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The Final Four
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Considering how big The Final Four is (aren't we supposed to drop
everything and watch it this evening, April 1st??), it may come as a
shock to some younger people that the Final Four wasn't always this big.
For one thing, the first-ever network telecast of an NCAA Division 1
men's basketvball championship game wasn't until 1962, when ABC's
then-new (10 1/2 months old) "Wide World Of Sports" did the honors. (I
heard ABC got the rights for $ 10,000 a year!) "Wide World" continued to
air the finals for a few more years, but dropped them because of lower
ratings compared to "Wide World"'s average! (I believe there were some
local telecasts of the NCAA finals prior to 1962 either in cities where
they were being held or in home areas of participating schools).
Eddie Einhorn, who by 1967 had already formed TVS (Television Sports,
Inc.) and had begun to regionally syndicate college basketball games to
the home areas of schools/conferences involved, picked-up the rights
beginning in 1967 and held them for many years. I believe the deal was
less than $ 1 million. In 1967 and 1968, the championship game was
syndicated. In 1968, the old channel 5 picked up the finals, played in
Los Angeles with an 11:35 P.M. (Eastern Time) tip-off!
Einhorn/TVS then made a deal with NBC to insure that the finals would be
seen across the entire country. When TVS itself syndicated the finals,
some markets were left out. I believe 1969 was NBC's first telecast of
the finals, on a Saturday afternoon. I believe from 1970 through 1972,
the finals were held on a Sunday afternoon and the semifinals held
back-to-back on a Saturdfay afternoon, with NBC showing TVS-produced
coverage of all three games.
In 1973, the finals were moved to a Monday night, in prime-time. I
believe TVS kept the rights, working jointly with NBC to produce the
tournament, through 1978 when NBC itself got the rights for 1979-81. By
the mid-1970's, NBC began to air two Saturday afternoons worth of
early-round games (a tripleheader of three first-round games the first
Saturday and the four regional finals on the second Saturday, with two
of them being national broadcasts and the other two aired regionally, so
each affiliate got three regional finals).
TVS held rights to weekend regular-season games of may
schools/conferences by 1976, and began a similar partnership with NBC
for regular-season games that year, but not for the sam,e reason TVS and
NBC had worked together for the finals since 1969.
By 1976, A T & T video long-line costs for "occassional" users (such as
a TVS) had increased drastically, and were much higher than for
"full-time" users like NBC. (In fact, during the 1974-76
period, many local professional teams cut back on the number of away
games they would carry back to their hom market. Locally, the number of
Bruins and Celtics games on channels 38 and 4 repsectively, were
slightly reduced). The regular-season partnership allowed TVS to save
considerably on line charges, and NBC would air the games.
By the late 1970's, TVS would regionally televise the regional
semifinals (also known as the "Sweet Sixteen"), usually only into areas
with a team participating. For instance, I recall BC going to the
regional semi's a couple of times in the 70's and TVS producing a
telecast seen in Boston (I think one year, channel 56 aired it; another
time, I think channel 38 broadcast it).
The record for the highest-rated college basketball game ever (and until
the Michael Jordan era of the NBA in the 1990's, the highest-rated
basketball game of any type, ever!) was the 1979 NCAA men's finals. This
was the game where Bird and Magic faced each other for the first time.
Much of the reson the ratings were so high was because Boston Celtics
and Los Angeles Lakers fans already knew that Bird and Magic
respectively would play for their local NBA teams the next fall, so many
viewers in both cities wanted to see their local pro team's next
superstar in action.
CBS took over the NCAA's in 1981, by which time, it became a major
television sports attraction.
I doubt the 1979 record audience will ever be matched--unless someday
there's a final four of St. John's, UCLA, DePaul and Temple (teams in
the top-four markets) with one of those teams having a "can't miss,
suire to be number-one-overall pick in the NBA draft" superstar player.
(Whose Own Bracket Was Busted After Round Two!)
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