ESPN College Basketball

ESPN College Basketball is a blanket title used for presentations of college basketball on ESPN and its family of networks. Its coverage focuses primarily on competition in NCAA Division I, holding broadcast rights to games from each major conference, and a number of mid-major conferences.

ESPN was the first broadcaster to provide extensive early-round coverage of NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship, prior to CBS, later in partnership with Turner Sports, holding sole rights to "March Madness". The network also covers a number of early-season tournaments, conference championships, and is also the exclusive broadcaster of the National Invitation Tournament and the Women's Division I championship.



ESPN has aired college basketball games from its inception, starting in 1979 with DePaul's victory over Wisconsin Badgers with a then-novice color commentator Dick Vitale and Joe Boyle doing the play-by-play. In the early days, Vitale was paired with veteran sportscaster Jim Simpson.

One of the first milestone events that ESPN covered was the NCAA Tournament. In 1980, the fledgling channel had a total of 23 tournament games. They intensively covered the early rounds of March Madness, gaining the entire tournament much prestige. The early rounds of course were not the most ideal time, many games taking place during work hours. When CBS gained exclusive coverage in 1991, they would largely mimic how their predecessor had covered the event.[1]

One of the next milestones in ESPN's coverage was when they aired Championship Week for the first time in 1986 (the term would be coined later however). The network was given critical acclaim for its coverage of the conference tournaments, of bouncing from game to the next. It also raised the profile of many "mid-major" and "minor" conferences who received their only national attention during a single game, usually the championship game of their conference tournament. Like everything else with ESPN, the success and expansion of the network led to more games being televised in this made-for-TV event.[2]

In the late 1980s and early 1990s with only a single network; no regional or internet coverage, ESPN televised around 200 games a year.


In 1991, they would lose coverage of the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament but would continue to televise just as many regular season games and conference tournament games.[3]

In 1993, ESPN aired the Women's Selection Show for the first time ever.[4] Unlike the men's tournament, ESPN is the only network that airs the unveiling.

In 1996, ESPN and ESPN2 aired a total of 281 men's games and 22 women's games.[5]


ESPN has rapidly increased its coverage throughout the years as the network as expanded from a single cable channel to a multiple outlets including the internet.

In 2003, ESPN and its sister networks aired all the games of the Women's NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, a practice that still exists today.[6]

On March 4, 2005, ESPNU premiered on the outset of a TexasOklahoma State game from Stillwater, Oklahoma with a special two-hour edition of College GameDay.[7] ESPNU has aired the first set of games of each season, beginning in its initial season of 2005.[8]

In 2005–06, the ESPN family of networks aired 884 games (they aired 140 women's games that year).[9] However the following season, they aired over 1000 games.[10]

In 2007, ESPNU as well as ESPN2 aired the first-ever NIT Selection Show.[11] Also, ESPN Radio aired its first-ever coverage of the Selection Sunday.[12] Also that year, a then-record of more than 3.3 million brackets entered on surpassing the record set the previous year.[13]

During the 2007–2008 season, the ESPN networks aired a total of more than 1,050 men's games[14] and 150 women's games.[15] ESPNU aired over 250 games.[16] In addition, ESPN aired Pac-10 games for the first time since 1995, through a new agreement with FSN. They showed a total of 2 games.[17] The year was marked by Dick Vitale missing his first assignment ever due to surgery. He was replaced by Jay Bilas on Saturday Primetime.[18] He returned on February 6 for the UNC-Duke matchup.[19] Due to the 2008 Atlanta tornado outbreak, ESPN2, instead of CBS, aired the 2008 SEC Tournament finals from Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the campus of Georgia Tech. However, CBS production was utilized including talent and graphics.[20] ESPN had a record 3.65 million entries for the Tournament Challenge.[21]

Legendary basketball coach Bob Knight retired from coaching in February 2008, he joined ESPN, the following month as a studio analyst for Championship Week and later appeared during March Madness including on location from San Antonio at the Final Four.[22] His role was greatly expanded during the 2008–09 season, when he appeared on many platforms including a weekly Thursday game as well as College GameDay.[23]

On November 18, 2008, ESPN aired the first College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. The first game tipped off at 11:59 on November 17 and a total of nine games culminated with a UK-UNC match-up. This match-up was preceded by a special edition of College GameDay. A total of 23 straight hours of college basketball were aired.[24]

The ESPN family of networks is scheduled to air a total of about 1,100 games during 2008–09 season, which includes ESPN3 ESPNU will air 235 of those.[8]

There was a total of 148 women's basketball games during 2008–09 season including the entire NCAA Tournament.[25]


As of November 11, 2011, all of the men's and women's college basketball broadcasts across the ESPN family of networks are presented in high-definition. Additionally, all games are presented in a 16:9 letterbox format, with the native HD feed shown on the networks' 4:3 standard-definition feeds.

On January 4, 2016, ESPN College Basketball updated their on-air graphics presentation to the SportsCenter-inspired motif, which has been used on most of the network's sports properties since the year prior. The score bar remains in the lower thirds area of the screen and retains the same layout, but the score bar has been overhauled and given a translucent-white appearance with black text. In addition, the team logos appear alongside the name of the school on the score bar, along with the timeout indicators shown below in the team's main color. The ESPN branding, which previously appeared on the left side of the score bar, has been moved to the upper left corner of the screen.


Game coverage

Games are typically aired on:[8]

Pre-conference play, conferences tournament games, NIT games, as well as other selected games air on other days of the week.

