The 2020 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has been lost to COVID, the first major event to bear the brunt of a reality that has rendered sporting events unviable for far too long. He returned last season in modified form, never leaving Indiana State. The dependable unpredictability and tension were still there, and a worthy champion emerged at Baylor, but it was far from normal. This year, for the first time in three long and difficult springs, it will exist in its more traditional atmosphere.
CBS and Turner endured the hardships of losing the event entirely and responded 12 months later by creating a makeshift experience as close to previous editions as possible. But their impressive efforts have always come up against some practical real-world impossibilities. Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill shared their outlook for the upcoming tournament today on a conference call with reporters, flanked by Clark Kellogg, Tracy Wolfson and Rex Chapman, who will make his analyst debut studio – a plan that also had to be scrapped in 2020.
You could hear the excitement in their voices. Because it’s sure to be a nicer experience to cover – Nantz recalled 27 straight days of hotel living last season in which all of his meals were delivered to his room and an inability to meet his broadcast ‘family’ to take a drink.
During the 45-minute call, however, something else came to light. An idea that the storytelling process will be much easier. March Madness is known for its ubiquitous crowd shots. Charismatic new stars full of youth and personality. Legendary coaches who wear it all on their sleeves in the face of elimination.
Previous protocols that erected barriers to telling these stories with maximum impact have been placed in the rearview mirror. CBS and Turner plan to capitalize while creating a more intimate and personal product that brings the viewer closer to where the action is.
“We’re going back to normal where we can interact with the coaches,” Wolfson said. “We’re going to do in-game interviews, something new this season is we’re going to have interviews with the coaches in the first half, whether it’s the Under-12s or the Under-8s. [timeouts]. I think it’s going to be really exciting to see these coaches at these pivotal times being interviewed.”
This ride was originally announced for the lost 2020 tournament and obviously was not available last year. Now, secondary journalists will be able to participate and listen to team meetings and provide much more in the field. They will also be closer to the game, returning to their usual positions instead of the designated areas of 2021.
More importantly, with attendance returning to full capacity, player support systems will be front and center to paint a livelier picture.
“One of the things we love to see is not just fan engagement with these teams, but parent engagement as well,” Wolfson said. “How they interact and how excited their families are for them. [Last year] they were unable to interact and there was almost sadness to see their parents in the stands cheering from afar but unable to hug them after winning or after losing. It’s going to provide so many great photos but also so many great stories that we’re going to bring to you.”
All this to say that the most exciting three-week sports sprint on the calendar will be bursting with life. Both for players, including some in their third year of college who will experience the pageantry and energy without a governor for the first time, and for broadcast partners who will be able to use their traditional tools while trying out some new ones.