Hoops hoopla lifts CBS

College games give Eye an edge

CBS is riding ratings momentum into its coverage of March Madness as preliminary Nielsens for college basketball’s Championship weekend were the best on the net in six years.

Highlighted by the Big 10, Southeastern Conference, Conference USA and Pac-10 championship games, CBS Sports earned an overall household rating of 2.6 with a 6 share — up 24% from last year’s 2.1/5 and matching the best Championship weekend average since 1999 (2.7/6).

Leading the way was Sunday’s Big 10 title game that saw Illinois defeat Wisconsin (3:30-5:30 p.m. ET), which netted a 3.4/7 — a 48% improvement over last year’s championship game between the same teams (2.3/5).

CBS Sports’ live, first-time announcement of the pairings of the men’s basketball tourney also scored in the ratings, with its 5.7 rating/11 share from 6-7 p.m. ET up 14% from last year and the highest for the Selection Show in three years.

This bodes well for the Eye as it begins its 24th consecutive year as the exclusive broadcast home to the NCAA men’s basketball tourney. First-round games kick off Thursday at noon ET, with the Final Four set for April 2-4 in St. Louis.

Fox Sports Net also is doing well with college basketball. It averaged 483,000 homes for its Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season games, the highest tune-in since FSN began carrying Sunday-night ACC contests in 2001-02. Similarly, its Pacific-10 Conference average (214,000) was up 24% vs. last year for the cabler’s highest season average.

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