Twelve burning media questions going into NCAA tournament
Charles Barkley will be treated like any other analyst and won't be muzzled
Gus Johnson will call opening-round games followed by games in Cleveland
CBS didn't steal all the best games for itself, so you may get familiar with truTV
Answers for the burning media questions going into the NCAA tournament ...
1. Charles Barkley is an outspoken guy. Will he criticize the NCAA during the tournament? Count on it. "My bosses are here to make money," Barkley said. "But I can't just be in it for the money. That's not cool. When we sat down before I took this job, I said, You know what, I love working for Turner, but this thing can't just be about the money. I need some reassurances that y'all are going to let me talk about the education thing privately and on the air. I'm concerned about them [the NCAA] not graduating these players. I met with the NCAA. I said, Let's have a dialogue about you guys graduating these players. We just gave these damn people $11 billion [officially $10.8 billion]. I'm not going to go on a rant about where the money goes but we have an obligation to graduate these players. We can't just keep making money on these players and not graduating them. This is the first time I have a dog in the fight, but this is not the first time I have talked about this."
2. So Barkley has some issues with the NCAA, What do his bosses say about that? Well, we asked them. Said Turner Sports president David Levy: "I will tell you this, as long as he is educated on what the situation is, where the money goes, where the athletes go next, when he is educated, I think he is very effective. We have done a lot of working with Charles about the sport and what is happening with college sports and where the money goes. I think Charles has a passion about education for students. He has been outspoken about the African-American students and that they should stay in school. He does not like one and done. He thinks the one and done has affected the NBA. I don't think there is going to be any muzzle on Charles at all, but ultimately it is about the game."
(Editor's note: Turner Sports is in partnership with SI.com and runs the site's business operations.)
CBS Sports president Sean McManus said the rules for Barkley are the same as the rules for the other analysts. "We don't put a muzzle on [our analysts]," McManus said. "We don't tell them what they can and cannot talk about. We let them self-moderate. As David said, Charles is primarily going to talk about teams and college basketball, but if he has an opinion on something, Charles is going to express it. I don't think David Levy or I are going to be in a position to tell him not to do it. But Charles understands what his role is, and I think he'll say what he thinks is appropriate. What we don't do is put muzzles on people or have meetings saying, 'Don't talk about this or that.'"
3. Is CBS Sports analyst Clark Kellogg upset that TNT analyst Steve Kerr was added to the Final Four and title game coverage? "It's going to be great partnership," said Kellogg. "My perspective in any partnership is born out of something my mother gave me not long after I got married. It is a plaque that talks about marriage. One of the lines reads IT'S NOT ABOUT HAVING THE RIGHT PARTNER. IT'S ABOUT BEING THE RIGHT PARTNER. For me, it's always about being accommodating and making it work. I am part of a team. If someone new is coming into my area or home, it is incumbent on me to be a great partner. That is first and foremost why it will work. The second reason is Steve is a terrific guy, a sharp basketball analyst. There is nothing better than to sit next to other people who know the game and are passionate about the game, but have a different perspective than me. I am comfortable with who I am and what I do and we want to present the best viewing experience to the public. If that's going to be enhanced, which I believe it will be, why would I have a problem with him? I called Steve right anyway. I was excited."
4. The cultures of CBS Sports and Turner Sports are markedly different. How is this marriage going to work? "Both cultures are adding to the coverage," said Levy. "Sean [and CBS] has 30 years of history and certainly made the tournament what it is today. Any time you get a new set of eyes on something it might be additive, and I think what you are seeing is a merging of the two. For example, Sean called me up and said, "What do you think about Kerr doing the Final Four and championship game? I was like, 'Great.' Then we talked about merging studios. I think it will add a new dimension to the tournament having two different studios versus different cultures clashing."
