The Washington Times - March 10, 2009, 02:53PM

I’m coming to you live from somewhere in midtown Manhattan, where I just got finished whirlwind session of interviews with pretty much everyone associated with CBS‘ coverage of the NCAA Tournament. 

Jay Bilas is tall. Jim Nantz sounds just like he does on TV. Clark Kellogg is a nice guy…he didn’t make fun of me when I broke my plastic fork as I tried to eat some pasta salad. 

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Of course being the sports business person, I didn’t really delve into too much basketball conversation. I’ll let Patrick Stevens worry about box-and-one defenses and free throw shooting. I was here to talk about the moolah. 

Suffice it to say, the economy was on everyone’s minds, and we’ll have a story or two about how CBS has done in terms of sponsorship sales. In a few words, the network is hanging in there thanks to a series of long-term sponsorships that they’ve had in place. Even GM will have a presence on NCAA Tournament broadcasts.

First today, we heard from the big man, CBS President Sean McManus (who’s actually not that big. Not Jay Bilas big anyway.) He believes the NCAA Tournament is like comfort food for a country ravaged by economic hardship. 

“There’s never been a time when America needs and deserves the NCAA basketball tournament more than this year,” McManus said. “The onslaught of really tough economic news we’re getting ever single day and with people really struggling at all levels around the country, having this event, more than any other event, really does bring together America. I think the timing is really great. People are waiting to jump out of their chairs and cheer for something.”

CBS has had the rights to the NCAA Tournament for about 6 trillion years, but this will be the first time in more than 3 decades that analyst Billy Packer won’t be on the air. The network and Packer parted ways after last year’s tournament and replaced him with former studio host Clark Kellogg, who will work alongside Jim Nantz as the network’s top duo. 

“I was with Billy for 23 years…I think of Billy often in this last week as we went down to North Carolina and Duke..I stay in touch with him on a regular basis.”

“It came time for us to go in the next direction and Sean [McManus] picked just the perfect guy. He’s someone who obviously has a tremendous passion for the game….you never know what that chemistry is going to be like that first time out of the box…its harder than you think. But in all my years, in working with someone for the first time, that was the smoothest, easiest, most fun out of the box broadcast I have ever had. It really does feel like I’ve been with Clark a long time.”

Said Kellogg: “Obviously, I’m thrilled to be in a chair that was manned so ably by Billy Packer…it’s a privelege for me and having the chance to be along Jim’s side, who I’ve always respected as one of the best sportscasters in the business covering any sport, it’s special. It’s going to be fun.”

Ok, that’s all from me from NYC for now. Stay tuned for some tidbits about CBS’ March Madness on Demand service, among other things you may or may not find intriguing. Time to hop on the Amtrak train back. Ciao.