Live sporting events are the main reason cable still exists. For actual live news, there are much more efficient and insightful methods for getting information. There are text alerts, push notifications and Twitter to get you the information you need faster than a producer can whisper into an anchor's ear. Particularly in the sports world -- where news is nevertheless still a means of entertainment -- there's a constant wrestling match as to how information ought to be conveyed. There was that controversy over ESPN tipping the NFL draft selections before Goodell stepped to the podium. Free agent movements are almost always broken with the words "FILED TO ESPN" preceding them in a tweet, or even more radically, by an athlete himself via the same medium. TV sports news (and probably TV news in general, but that's another debate) has become a superficial echo chamber.
This is what makes Selection Sunday a relatively peculiar holdover from a different time -- but an appealing relic, in many ways.
The broadcast kicked off at 6:00 p.m. ET, and host Greg Gumbel wasted no time raffling off seeds. Subtle, upbeat music that might be played during basketball highlights hummed in the background, giving the barely perceptible aura of uncertainty. There was gentleness in Gumbel's voice. Clark Kellogg, Doug Gottlieb and Seth Davis offered short bursts of commentary that never detracted from the proceedings; they only spoke when they had something to say, a novel concept in sports broadcasting. The trio resisted the urge to overplay their hands and imitate the whooping audience from a halfpipe competition, gasping at every selection. Instead, it actually meant something when Seth Davis audibly emoted at Louisville as fourth seed.
Each region took approximately five minutes to announce. By 6:17, half the bracket was public and the bracket was done at 6:35. It all moved so quickly that only the truly controversial decisions are highlighted because they slap you in the face rather than requiring a magnifying glass and the latest version of R to determine.
But the subsequent appeal to controversy lamentably returned the broadcast to modern times. The more CBS focused on the committee's decisions, the more the fabricated nature of the event came to light; this isn't, after all, a real sporting event, and the suspense is manufactured by people in a room. By 6:43, Ron Wellman, chair of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee, was on to explain the committee's decisions, although I use the term "explain" lightly. Wellman continuously echoed the same talking points regardless of the question, emphasizing nebulous phrases about totality and comprehensiveness. "We look at the total resume...the total body of work," he said of Louisville slipping to a fourth seed, one of the night's most questionable decisions. "We look at everything. Whether it be road wins or wins against tournament field or strength of schedule or non-conference strength of schedule, all those factors play a part in it."
After the Selection Sunday broadcast, Wellman took to TruTV's analysis program (a complete mess, by the way, constantly cutting to commercials mid-sentence) to further explain some decisions where he admitted, "It's not consistent, we recognize that." It's easy to respect the process when it comes from Gumbel's mouth like an old-fashioned news report from a trusted anchor, but being told by a man in the room that the decisions are "not consistent" kills the fantasy. This isn't news after all -- it's television.
The problem with asking Wellman or anybody to satisfactorily explain the committee's decisions is that there isn't much to explain. The definition of a "bubble team" is that there are arguments for and against their inclusion. The bracket is determined by a bunch of people in a room, perhaps the most unscientific and antiquated decision-making process imaginable. Feel free to disagree with them -- it's even part of the fun. It's also besides the point.
The best thing a Selection Sunday broadcast can do is draw attention away from this relative arbitrariness and toward the excitement ahead. The easiest way to accomplish this is to make it all whoosh by. Dragging out psuedo-sporting events -- pregame shows, television "events" focused on male anchors reading proper nouns, postgame shows, analysis shows, etc. -- has become the sport network's modus operandi, which ironically renders said events borderline unwatchable. Regardless of whether you consider Selection Sunday suspenseful must-watch television or a leftover of a previous news-breaking era, at least it's quick.