March Madness: How Broadcasters Prepare For The NCAA Tourney

Bill Raftery admits it's “sort of a challenge” getting to know so many players and teams in just a few days

Bill Raftery (L) and Verne Lunquist have called more than 500 NCAA tournament games, over a combined 60 seasons.  They will team up again -- this time with sideline reporter -- Thursday on CBS.   (Photo:  CBS)

Bill Raftery (L) and Verne Lunquist have called more than 500 NCAA tournament games, over a combined 60 seasons. They will team up again — this time with sideline reporter Allie LaForce  — Thursday on CBS.
(Photo: CBS)

Bill Raftery hasn’t spent much time with his family this week.

The beloved broadcaster — and former Seton Hall University head coach — has mostly been huddling around a television with a stack of yellow legal pads watching endless hours of college basketball.

It is March Madness, after all.

And for hoops analysts working the annual NCAA basketball tournament, that can mean around-the-clock cramming to learn all about each team and player they will cover.

Raftery —  who began providing color commentary for Big East games on ESPN in 1981 — will be behind the mic on Thursday for four games in Buffalo involving Syracuse, Connecticut, Villanova and Ohio State.

But it is their lesser known opponents — teams like Western Michigan, Dayton and UW-Milwaukee — that will command much of his attention in the meantime.

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“Those are the ones you really prepare harder for because this may be the only time they are in it again for a while,” he says.  “Their leagues just gets one (automatic) bid, so you want to treat them with as much dignity and respect as you would the number one or two seed.”

“Raf” — as he is known to friends, fans and bartenders everywhere — admits it’s “sort of a challenge” processing so much data in just a few days.

“I will watch two or three games from each team, particularly on that Monday or Tuesday [after the pairings are announced],” he tells me.  “There are certain shortcuts — but for the ones you don’t know, you need to watch at least that many.”

“The first time is overwhelming somewhat, but each guy has their own way of preparing.  Also you have a partner that might take more responsibility — typically the play-by-play guy with the numbers and certain aspects that he is responsible for.

“The day before the games begin we will sit and watch all the teams practice.  It can be a tedious day.  You are just kind of locked in the building all day.  They start around 9:30 and go ‘til about 6 o’clock.”

Raftery and broadcast partners Verne Lundquist and Allie LaForce were given their assignments Sunday night (03/16), just hours after the field of 68 was announced.

Game tapes were provided the following day through a subscription-based website.

The internet has helped cut down on some of the prep work,” he says.

“There is not as much cramming as there may have been years ago.  You have it beforehand.  You have access.”

But no amount of technology — or “onions” — will ever replace Raf’s trusty yellow legal pads.

“I have an iPad, but I still like the [physical] notes because then I can read them on an airplane or before I go to bed,” he says.

“It’s just a habit.”

THE NCAA MENS BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP begins Thursday and can be seen on CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV.

Sean Daly

Sean Daly

Editor-In-Chief at
Sean Daly is a veteran entertainment journalist.His work has appeared in People, Us Weekly, The Toronto Star and other top publications. He was the west coast TV reporter for The New York Post from 2008 - 2013. Sean is the author of Inside AGT: The Untold Stories of America's Got Talent and Teen Mom Confidential: Secrets and Scandals From MTV's Most Controversial Shows.
Sean Daly