5. So what does the competition think? Well, let's cede the floor to ESPN's Dick Vitale: "He's [Barkley] certainly entertaining, and I tell you one thing: I envy him. I envy him big time. And I'll tell you. He probably gets away with a lot of stuff that he says on the air that I know I could not get away [with]. I'd be fired sometimes in a minute with some of the things he says. But you guys all love it. You guys buy into it because of the fact that it's a little outrageous, it's different, it's unique. I read a quote the other day where Charles said there is no way there are 11 good teams in the Big East. I love Charles. We are good friends. I think the world of him. I really do. But there is no way you can take the 37 best at-large teams in America that you could tell me that a Marquette or a Cincinnati or West Virginia or Villanova or even a Georgetown are not part of that formula. Charles will bring a lot of life because you guys are going to all jump on it, and write about everything he says and does. It's new and fresh, it's all that. I can tell you the headlines already. Charles Barkley adds this and is entertaining, the whole deal. It will happen. But I am proud of where we are at. I look at our people [at ESPN], and they are phenomenal. I'm just proud to be a little spoke in the wheel with the guys I will be working with, including Jay Bilas. Their knowledge, their love, their passion, their life is basically college basketball. They eat, sleep and drink it. It is part of our makeup. It is part of what we are about. I am not trying to be negative in any shape or form. I just know that many times in our business the more outlandish you are and say crazy things, you get headlines."
(Writer's note: Vitale called me back after his quotes above to make it as clear as possible that he likes Barkley immensely and there was no malice in his comments on Barkley's outrageousness. I told him I'd be happy to include such a clarification.)
6. Give us an example of a Barkley rant on college basketball? Gladly. "The problem is, we're all pigs," Barkley said. "Colleges trying to get theirs, the NBA is trying to get theirs, agents trying to get theirs, that's what I mean by they are all pigs. Everyone is concerned about their thing. But we are all in this thing together. We have to reach a happy medium. We need to help college basketball. They need to help us. But right now everybody is just being a pig, worried about my game. We are hurting college basketball and we are getting hurt in the NBA. You look at these drafts. We are drafting these kids who are not ready for the NBA and it is killing our product and it is hurting college basketball."
7. Are there CBS staffers with bruised egos because Turner talent is going to suck up some of their airtime? Publicly, no. "Everyone of the CBS talent understands what the alternative would have been," McManus said. "The alternative would have been you guys (reporters) would be at Bristol [the Connecticut home of ESPN] for press day."
8. Let's face it, few people outside of die-hard fans of "Las Vegas Jailhouse" have heard of truTV, which is kicking off the tournament coverage with the first four games. How would Turner executives assess the public's recognition and awareness of that channel? "I would say it is small," said Levy. "The die-hard hard-core college fan, maybe. But once the tournament starts, once you start filling out your bracket and you are looking for that game, you are going to come. People questioned when we had postseason baseball on TBS. Would anyone come? Well, we had the ratings and beat out Fox and ESPN when they carried the games. If you are a fan and after the event starts, trust me, people will find it."
9. Is this a competitive field? "I think this is probably going to be the most competitive tournament we've had," said CBS analyst Greg Anthony. "You have about 20 teams that can get to the Final Four. I also think you will have a non-Big Six conference team make it to the Final Four. ... Xavier is the type of team. They have great guards, maybe the best backcourt in the country. They can rebound and defend and also shoot free throws. A team like that has a chance."
10. How did the CBS/Turner crew do on the Selection Show? Judging the chemistry of a group after one outing is an exercise in nonsense. But if you want immediate thoughts: The five-person set felt like a lot of voices for viewers, and Barkley is much better served riffing on something he just saw as opposed to providing hard-core analysis on the strengths and weaknesses of teams. Jim Nantz and Kellogg, a pair I like on games, never pressed NCAA tournament selection chairman Gene Smith, who peppered his non-responses with non-specifics (e.g. "There are things with Alabama that didn't stack up compared to the other teams that became blemishes. All of these teams have blemishes and assets and things of that nature that pay attention to what their total résumé is. At the end of the day, they just did not get enough votes.")
11. When will Gus Johnson be calling games? For starters, Johnson and analyst Len Elmore are assigned to Texas-San Antonio vs. Alabama State (6:40 ET) and Southern California vs. Virginia Commonwealth (which follows the conclusion of the first game) on Wednesday night. Both of those games will air on truTV. Johnson and Elmore then move to Cleveland for games on Friday, including George Mason vs. Villanova on TNT (2:10 p.m.) followed by Ohio State vs. the winner of UTSA/Alabama State (TNT). Later that night, Johnson and Elmore call Xavier vs. Marquette (7:10 p.m., truTV) and Syracuse vs. Indiana State (truTV).
12. Did CBS steal all the good games for itself? Actually, it looks pretty even across the board. For instance, Michigan and Tennessee play on truTV this Thursday at 12:40 p.m. and TBS will air UCLA vs. Michigan State on Thursday night. You can find the TV schedule here.