The NCAA’s broadcast partners and sponsors on CBS’ tournament selection show are plenty upset that the full 68-team men’s March Madness bracket was leaked early on Twitter.
NCAA executives insist their organization is airtight. It was revealed Monday during a popular sports-talk radio show that the leak may come from a surprising source.
The full bracket was leaked 50 minutes through CBS’ two-hour broadcast Sunday evening. This was the first year the broadcast ran two hours. It was 30 minutes until 2002, when it was expanded to 60 minutes.
The leak comes at a particularly bad time for the NCAA.
In December, the NCAA opened up negotiations with its broadcast partners for the tournament—CBS and Turner Broadcasting—to enrich and extend the television rights deal eight more years, to 2032. Those talks continue.
With the deal counting for 85 percent of the NCAA’s annual revenue, there’s plenty at stake.
In 2010, the NCAA signed a 14-year, $10.8 billion contract with CBS and Turner Broadcasting to broadcast all elements of the men’s basketball tournament.
So when Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey reported he was notified about where and when the Irish would play well before it was announced on CBS—that’s extremely troubling for the NCAA. Brey’s son Kyle, an assistant football coach at Youngstown State, found the full bracket on the Internet and texted him the information.
The bracket was tweeted out at 6:20 p.m. and spread like wildfire.
Even more troubling for the NCAA and its corporate partners, scads of viewers disgruntled with the expanded format of the selection show reported tuning out after finding the leaked bracket.
The chairman of the NCAA’s men’s selection committee, Joseph Castiglione, insisted during a live interview Monday morning on "The Dan Patrick Show" that no one from the NCAA leaked the bracket information early. Patrick’s syndicated show airs locally on WNDE-AM 1260.
Precious few other people are privy to the bracket in advance. The NCAA has pledged a thorough investigation. In fact, association officials said it’s already under way.
Compromising any aspect of the tournament—for all intents and purposes a reality TV show—could cost the association dearly.
But the most likely culprit of this leak could be one of the NCAA’s own partners.
Paul Pabst, executive producer of "The Dan Patrick Show," provided enlightening information Monday morning. Pabst, who previously worked for CBS Sports and worked on four NCAA selection shows, said a dozen or more CBS employees would get the bracket some time before the broadcast. And shockingly, Pabst said it wasn’t uncommon for those employees to share that information with family and friends in advance of the show.
The explosion of social media—and the boost that gives to the spread of information—will make putting a finger in the leak, wherever it was, a top priority for the NCAA and its partners.
Many college hoops fans who felt Sunday’s selection show dragged on too long hailed the leaker as a hero. The NCAA and its paying customers don’t see it that way.