit for the website. Someone else is going to ask you to come on a podcast or radio show. Then you have to go back into the story that you might update 10 times before midnight. By tomorrow morning, it’s old news. The world changes around us. If you don’t want to change for the times, you’ll be left behind.

Jim Spanarkel: Back in the old days, you were relying on non-technology in terms of getting as many games as you possibly can, now getting the game notes are so much easier to access now. Of course, you still have sports information directors, but because of the access they have different previews and reviews of games that cuts down the amount of time for you to read and digest the information you need to know for the game.

Seth Davis: I believe that the essence of the job never changes; you’re a storyteller. The information you’re disseminating, the medium through which you’re communicating, the way the people are consuming that information and those stories has changed a great deal. But the essence of the storytelling, the fact-gathering, the certain ethics involved in being a broadcaster and a journalist: being fair to people you’re talking about, serving your viewer or your readership, I think those qualities are timeless.

Jay Bilas: It’s affected how I do my job; it’s much easier for me to watch film now than it was back in the day. I used to have to carry tapes around, and I don’t have to do that anymore because it’s all internet-based, so I can do my work more efficiently, which means I can do more of it. But the job is fundamentally the same.

Michael DeCourcy: I think what’s changed is because of the nature of audience measurement. It has constricted coverage a bit, I will freely acknowledge that. Sometimes I write things because they need to be written, even though I know they probably won’t get read. But I believe that the person or program merits the coverage that I’m giving them, even if I know that it might not gain a great audience.

My circumstances are entirely different than they were 10 years ago. In 2008, we still had a magazine; we obviously had a presence online, we were one of the first. The magazine was still our focus at the time, and we don’t even publish a magazine anymore, and that’s not unusual. We’ve managed to stay alive and relevant through online.

Ten years ago, I was not on Twitter. I began to be aware of it at the time, but the way it was presented to me was as a lark and not as an extremely valuable media tool. It wasn’t until about a year after that, that it was presented to me as a way to help accelerate the distribution of my content and something that therefore I needed to be a part of.

Dick Vitale: A little bit, because you learn about things. I’m not always tech savvy, but I’ve learned to be more social media-oriented. I’m on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. On all those things, I love interacting with the fans.

How do social media platforms fit into your coverage of the game–both in terms of the players and in terms of audience reactions to you?

DeCourcy: Social media changed everything. There’s an expectation that you’ll be connected through that to an extent. I also follow a lot of college basketball writers and such, so if there’s something interesting happening at a site that I’m not covering, it’s still important that I be aware of it.

I might be rare in this, but I like the connection to the audience. It may sound cold, but the people who read me are my customers. I am not putting this stuff out there so no one will pay attention to it, especially now that I’m in a situation where my bosses know what gets read, so I have to write things that people are going to want to read.

Kellogg: For me, it is a really neat way to interact in real time with fans, whether it’s positive or negative. I’ve enjoyed that part of it a lot. It allows us to promote what we’re doing and to highlight the good things that are going on in a particular telecast. All of that is really positive. The scrutiny has increased, so any mistakes you make are pretty much immediately commented on.

Elmore: Social media has a lot to do with it. Not only in response to what we say, but also in developing the stories and what the young people who play the game do and say. I think the social media element of it also gives you an opportunity to check out the newsworthiness of a particular story. There are other stories that you are missing, as stated by players and others.

Bilas: I don’t really follow social media with regards to the players. If it’s player information, I get it through the channels I always have. I’m in gyms a lot so I see these guys, even when they’re in high school, so you wind up getting a lot of information from different sources. But I’m not worried about some player tweeting something out the day of the game, that I need to cover that. I don’t consider that part of my job. If I’m aware of something that causes a controversy, that’s different, but I’m not monitoring players’ Instagrams and Snapchats.

How has the “one and done” rule changed things, especially in terms of teams repeating?

Parrish: It’s given us Kevin Durant, in a time where we’d never have Kevin Durant. Derrick Rose, in a time where we’d never have Derrick Rose. There’s a reason no other country handles elite talent this way. It’s because we’ve turned these basketball programs into big businesses, there’s money behind it. But it’s a nonsensical way to handle elite level talent.

