Luke DeCock

UNC’s late-night NCAA game an insult to teams, fans alike

Roy Williams unhappy with UNC's 9:40pm game time

VIDEO: University of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams voices his clear displeasure with the late game time for UNC in their second round NCAA Tournament game against Providence.
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VIDEO: University of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams voices his clear displeasure with the late game time for UNC in their second round NCAA Tournament game against Providence.

On Wednesday, Roy Williams promised a rant-free NCAA tournament. He made it less than 48 hours.

The North Carolina coach started out his first opening statement of the week with a soliloquy that was almost a rant itself: “I’m not talking about any green room. I’m not talking about any newspaper articles. I’m not bringing up a can of soda in here to pour it in. I’m not talking about anybody or saying anything about my future.”

Even after Thursday night’s first-half malaise against 16th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast, Williams held his tongue. (Afterward, anyway – at halftime, Brice Johnson said Williams was “turning pink.”)

When CBS and Turner gave Saturday’s second-round North Carolina-Providence game the latest possible tip time, 20 minutes after Virginia-Butler or approximately 9:40 p.m., Williams couldn’t hold back.

“Surprised and very disappointed,” Williams said Friday afternoon. “Jiminy Christmas, you know? What can you say? 9:45, 9:50 for a start time. Don’t we have an east, south, midwest, west? Don’t we have games out there we can show on TV at that time? You know, it’s like spitting in the wind. It’s stupid because you can’t do anything about it, but I despise it.”

In the pantheon of Roy’s Rants, this may not have been the most entertaining of the season, but he happens to be 100 percent right.

I got to sit in the daggum hotel room. I wake up at 6 in the morning, don’t go to work until freaking 9:30 at night.

UNC coach Roy Williams

With games also being played in Des Moines, Iowa., (one hour behind) and Denver (two hours behind) on Saturday, starting the North Carolina-Providence game at this hour made sense only to TV executives who care more about dog-food commercials and country-club bar tabs and not basketball fans or teams – let alone rant-prone coaches who can’t do their time-killing long walks anymore because of bad knees.

“I got to sit in the daggum hotel room,” Williams said. “I wake up at 6 in the morning, don’t go to work until freaking 9:30 at night.”

It’s exactly the kind of nonsense we’ve come to expect from the CBS-Turner partnership that has infected the tournament like a virus. CBS used to approach the NCAA tournament with the same dignity and expertise as the Masters, but the only way the broadcasters could conjure up enough money to pay the NCAA’s bills was to partner with Turner’s TV garbage factory. Whether through arrogance or complacency, it’s been especially bad this year.

It started with the two-hour abomination that was the selection show, which not only took viewers’ time and attention spans for granted but featured the annual embarrassment of Turner’s NBA analysts pretending to have watched any college basketball at all. The only thing less impressive than Charles Barkley’s knowledge of the college game was his knowledge of how to work a touch screen, a skill millions of toddlers display every day on their iPads. The leaked bracket that surfaced on Twitter during the show perfectly punctured the networks’ insufferable hubris.

Maybe the broadcasters are starting to pay a price for their lack of shame; Thursday’s ratings were down 15 percent from a year ago, according to the Sports Business Journal.

There are benefits to the CBS/Turner deal, to be sure. Having every game available at all times, on TV and online, is a huge bonus. There’s an entire generation that has never known the agony of watching the CBS national feed switching from game to game while your team is playing. And there’s also only so much you can do in the first round, with 16 games a day. There were three games still going at 11:30 p.m. Friday night, but at least only one was on the East Coast.

A year ago, Saturday games in Jacksonville (8:40 p.m.) and Pittsburgh (9:40 p.m.) tipped off after the second game in Portland, Ore. This year, the first game in Denver starts at 4:10 p.m. local time, as does the first game in Des Moines. (Sunday’s latest game is in Spokane, Wash., which actually makes sense).

Clearly, CBS wanted Wichita State and Duke at lunchtime and Kentucky-Indiana and Kansas-Connecticut in its afternoon window, leaving these Raleigh games marooned in the late-night TBS time slot usually reserved for Katherine Heigl movies and “Big Bang Theory” reruns.

These two No. 1 seeds – and their fans – deserved better than Late Night with Roy redux.

University of North Carolina players Justin Jackson and Brice Johnson talk about the challenges of playing a 9:40 game.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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