The best-laid plans of March Madness, or, It seemed like a good idea at the time

One innovation of the Turner family of networks’ coverage of the Final Four semifinals Saturday — which happily includes Wisconsin — is the ability for fans to choose three sets of announcers — TBS’ announcers and team-oriented announcers on TNT and truTV.

Awful Announcing reports, however, a significant snag in Turner’s plans:

When CBS/Turner announced there would be team-centric telecasts for the NCAA Final Four, it was thought that the networks would hire or simulcast the radio announcers and go from there. However, as the games are fast approaching, we learn that the radio voices of the local teams are not jumping on board. In some cases, the local radio rightsholders have given a flat out “no” answer to CBS/Turner.

Instead of pulling the local radio feeds and building a telecast around it, CBS/Turner want to use a local voice for its TNT and truTV team-centric telecasts which will compliment the traditional national telecast on TBS. So with Florida and Wisconsin already in the Final Four, CBS/Turner will utilize an announcer familiar with both schools for their productions.

The New York Times’ Richard Sandomir reports that despite the potential for national exposure and a huge audience, the radio voices like UConn’s Joe D’Ambrosio or Kentucky’s Tom Leach are reluctant to leave their loyal audiences at this point. And Wisconsin’s radio voice Matt Lepay tells the Times:

“Anytime network television reaches out, your knee-jerk reaction is to say, ‘Where do I sign?’ But we’ve been with Wisconsin on radio all season long. Why change up now?”

In addition, Sandomir writes that IMG College and Learfield Sports which own the rights to over 150 colleges across the country including some in the NCAA Tournament have also told CBS/Turner that its announcers would not be available for the national telecasts.

It leaves CBS/Turner in the lurch and having to scramble just less than a week until the Final Four. It may have to depend on announcers who have worked on local or regional network TV to fill out their roster.

Whether Lepay wants to do the Badgers on TV or not, Learfield apparently has said he can’t. I speculated last week on a couple of Wisconsin-connected announcers who could do Saturday’s game — Packer announcer Wayne Larrivee, who has done a ton of basketball over his career; and Brian Anderson, who did first-weekend tournament games. Anderson’s availability is questionable, though, because the Brewers have now started.

The third person who should have come to mind last week is Kevin Harlan, son of retired Packers president Bob Harlan, who has also done a ton of basketball over his career, including, on radio, the 2003 through 2007 Final Fours. He is not doing this year’s Final Four on radio.

If for some inexplicable reason none of those are available or interested, well, there is an obvious candidate, and I’ll make myself available.


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