Billy Packer recalls that he, Dick Enberg and Al McGuire were working a Big Ten basketball game for NBC in 1981 on the day the NCAA tournament selections and pairings were made in Kansas City, Mo.
"I remember Dick only had time to mention a couple of No. 1 seeds before we went off the air," Packer said.
NBC had the tournament that year, but CBS has had it ever since and has turned the announcement of the selections and pairings into one of the highlights of the season.
The pairings for this year's tournament will be announced live on CBS Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
Packer, who followed the tournament from NBC to CBS in 1981, went to Kevin O'Malley, then CBS' executive producer for college sports, to suggest devoting a half-hour special to the selections and pairings.
Actually, such a thing was already in the works. During negotiations with the NCAA for the tournament in January, 1981, a proposal for a selections-and-pairings show was part of CBS' package.
"The idea was well received by the NCAA," said O'Malley, now the senior vice president of sports programming for Turner Broadcasting. "The way it had always been done was, after the selections were made, the schools were called and informed they were in and who they were playing and when. Then the NCAA called the wire services.
"What we wanted to do was turn the selections into a news event."
The idea for the selections special, plus an offer to cover first-round games, helped CBS win the tournament bid on March 3, 1981.
CBS started out showing first-round games at 11:30 p.m. NBC had not been able to do that because it had Johnny Carson.
ESPN, which began operating in September, 1979, started televising early round NCAA tournament games in 1980. That, probably more than anything else, established the fledgling cable network.
ESPN set the standard for switching from one game to another, a system now employed by CBS, which has had the whole tournament exclusively since 1991.
The first year CBS did a selections show, the tournament field was only 48 teams, so the network had a little time to fill.
"We had reports from two site locations--Morgantown, W.Va., and Fresno," Packer said. "I remember there were about 5,000 crazies on the Fresno State campus waiting to get the word."
The Bulldogs got in for the second year in a row and lost to Georgetown in the second round.
Now that the tournament field has grown to 64--it went to 53 in 1983 and to its current configuration in '85--there isn't time for CBS to visit such places as Morgantown and Fresno.
The selections and pairings are made by a nine-member committee before the information is passed on to CBS.
Tom Butters, athletic director at Duke and the chairman of the selection committee, and the other committee members arrived Thursday in Kansas City, near the NCAA headquarters.
With 30 of the slots predetermined as conference or tournament champions, the committee's main job is to select 34 at-large teams and to seed the field.
"There will be some anxious moments this weekend," Butters said before leaving Durham, N.C. "I'll start to get that feeling in my stomach shortly after I arrive in Kansas City."
Butters said he would spend most of Thursday afternoon by himself to "privately go through my thoughts."
The selection process will begin today at noon and, Butters said, will be pretty much concluded by late Saturday night.
Lest one thinks Butters is able to show any favoritism toward Duke, he said: "Whenever Duke is being discussed, I have to leave the room. It's the same thing for the other athletic directors and conference commissioners. When schools they have ties to are discussed, they have to leave the room."
Although ESPN is no longer involved in tournament game coverage, it still has a major presence.
ESPN will have its own selections show at 3:30 p.m., although it might be a little behind CBS, which gets its information direct from the NCAA.
ESPN will have 10 half-hour or hour specials previewing, reviewing and analyzing the tournament, beginning Monday at 4:30 p.m. with a half-hour preview of Thursday's first-round games. A preview of Friday's first-round games will be shown on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
John Saunders and Chris Fowler will share host responsibilities for the specials, with Bill Raftery, who will also be a part of CBS' coverage, and Dick Vitale providing analysis.
On Sunday at 9:30 a.m., ESPN also will offer live coverage of the selections and pairings for the women's NCAA tournament.
CBS Radio will have a special "Selections Sunday" program at 4 p.m., and KMPC and XTRA will carry the call-in show. John Rooney and Ron Franklin are the hosts. . . . KMPC and XTRA also will carry CBS Radio's tournament coverage, which begins with the second round on March 20. . . . Prime Ticket's "Press Box" Sunday night at 10 will be expanded by 15 minutes to cover the pairings.