Pre-season tournaments

ESPN currently airs many pre-season tournaments including:[8] the Big 12/SEC Challenge, the ACC – Big Ten Challenge, the Gavitt Tipoff Games, the Old Spice Classic, Coaches vs. Cancer, the Maui Invitational, the Preseason NIT, the Battle 4 Atlantis, the CBE Classic, and the Las Vegas Invitational.

ESPN traditionally airs Jimmy V Week, which features a men's doubleheader at Madison Square Garden and a women's game in the Jimmy V Classic. Between the men's games, ESPN airs the 1993 ESPY's speech by Jim Valvano.[26]

Speciality weeks

ESPN has themed weeks to enhance the collegiate game including:[8]

March Madness

While domestic rights to the NCAA men's tournament are held by CBS and Turner Sports, ESPN International distributes coverage of the tournament internationally, and produces its own feed of the Final Four and championship game using the ESPN College Basketball staff. Since 2013, ESPN International's Final Four coverage has been called by Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale (alternatively joined by Brad Nessler for one of the semi-final games).[27][28][29]


ESPN has traditionally has aired coverage of non-game action including Midnight Madness, which it help popularize by airing the first practices.

College GameDay which grew as a spin-off of the popular football series is a weekly series that airs during conference play and post-season action. The main difference however is that the sites are pre-determined based on the location of the Saturday Primetime match-up. The show incorporates many of the features and is similar to the football edition.

ESPN airs comprehensive coverage around Selection Sunday, including an NIT Selection Show.[11]

During the NCAA Tournament, many ESPN personalities including Dick Vitale appear to discuss the tournament. In addition during the Final Four, there is an on-location set. Typically special editions of College Gameday and SportsCenter appear during this time.

ESPNU airs a National Signing Day, first premiering in 2008. It was done due to the popularity of the football edition.[30]

Women's coverage

ESPN has greatly expanded its coverage of the women's game, which now includes the entire NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Championship tournament, culminating with the Final Four. They air many of the same pre-season and conference tournaments as the men do including Jimmy V Women's Basketball Classic, Holiday Hoops, ESPNU Campus Connection Week, February Frenzy, Rivalry Week, and Championship Week. The season begins with the State Farm Tip-Off Classic. ESPN2 airs a weekly Big Monday game in primetime. In addition, ESPN airs the Maggie Dixon Classic.[25] Every February, ESPN2 airs February Frenzy. They air multiple games in a telecast window(s) and go to the games whip-around style.[15] The Women's Selection Show is aired on ESPN including bonus coverage on ESPNU on Selection Monday after many years of being overshadowed by the men's show.[31]


ESPN is often accused of having a bias towards certain teams, including the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), particularly the Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels.[32] ESPN and the ACC a rights deal that extends through the 2026–27 season which provides additional football, men's and women's basketball and Olympic sports coverage on a variety of platforms, suggesting the bias may have a financial motivation.[33]

Dick Vitale is often criticized for being a "homer" for Duke, especially for Coach Mike Krzyzewski, as well as most teams in the ACC. He is also known for mentioning Duke frequently during broadcasts, even when Duke is not playing. Temple head coach John Chaney once said "You can't get Dick Vitale to say 15 words without Duke coming out of his mouth".[34] He is sometimes called "Duke Vitale" or "Dookie V", a take-off on his "Dickie V" nickname, by detractors for the same reason. Although his bias towards Duke is widely speculated by many, he is also believed to favor the entire ACC in general, including Duke's rival, North Carolina.

A large number of college basketball games are covered off-site, with announcers watching games on television at a studio at Bristol or Los Angeles. For instance, some 2016 NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Championship games are produced off-site.[35]

Typical games

During the regular season, typical games that are shown almost every year on the ESPN family of networks include Duke-North Carolina, Michigan-Michigan State, Florida-Kentucky, and Kansas-Kansas State.

Championship Week always features most Division I conference tournaments including expanding coverage of the "major" conferences. The "mid-major" and/or "minor" conferences will typically only get the latter rounds of the tournaments carried, if not, only the conference finale game.


See also


  1. "ESPN changed history of sports". Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  2. "Sports On Tv-Radio". Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  3. John Steinbreder (December 4, 1989). "CBS paid $1 billion to keep the NCAA tournament – 12.04.89". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  4. Leigh Montville (December 2, 1996). "As college basketball takes over the TV schedule, only the – 12.02.96". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  5. JEFF ELLIOTT The Times-Union (March 4, 2005). "TV/RADIO: It's opening night for ESPN's newest network". Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5
  7. 1 2
  8. Archived June 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. 1 2
  10. 1 2 Archived from the original on August 19, 2009. Retrieved March 8, 2009. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. Dowbiggin, Bruce (February 24, 2011). "TSN catches March Madness". Globe and Mail. Toronto. Archived from the original on March 3, 2011. Retrieved March 14, 2011.
  12. chappelll (2011-03-10). "ESPN Europe » ESPN America Tipping Off Exclusive Coverage of NCAA® March Madness®". Retrieved 2014-03-01.
  13. "Dick Vitale, finally, to call NCAA Final Four action". USA Today. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  14. Archived from the original on October 11, 2008. Retrieved March 9, 2009. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  15. Le Anne Schreiber (August 15, 2008). "Geography lesson: Breaking down the bias in ESPN's coverage". ESPN. Retrieved November 15, 2008.
  16. "ACC, ESPN agree to extend deal". ESPN. 11 May 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  17. Phil Axelrod (January 20, 2004). "Atlantic Ten Notebook: All-time selections difficult after first 2". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved October 25, 2008.
  18. ESPN broadcasting games remotely sends a bad message for NCAA Women's Tournament coverage – Awful Announcing, Matt Yoder, 18 March 2016
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