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A basketball with a bracket overlaid on top in this image from Shutterstock
You can’t have March Madness without a bracket. (Image: Shutterstock)

With spring just around the corner, it’s time for the best college basketball teams in the country to leave it all out on the court. If you want to know how the selection process works and where you can watch March Madness games, we’ve got your back.

When and Where Is March Madness?

As usual, March Madness kicks off with the First Four — the first four games played in the tournament over two days. The First Four is happening on March 14 and 15. From there, teams will participate in the first and second rounds of the tournament, which will go from March 16 to 19. Regionals will be held from March 23 to 26, followed by the Final Four on April 1 to 3.

The tournament starts in Dayton, Ohio, and ends with the final in Houston. Multiple cities around the country are hosting the other games, including Denver, Las Vegas, New York City, Orlando, Columbus, and more.

How to Watch March Madness

The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) March Madness Live app is the easiest way to watch every tournament game. The app is available on most major streaming devices, including Apple TV, Google TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Xbox. Unfortunately, it requires an active account with a cable provider. Unlike other streaming services, it’s not possible to buy an NCAA subscription.

Fellow cord-cutters shouldn’t worry though. There are several ways to watch March Madness without cable. All March Madness games will stream via Hulu + Live TV. The games will air on various channels, including TBS, TNT, and TruTV, and CBS will air games in most markets. You can also watch the games on other live TV services, such as YouTube TV, Sling TV, and fuboTV, which include the channels mentioned.

Watching the games on Paramount Plus is another option. It’s more affordable than a live TV service, but Paramount Plus airs only the games on CBS. It could be a great, money-saving option if you don’t mind the limited selection of games. You can also watch CBS Sports without cable by hooking up a digital receiver to your TV and tuning in to your local CBS station.

How Teams Qualify for March Madness

NCAA logo on a basketball in this image from Shutterstock
The NCAA is the governing body of all college athletics in the U.S. (Image: Shutterstock)

The NCAA Division I system consists of over 350 teams split up into 32 conferences. Teams that win their conference championship are granted an automatic bid to the tournament. With only 32 conference championships on the table, that leaves another 36 spots up for grabs. Teams’ fates are in the hands of the Division I men’s basketball committee. According to the NCAA, the committee is responsible for three things in the following order:

  1. Select the 36 best at-large teams.
  2. Seed the field of 68 teams.
  3. Place the teams into the championship bracket.

The committee comprises members such as team athletic directors and commissioners from various conferences, who serve five-year terms. Committee members follow a rigid procedure that ensures fairness by eliminating conflicts of interest and prohibiting members from participating when their respective teams or conferences are on the ballot or being discussed. The Sunday before the tournament, committee members meet for Selection Sunday to select and announce the bracket. Before the committee can begin seeding teams and creating the bracket, they must first select the other 36 teams participating in the tournament.

At-Large Team Selection

The extended process follows many rules, but the gist is that committee members vote several times until they narrow down the best teams to fill the remaining 36 spots. Members begin the process by filling out a ballot containing two columns listing all eligible teams. In the first column, committee members must select no more than 36 teams they believe should be at-large selections. The second column has no selection requirement, leaving members to select as many teams as they believe should receive consideration.

Any team that receives all but three eligible votes in the first column moves to the next round as an at-large selection. Teams that receive four eligible votes — if a committee member has a conflicting interest then that vote is considered ineligible and cannot participate — in either column are moved to the “under consideration” board. Teams can also be added to or removed from the under-consideration board at any time through a vote.

With the initial at-large selections locked in, the committee then selects teams from the under-consideration board. If there are more than 20 teams on the board, members must select the eight best teams on the board (or fewer teams if fewer than 20 teams are available). The top eight teams are added to the next at-large ballot, at which point members rank the eight teams.

The top four teams are then added to the at-large selection, while the bottom four teams stick around for the next at-large ballot. Once again, members pick the eight best teams from the under-consideration board, with the top four teams joining the four previously held teams to form a new at-large ballot. Like before, the committee ranks the eight teams, and the top four teams move to the at-large selection. The remaining spots are filled by repeating these steps.

How Seeding Works

With the 68 teams finally selected, the committee transitions to seeding the teams — ranking them from best to worst. This is known as a “seed list.” Seeding is essential since the brackets are based on sequential ranking. The seeding process is similar to the under-consideration selection process. Each committee member selects their top eight teams, and the eight teams with the most votes move to the seed list ballot.

Once the eight teams are ranked, the top four move to the seed list in ascending order according to their place on the ballot. The bottom four teams stay on the ballot. Members then choose another set of eight teams, and the four teams with the most votes join the four teams held back from the last ballot. Members rank these eight teams and move the top four to the seed list while the bottom four stay behind. The process keeps repeating until all 68 teams are seeded.

Forming the Bracket

NCAA March Madness 2022 bracket in this image from NCAA
This is how the 2022 March Madness bracket turned out. (Image: NCAA)

With teams seeded, the committee can finally begin the most crucial task: forming the bracket. With 64 spots to fill, the committee follows stringent guidelines that streamline the process. The bracket is split into four quadrants with four levels each. The first level of each quadrant pairs 16 teams into eight matchups, and the winners of each match continue to the next level until reaching the final. The committee divides the seeded teams into four regions to fill the brackets — West, East, South, and Midwest — and ranks each from 1 to 16.

Each quadrant of the bracket must group these ranks together: (1, 16, 8, 9), (4, 13, 5, 12), (2, 15, 7, 10), and (3, 14, 6, 11). Since there are only 64 spots available and 68 teams in the tournament, the last four spots are narrowed down with the First Four, which marks the start of the tournament. The First Four comprises the last four at-large teams and the last four seeded teams — 65 to 68. The winners of the First Four move onto the bracket.

Forming the bracket sounds simple, but dozens of rules complicate the process. Teams from the same conference can’t play each other until the regional semifinals if they meet twice during the regular season and the conference tournament, for example, and teams may not play each other until the regional final if they meet three or more times in the season and conference tournament.

The rules favor teams staying relatively near their campuses, but it isn’t enforced. Teams from the same conference may be placed in totally different regions to prevent them from meeting early in the tournament, for instance, which is how Duke ended up in the West region despite being from North Carolina. The top-seeded teams in each region may choose where to play, however.

As complicated as it all sounds, the committee gets it done yearly. If you want to be the first to know, you can tune in to Selection Sunday, when the committee announces the bracket for the first time. Matchups are revealed one by one, making it a must-watch for any fans of the sport. For 2023, Selection Sunday will occur on March 12, airing on CBS at 6 p.m. ET.

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