ESPN will announce Thursday that it will provide unprecedented coverage of this year’s men’s NCAA Division I tournament, expanding its opening-round coverage to include one of its top-tier platforms, ESPN2, while providing full broadcast coverage for every game of the tournament.
The network also will announce that longtime anchor John Buccigross will be the lead play-by-play commentator for the second consecutive year while also hosting the NCAA selection show (noon EDT Sunday, ESPNU) and adding a social media aspect to the selection process.
NCAA tournament TV schedule
Here’s where NCAA hockey events will be located on TV (all times Eastern):
SUNDAY, MARCH 23
• Noon: Selection show, ESPNU
FRIDAY, MARCH 28
• 2 p.m.: East Regional semifinal, ESPNU
• 4:30 p.m.: Midwest Regional semifinal, ESPN3 (tape-delayed on ESPNU at 10:30 p.m.)
• 5:30 p.m.: East Regional semifinal, ESPNU
• 8 p.m. Midwest Regional semifinal, ESPNU
SATURDAY, MARCH 29
• 3 p.m.: East Regional final, ESPN2
• 4 p.m.: Northeast Regional semifinal, ESPNU
• 5:30 p.m.: West Regional semifinal, ESPN2
• 6:30 p.m.: Midwest Regional final, ESPNU
• 7:30 p.m.: Northeast Regional semifinal, ESPN3 (tape-delayed on ESPNU at 11:30 p.m.)
• 9 p.m.: West Regional semifinal, ESPNU
SUNDAY, MARCH 30
• 5 p.m.: Northeast Regional final, ESPNU
• 7:30 p.m.: West Regional final, ESPNU
THURSDAY, APRIL 10
• 5 p.m.: Frozen Four semifinal, ESPN2
• 8:30 p.m.: Frozen Four semifinal, ESPN2
SATURDAY, APRIL 12
• 7 p.m.: Frozen Four championship, ESPN
ESPN will return to airing all 15 games of the tournament exclusively on the ESPN platform of networks. Opening-round games will be primarily broadcast on ESPNU and ESPN2, though the network’s online platform ESPN3 will exclusively carry one semifinal game from the Midwest Regional in Cincinnati and one from the Northeast Regional in Worcester.
In the past, when two or more regional games overlap, ESPN has tape delayed one of the broadcasts while offering the feeds to other television networks in syndication.
The 2014 broadcast schedule will keep all opening-round games live over the three ESPN network platforms.
“We have been very creative this year across all of our networks, getting ESPN2 involved in carving out enough shelf space to get two of the regional semifinal games onto ESPN2,” said Brent Colborne, ESPN’s director of programming and acquisitions. “From there, it brought the number of [previous] syndication games down to two. And from that point there is no need for syndication anymore.
“ESPN3 stands on its own. It’s an 85-million-home network that is well distributed. The distribution is such a great point right now that I’m confident we’re serving the fans in the best possible way we can between ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3 throughout the course of the entire championship.”
In addition to being broadcast on the cable television networks, all games of the tournament will also be available on ESPN3 and watchespn.com.
While ESPNU, ESPN2 and ESPN3 will be the broadcasting networks for the NCAA regional games, the Frozen Four will continue to have top billing on ESPN’s two main networks. The national semifinals on April 10 will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. EDT. And the national championship will be broadcast on ESPN on Saturday, April 12 at 7:30 p.m. EDT.
Buccigross, Barry Melrose (color) and Quint Kessenich (rinkside) will be the broadcast team for the entire Frozen Four.
Buccigross, who has become somewhat of a college hockey icon on Twitter, will leverage his power on the social media platform this Sunday before the announcement of the NCAA selections.
Having developed a strong following of college hockey fans by employing the Twitter hashtag #cawlidgehawkey, Buccigross (Twitter handle @buccigross) will work with the NCAA (Twitter handle @NCAAIceHockey) tweet out the regional assignments for each of the top seeds before the selection show starts.
At 11 a.m. EDT, the NCAA will tweet out the four top seeds in alphabetical order. Buccigross will follow that with the order of the seeds and the assignment of regions for each seed.
“Bucci is phenomenal,” Colborne said of Buccigross. “He’s the type of guy you want to be able to anchor a sport like hockey. I look at him as a very valuable resource for us.
“I felt I had to leverage the fan base John has built himself in the college hockey space. He is so strong in the social media space, we thought it was a creative opportunity for us to take advantage of the nearly 200,000 fans he has on Twitter.
“We were able to work with our partners at the NCAA to get comfortable to have John reveal the top four seeds with sites prior to the actual selection show.”
On Sunday, Buccigross will be joined by well-known hockey analyst Dave Starman to reveal the 16-team NCAA tournament field.
In addition to that, Buccigross, Melrose and Kessenich will be the broadcast team for the Bridgeport, Conn., regional. Joe Davis and Billy Jaffe will handle the call in the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass.
Joe Beninati and Darren Eliot will have the call from the Midwest Regional in Cincinnati, and long-time ESPN play-by-play man Clay Matvick will be alongside Sean Ritchlin in the West Regional in St. Paul, Minn.
One major improvement from years past will be start times for the final regional championship games. In past years, games in the East or Northeast regional have begun as late as 9 p.m. on Sunday, a move that was criticized by Boston College coach Jerry York in 2012.
This year, the Northeast Regional final in Worcester will begin at 5 p.m. EDT and the West Regional final will start at 7:30 p.m. EDT (6:30 p.m. local time).
This is the 10th consecutive year that the ESPN family of networks has covered the entire tournament live. The group first broadcast the national title game in 1980 and has televised the entire Frozen Four live since 1995.