Charles Barkley is one of the new faces of March Madness this year, a fact that's caused a lot of hand-wringing and knicker-twisting among the sports media commentariat. At the risk of offending some of my Church Lady-like colleagues, I don't see how Barkley and the other NBA announcers from Turner Sports are going to spoil the party for the rest of us.
Barkley, Kenny Smith, Marv Albert, Reggie Miller and Ernie Johnson -- all from Turner Sports' NBA coverage -- are part of the new landscape of March Madness, along with the CBS announcers we are used to seeing in March. CBS and Turner formed an economic and broadcasting alliance, paying $10.8 billion for the rights to televise the NCAA men's tournament through 2024. It was the only realistic way for CBS to outbid ESPN for the TV rights.
It's not like Barkley, Smith or Albert are being sent to Libya or Pakistan as war correspondents. As Barkley said to David Letterman this week: "It's all basketball." The clock and the three-point line are not the same as in the NBA, but the rim still measures 10 feet from the floor.
Does Barkley make a few mistakes now and then when talking about college basketball? Well, yes. In a recent interview, he confused Utah with BYU. He sometimes fumbles for names when talking about a tournament team. But this is the guy who once said he was misquoted in his autobiography. We turn to Barkley for infotainment, not because we want someone who can name Jimmer Fredette's supporting cast.
Retired TV analyst Billy Packer took some verbal shots at Barkley recently, saying he doesn't know the college game well enough and that the NCAA should have sold the TV rights to ESPN.
Barkley responded that Packer "should shut up" on the topic. On Monday night's Letterman show on CBS, Letterman asked Charles if he knows anything about the college game.
"It's all basketball," Barkley said. "The toughest thing is trying to learn all the players, which I don't think I'm going to be able to do that anyway. It's 68 teams. Some of these guys think that because they know the players' names, they know something about basketball. They don't know anything about basketball, they just know the players' names."
Barkley also noted that the tournament would start on Tuesday, adding, "We gave you two days to try to find truTV. Good luck with that." How can you not like a sportscaster who isn't afraid to tweak his employer like that?
Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports, says the network knows what it is getting with Barkley. What, him worry?
"We don't put a muzzle on," McManus said. "We don't tell them what they can and can not talk about. We let them self-moderate.
All 67 games in the 68-team tournament are scheduled to be broadcast in their entirety, as well as shown online through March Madness on Demand. If you're still clinging to broadcast TV until someone pries the rabbit ears out of your hands, you're going to miss out on 41 of the 67 games. CBS will carry 26 games, while TBS has 16, truTV has 13 and TNT 12.
As Barkley said, you've had two days to find truTV, which began life as Court TV. (As in court of law, not full-court press.) In our area, truTV is found on: Time Warner Cable 74, MDU Communications 62, DirecTV 246, Dish Network 204 and Verizon FiOs Digital 183.
Don't wait until the last minute to find truTV. If you weren't dialed in for the four first-round games on Tuesday and Wednesday, you might want to take a dry run or two today, when the network carries Pittsburgh against UNC-Asheville (3 p.m.) or Belmont-Wisconsin (7:15). Syracuse's opening game on Friday night will be on truTV at about 10 p.m. The Orange opens against Indiana State.
Having the games spread out over four networks could take some getting used to. For one thing, they are not slotted into such rigid blocks of time as in the past. The starting times for today's 16 games are: noon, 12:30, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3, 4, 4:30, 6:45, 7, 7:15 (two games at that time), 9:15, 9:30, 9:45 and 9:55. That means no dinner break between games, as in the past. But that's good news for sports bars, whose proprietors want you to dine while watching a game or four in their establishments. (That's Sports Bars 1, Family Dinner 0, for those scoring at home.)
Some of us are stuck in offices with no access to TV sets during parts of March Madness. That's why there is March Madness on Demand, the product of CBS Sports.com and the NCAA that streams every game of the tournament online. MMOD is also available in app form this year for iPhone, iPod and iPad users. We took this for a test spin during Tuesday and Wednesday's "First Four" games and found it to be a convenient way to watch the games on the go. It does not appear to have the capability for replaying past games, as MMOD on the Web does, but it does fine with carrying games live.
Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg, CBS's top announcing team, will be joined by former NBA player and GM Steve Kerr for the Final Four.
Of course, the tournament will still bring us plenty of Gus Johnson, everyone's favorite college basketball announcer. Johnson and Len Elmore called Wednesday night's VCU-Southern California game on truTV, and they will be back on that network at 2:10 p.m. Friday for George Mason versus Villanova.
If the CBS-Turner teamwork means we get some Marv Albert Yessss-es and some Charles Barkley riffs in addition to Gus, how can that be a bad thing?