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Ratings-Driven Regional Final Schedule is a Giant Slap in Viewers' Faces

Kyle Koster
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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TBS will air two regional final games on Tuesday night. The first, at 7:15 p.m. ET, pits USC vs. Gonzaga. The second, at 9:57 p.m. ET, features Michigan and UCLA. It is exactly the order I would select as well if appointed head of CBS/Turner's presentation. It is also intensely indifferent and borderline dismissive of actual consumers.

Just because the choice makes sense and should come as no surprise doesn't mean it's not plainly dumb or viewers shouldn't complain about it on the off-chance their best interests ever pierce the boardroom cockpit mainly on auto-pilot in the direction of greater ratings.

Let's really consider what's happening here. These games, which would be on Sunday in normal, non-pandemic times, would be wrapped in time for a late dinner. The Duke-Michigan State East Regional in 2019 tipped around 5 p.m. Now, quite obviously, Tuesdays are different because people are ostensibly working. So it's ideal to schedule tip for a time when more people can be home with feet up on ottomans.

In quest of that, they've put two West Coast teams in a game that begins at 4:15 p.m. locally. On the flip side they've taken Michigan, the most popular of the four teams, and asked its vast fanbase, located overwhelmingly in the Eastern Time Zone, to prepare for pivotal moments occurring near the midnight hour.

Is this the end of the world? No. But it pretty instructive how little it seems the television-schedule creators seem to care about the viewers.

It started right off the bat in the First Four, when UCLA played MSU at 10:20 p.m. on a Thursday night. That game went to overtime and wasn't decided until almost 1 in the morning for disappointed Spartans fans. The first three standalone games on Monday all included teams from the Pacific, with tip times at 9:10 a.m., 11:40 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. locally. Last night brought a USC-Oregon game at 9:45 p.m. ET, which was both unnecessary and seemingly detrimental to the ratings push anyways and bleary-eyed viewers chose sleep over an impressive young Trojans team.

And look, I am not usually the person who complains about tip times, especially the national title game, because that's remained rather static. But this situation is a new one, created out of whole cloth to disappoint everyone. Divining some sort of solution is not akin to solving the Riddle of the Sphinx. Simply put the East Coast team in the earlier game and the two West Coast teams in the later game.

Surely charts and facts and figures and all that show that Michigan-UCLA at 10 freaking p.m. is best for business. On the other hand, I live in Michigan and a ton of Wolverines fans I know are either quite young or quite old. This late tip-time doesn't exactly make it easy for them to watch the whole game.

Of course, millions of people will fight through the sleepiness and accept the next morning's grogginess because a Final Four berth is on the line. But just because people will watch anyway doesn't mean there complaints aren't valid.

Anytime the counterargument includes co-opting the "ah but you participate in society" meme, it's a bad sign.

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