ESPN will expand its coverage of the 2014 NCAAs in Oklahoma City March 20-22, showing “an unprecedented eight-match viewing experience” (to quote the network’s press statement) on its ESPN3 channel for the early rounds, and six-mat coverage for the semifinals. This is an expansion of ESPN3’s four-mat coverage which has been in place for the past five years.
The sports broadcaster promises to continue to provide full-match coverage on ESPN3, ESPNU, ESPN and WatchESPN outlets for the semifinal, medal and championship rounds live from the Chesapeake Energy Center (formerly Ford Center) in downtown Oklahoma City.
“There is an increasing appetite for the NCAA Wrestling Championships from the sport’s avid fan base, especially on our digital platforms,” said Brent Colborne, ESPN director of programming and acquisitions. “We continue to look for new ways to serve wrestling fans and live coverage of every mat on ESPN3 will provide an unprecedented amount of comprehensive coverage for the event.”
ESPN began airing NCAA wrestling championships in 1980, its first year as a network, and has provided live coverage of every round since 2011.
ESPN Networks’ commitment to the championship extends through 2024.
Televised coverage of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships began in the mid-1960s, starting with a highly-edited, tape-delayed broadcast of some of the finals matches on ABC-TV’s “Wide World of Sports,” then later on the CBS network, usually two to three weeks after the original event. Early broadcasts of the NCAAs on ESPN were shown tape-delayed outside of prime time, usually in the overnight hours.
ESPN’s broadcast of the 2013 NCAA finals drew unprecedentedly high ratings. The network persuaded the NCAA to rearrange the order of championship matches. Instead of using the traditional weight-by-weight sequence starting with the 125-pound title match and concluding with the heavyweight bout, the 2013 NCAA finals saved the much-anticipated 165-pound match between Cornell’s Kyle Dake – going for his fourth NCAA title – and defending champ David Taylor of Penn State as the last event of the evening. In another unprecedented move, ESPN then transitioned from its live coverage of the NCAAs into a live interview with newly-crowned champion Dake to open its signature “SportsCenter” broadcast at 11 p.m. Eastern.
Want to see what NCAA TV coverage once looked like? Check out video from ABC's broadcast of the 1967 NCAA finals, showing the heavyweight title bout featuring future NFL Pro Football Hall of Famer Curley Culp of Arizona State.
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