NCAA: Games Will Go On

March Madness, NCAA Basketball Tournament, 020312, GD.
The NCAA announced that the threat of war will not stop college basketball tournament play.

"From everything we know right now, it's in the best interests of the country to go forward," NCAA president Myles Brand said Tuesday, a day after telling reporters the NCAA was still exploring options.

The tournament games that begin this week "will go on as scheduled without any changes in time, venue or format," Brand said.

Brand consulted Tuesday with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and members of the NCAA's governing bodies before deciding.

"We felt that this was the right decision, and have no hesitation whatsoever having made it," he said.

The NCAA has spent four months reviewing options in case of war. The latest ultimatum President Bush delivered to Saddam Hussein in a television speech Monday night "heightened the urgency of our considerations," Brand said

"We are also concerned that life go on as normal," Brand added. "We see no reason, after consulting with Secretary Ridge, to make any alterations to our plan."

Brand kept open the possibility of reconsidering if unforeseeable threats emerge in coming days.

Because of the current security climate, the NCAA is taking "extraordinary steps to ensure the safety of the athletes and fans," Brand said.

He said it was up to television networks whether their coverage of the tournaments take second billing to war coverage if a U.S.-led coalition attacks Iraq.

Should war break out during the games, CBS -- the men's tournament broadcast rights holder -- may be forced to find other outlets to air them.

In examining contingencies, the network has had discussions with ESPN about switching the NCAA men's basketball tournament to the cable network.

"We're discussing it," ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said last week. "We are definitely talking about it. The sole reason for us to get involved is to serve the fans in a very difficult time."

CBS is in the first year of a $6 billion, 11-year deal with the NCAA to broadcast 63 tournament games, which run from March 20 to April 7.

CBS is planning to dedicate itself entirely to news coverage during the beginning of a war, prompting the contingency plans for the NCAA tournament.

If CBS is unable to reach a deal with ESPN, it could also shift the games to another of the networks owned by CBS' parent company, Viacom. Other Viacom networks include MTV, UPN, BET, TNN, VH1, CMT, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and TV Land.

But shifting the games to ESPN or ESPN2 would be easier on fans, who are used to watching college basketball on those networks.

If the games are shown on ESPN, they would still be produced and announced by CBS employees.

ESPN already holds the rights to the NCAA women's basketball tournament and would have to juggle its schedule to fit in the men's games.

"We have a lot of complications, not the least of which is the programming commitment we have to the women's tournament," Krulewitz said.

CBS is scheduled to air 16 games each next Thursday and Friday and eight apiece the following two days. The network has four games on March 27 and 28, and two on March 29 and 30 before airing the Final Four on April 5 and 7.

With four games being played at a time in the first round, ESPN is better suited to regionalize games to cater to local markets than the Viacom networks.