College Basketball on ESPN

College Basketball on ESPN

College Basketball on ESPN is a presentation of the college basketball television package on the ESPN family of networks. The television network broadcasts games of all the major conferences and many mid-major conferences of Division I NCAA basketball.



Past history

ESPN has historically aired the premiere weekday games since it has had virtually all major conferences. Dick Vitale with his energy and enthusiasm has symbolized college basketball as its unofficial voice.


ESPN has aired college basketball games from its inception, starting in 1979 with DePaul’s victory over Wisconsin Badgers with a then-novice color commentator Dick Vitale and Joe Boyle doing the play-by-play. In the early days, Vitale was paired with veteran sportscaster Jim Simpson.

One of the first milestone events that ESPN covered was the NCAA Tournament. In 1980, the fledging channel had a total of 23 tournament games. They intensively covered the early rounds of March Madness, gaining the entire tournament much prestige. The early rounds of course were not the most ideal time, many games taking place during work hours. When CBS gained exclusive coverage in 1991, they would largely mimic how their predecessor had covered the event.[1]

One of the next milestones in ESPN's coverage was when they aired Championship Week for the first time in 1986 (the term would be coined later however). The network was given critical acclaim for its coverage of the conference tournaments, of bouncing from game to the next. It also raised the profile of many "mid-major" and "minor" conferences who received their only national attention during a single game, usually the championship game of their conference tournament. Like everything else with ESPN, the success and expansion of the network led to more games being televised in this made-for-TV event.[2]

In the late 1980s and early 1990s with only a single network; no regional or internet coverage, ESPN televised around 200 games a year.


In 1991, they would lose coverage of the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament but would continue to televise just as many regular season games and conference tournament games.[3]

In 1993, ESPN aired the Women's Selection Show for the first time ever.[4] Unlike the men's tournament, ESPN is the only network that airs the unveiling.

In 1996, ESPN and ESPN2 aired a total of 281 men's games and 22 women's games.[5]

Recent history

ESPN has rapidly increased its coverage throughout the years as the network as expanded from a single cable channel to a multiple outlets including the internet.

In 2003, ESPN and its sister networks aired all the games of the Women's NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, a practice that still exists today.[6]

On March 4, 2005, ESPNU premiered on the outset of a TexasOklahoma State game from Stillwater, Oklahoma with a special two-hour edition of College GameDay.[7] ESPNU has aired the first set of games of each season, beginning in its initial season of 2005.[8]

In 2005–06, the ESPN family of networks aired 884 games (they aired 140 women's games that year).[9] However the following season, they aired over 1000 games.[10]

In 2007, ESPNU as well as ESPN2 aired the first-ever NIT Selection Show.[11] Also, ESPN Radio aired its first-ever coverage of the Selection Sunday.[12] Also that year, a then-record of more than 3.3 million brackets entered on suprassing the record set the previous year.[13]

During the 2007–2008 season, the ESPN networks aired a total of more than 1,050 men's games[14] and 150 women's games.[15] ESPNU aired over 250 games.[16] In addition, ESPN aired Pac-10 games for the first time since 1995, through a new agreement with FSN. They showed a total of 2 games.[17] The year was marked by Dick Vitale missing his first assignment ever due to surgery. He was replaced by Jay Bilas on Saturday Primetime.[18] He returned on February 6 for the UNC-Duke matchup.[19] Due to the 2008 Atlanta tornado outbreak, ESPN2, instead of CBS, aired the 2008 SEC Tournament finals from Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the campus of Georgia Tech. However, CBS production was utilized including talent and graphics.[20] ESPN had a record 3.65 million entries for the Tournament Challenge.[21]

Legendary basketball coach Bob Knight retired from coaching in February 2008, he joined ESPN, the following month as a studio analyst for Championship Week and later appeared during March Madness including on location from San Antonio at the Final Four.[22] His role was greatly expanded during the 2008–09 season, when he appeared on many platforms including a weekly Thursday game as well as College GameDay.[23]

On November 18, 2008, ESPN aired the first College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. The first game tipped off at 11:59 on November 17 and a total of nine games culminated with a UK-UNC matchup. This matchup was proceeded by a special edition of College GameDay. A total of 23 straight hours of college basketball were aired.[24]

The ESPN family of networks is scheduled to air a total of about 1,100 games during 2008–09 season, which includes ESPN360. ESPNU will air 235 of those.[8]

There will be a total of 148 women's basketball games during 2008–09 season including the entire NCAA Tournament.[25]


Game coverage

Games are typically aired on:[8]

Pre-conference play, conferences tournament games, NIT games, as well as other selected games air on other days of the week.