Elmore: I think that the “one and done” rule has somewhat of a negative effect on the tournament itself, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that, you know, it’s almost inescapable that people are going to compare these young people knowing that the next step for them is the pros. They keep injecting NBA talk into college basketball and they’re two different games. I also believe that, you know, you never really get a chance to know and understand these young guys and it creates other distractions with regard to stories about whether they’re actually there to study and et cetera.

Ben Simmons is a perfect example. They did a documentary on him and he says that the NCAA is a dirty business. Well, how is it a dirty business? You don’t have to be there, you know. You made a choice. He could have played professional basketball in Australia, but instead he chose to go to LSU, where he could pick up his cost of attendance money and only had to go to school for half a semester or a semester and didn’t have to go to school after that. His face would be on television at least once a week to build his brand, and, quite honestly, they went 19-8 and didn’t make the NCAA tournament, but he was still picked number one in the draft, so the dirty business did him pretty well.

When you take a look, what has it really gotten these schools? I look at Kentucky and they’ve only won one national championship since 1998. I look at Duke and the last 15 years they’re in three Final Fours, two national championships, but they also had five exits in the first or second round and all of that with supposedly the best young talent in America. So it hasn’t had as much impact on success in the NCAA tournament as people would think.

Kellogg: It does impact the experience of teams. A lot of times, teams are reshuffling the deck. I don’t think it’s been really good. And just as concerning is the number of transfers that we now have across college basketball. I mean, it’s well into the several hundreds each year, far more than the one and dones in terms of folks moving around. I would love to see kids at a place two, three, four years.

Brando: I don’t think that the one and done has hurt college basketball on the court, as much as a lot of other people might think. You can look at it from the standpoint of talent and honestly, certain years we would not have seen some of the greatest players that America has to offer, if they weren’t given the chance to play one year in college. You can make the case that Texas had Kevin Durant and we got to see him in the tournament, otherwise we don’t see Kevin Durant. Jim Boeheim won his National Championship because he had a one and done player in 2003. Duke won a national title in 2015 with three players that never saw a second year.

I don’t think that the one and done has necessarily hurt the tournament, but I do think it’s hurt the identity of the game. It’s probably helped because it’s the biggest stage for basketball and you’d like to think that the greatest young players get a chance to play on the biggest stage and if it weren’t for the one and done, many of them wouldn’t. The level of play overall was better and the teams were greater and the dynasties were stronger before we had a one and done.

Bilas: Well, it’s always been difficult to repeat. The last team that repeated was Florida [in 2006 and 2007], even though North Carolina almost did it a couple of years ago. You know, according to logic with so many players leaving, it should be easier for teams to repeat because they’ve got older players. More teams have older players than teams have younger, talented players. But it doesn’t work that way.

Experience isn’t better than talent all the time, so teams have won and been very successful with younger players and other teams have won and been very successful with older players. There’s no one way to do it. But there are a lot more experienced players out there than young one and done players, there aren’t that many of those. So if experience was the be-all and end-all you would think they would win all the time, but they don’t.

DeCourcy: The reality is that people have in their mind that the choice is between one and done or everybody goes to college for four years. That’s a false choice. The choice is between guys not being eligible for the draft until being a year out of high school, or guys going directly out of high school to the NBA.

The reality is that when we had guys what I call “preps to pros,” the game was worse at all levels. The college game missed out on Kobe Bryant, Josh Smith, Kevin Garnett, and of course LeBron James. Now because the rule was put in place, it did not miss out on Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Greg Oden, Anthony Davis, John Wall. It’s been spectacular. As someone who covers college basketball, I got to watch all those guys play in person as collegiates, and it’s been wonderful.

PART ONE: Playing memories and first games
PART TWO: All about upsets
PART THREE: Specific standout moments and teams
PART FOUR: Changes in coverage and the one-and-done rule
PART FIVE: The enduring popularity of March Madness