With heartiest seeds sown, now it's CBS' time to reap


CBS Sports is hoping that four aces will make a winning hand in the ratings.

This is the first time all of the No. 1 seeds have made it to the Final Four in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. But getting there has been a sometimes difficult ratings stretch at the Eye network.

The March Madness ratings started off slowly, down 10% in the early rounds compared with last year thanks in part to the largest number of blowouts for a tournament in history.

Through the first 60 games, the tournament's ratings are down 7% compared with a year ago, though the final Sunday night game was up 17% compared with 2007.

CBS News/Sports president Sean McManus said Monday that Cinderella teams are good in the early rounds. But from a ratings standpoint, the best formula is the top teams playing close games. This year's Final Four — top seeds North Carolina, Memphis, UCLA and Kansas — fulfills those qualifications.

"Storied basketball traditions and close games: It's a pretty unbeatable formula," McManus said.

Thirty-four of the 60 games so far have been decided by at least 12 points, a record in the tournament, CBS Sports said. There were 29 that fit that criteria last year, 22 in 2006 and 20 in 2005.

Even play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz acknowledged in a conference call with reporters Monday that from the booth it was difficult to sit through so many blowouts.

"I don't think we have any more coming," Nantz said.

The national semifinals — UCLA vs. Memphis and North Carolina vs. Kansas — will air Saturday from San Antonio. The championship game is Monday.

"We've got a lot of momentum coming into Saturday," McManus said.