Pre-season tournaments

ESPN currently airs many pre-season tournaments including:[8] the SEC/Big East Invitational, the O’Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-Off, the 76 Classic, the Old Spice Classic, Coaches vs. Cancer, the Maui Invitational, the Preseason NIT, the ACC - Big Ten Challenge, the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series, the CBE Classic, and the Las Vegas Invitational.

ESPN traditionally airs Jimmy V Week, which features a men's doubleheader at Madison Square Garden and a women's game in the Jimmy V Classic. Between the men's games, ESPN airs the 1993 ESPY's speech by Jim Valvano.[26]

Speciality weeks

ESPN has themed weeks to enhance the collegiate game including:[8] ESPNU Campus Connection Week (formerly known as Student Spirit Week)- Feast Week- the week of Thanksgiving Holiday Hoops- around Christmas Rivalry Week- end of January and/or beginning of February, features many of the hottest rivalries in the games

  • ESPNU BracketBusters- mid-February, featuring many "bubble teams" from mid-major conferences
  • Judgment Week- end of February and/or early March, final week of the regular season
  • Championship Week- early to mid-March, conference tournaments

Special tournaments and events will include the , 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, EA Sports Maui Invitational, ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Jimmy V Classic,


ESPN has traditionally has aired coverage of non-game action including Midnight Madness, which it help popularize by airing the first practices.

College GameDay which grew as a spin-off of the popular football series is a weekly series that airs during conference play and post-season action. The main difference however is that the sites are pre-determined based on the location of the Saturday Primetime matchup. The show incorporates many of the features and is similar to the football edition.

ESPN airs comprehensive coverage around Selection Sunday including an NIT Selection Show.[11]

During the NCAA Tournament, many ESPN personalities including Dick Vitale appear to discuss the tournament. In addition during the Final Four, there is an on-location set. Typically special editions of College Gameday and SportsCenter appear during this time.

ESPNU airs a National Signing Day, first premiering in 2008. It was done due to the popularity of the football edition.[27]

Women's coverage

ESPN has greatly expanded its coverage of the women's game, which now includes the entire NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Championship tournament, culminating with the Final Four. They air many of the same pre-season and conference tournaments as the men do including Jimmy V Women’s Basketball Classic, Holiday Hoops, ESPNU Campus Connection Week, February Frenzy, Rivalry Week, and Championship Week. The season begins with the State Farm Tip-Off Classic. ESPN2 airs a weekly Big Monday game in primetime. In addition, ESPN airs the Maggie Dixon Classic.[25] Every February, ESPN2 airs February Frenzy. They air multiple games in a telecast window(s) and go to the games whip-around style.[15] The Women's Selection Show is aired on ESPN including bonus coverage on ESPNU on Selection Monday after many years of being overshadowed by the men's show.[28]

Typical games

During the regular season, typical games that are shown almost every year on the ESPN family of networks include Duke-UNC, WVU-PITT, UF-UK, and Duke-MD.

Championship Week always features most Division I conference tournaments including expanding coverage of the "major" conferences. The "mid-major" and/or "minor" conferences will typically only get the latter rounds of the tournaments carried, if not, only the conference finale game.




Game Conference Play- by- Play Analyst(s) Sideline Reporter
Big Monday Big East Sean McDonough Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery
Big 12 Brent Musberger Bob Knight Holly Rowe
Super Tuesday Big Ten Brent Musburger or Dave O'Brien Steve Lavin Erin Andrews
SEC Brad Nessler Jimmy Dykes or Dick Vitale Jeannine Edwards
Wednesday Night Hoops ACC Mike Patrick Len Elmore or Dick Vitale or Jay Bilas
Big East John Saunders or Dave Pasch or Sean McDonough Doris Burke or Len Elmore
Big 12 Ron Franklin Bob Knight
Thursday Night Showcase various Brent Musburger Bob Knight Holly Rowe
ACC Mike Patrick Len Elmore
Big East Dave Pasch or John Saunders Len Elmore or Doris Burke Allen Hopkins
Big Ten Dave O'Brien Steve Lavin
SEC Rece Davis Hubert Davis
WCC Jon Sciambi Stephen Bardo
Saturday afternoon Big Ten Dave O'Brien Steve Lavin
Big East Dave Pasch or Sean McDonough Len Elmore or Doris Burke
Big 12 Ron Franklin Fran Fraschilla
Saturday Primetime various Dan Shulman Dick Vitale Erin Andrews
Various "Big" games various Dan Shulman Dick Vitale or Bob Knight Doris Burke

Other broadcasters used (09–10)

See also


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