Watching the Big Dance isn't what it used to be—it's much, much better. Let us count the ways
There was a time when brackets were submitted on paper. When CBS play-by-play man Gus Johnson did not have a personal soundboard (gusjohnsongetsbuckets.com). When watching every afternoon tournament game was a privilege reserved mainly for truants and bold white-collar employees. But that time, thankfully, is no more. The three-week, suddenly 67-course meal that is March Madness is sports' ultimate buffet. And now you have proper utensils with which to gorge.
Nothing has replaced TV in the American household (and the advent of 3-D sets makes it seem certain this medium will stick around). For the first time in 73 years every game will be broadcast live on one of four networks: CBS (26 games), TBS (16), truTV (13) and TNT (12). (Thank the NCAA's new 14-year, $10.8 billion rights deal with CBS Sports and Turner Sports, which is owned by SI's parent company, Time Warner.) What this means is that besides hearing Charles Barkley's amusing commentary, no channel will be cutting away from games. You, the viewer, get to pick and stick with whatever budding buzzer beater or blowout you want. And if you need help deciding which games to watch, sign up for alerts from thuuz.com, a free site that measures a game's excitement based on a 100-point scale.
Forget the radio wire snaking through the sleeve, the updating box score hidden behind the Excel spreadsheet and all other tools of hoops subterfuge. Your smartphone, iPod touch or iPad is prepared for a daunting reality: Sixteen games this week will tip off before 5 p.m. EDT, and each game until the Elite Eight will overlap with another one. Luckily, the NCAA's free March Madness on Demand app allows you to stream live video of all 67 games via WiFi or 3G. The games will also be streamed on SI.com. Don't know if you get truTV? Use MMOD's My Channels feature under settings, and enter your zip code to see your channel lineup, including games in HD. And, yes, there will again be a BOSS button for at-work emergencies. (A screen that looks like an e-mail inbox will appear on your desktop.)
JUST FOR FUN
Merely watching a game is no longer enough. SI's Front Row app, which is free through iTunes and Android Market, will allow fans to monitor SI's bracket; dive into specific pairings; view scores and photographs from games; and through Flipboard (on the iPad only) monitor the Twitter feeds of SI's legion of college hoops writers, who have been dispatched to every tournament site. Their assignment? Sit courtside and do something the modern fan no longer has to do: keep their eyes on the live games. Let the buffet begin.
Admit it: You miss being Pittsnogled. Now, however, you can relive West Virginia's 2005 Sweet 16 run and that second-round, double-overtime epic upset of a Chris Paul--led Wake Forest team thanks to the free online archive at vault.ncaa.com. Video of every national championship is available, in full, dating to Indiana-Michigan in 1976; other notable games since '82 are also included. Even better? They're all indexed—blue markers at the bottom identify highlights. (Northern Iowa vs. Kansas: 1:09:24 is the time where Ali Farokhmanesh's three-pointer will live forever.)
GATEFOLD Turn Page for SI's Bracket Picks
FIVE PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONS
PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONS BY SI IMAGING. GREG NELSON (PASS); JENNIFER R. GRAD (TV); FRED VUICH (GLASSES); ERICK W. RASCO (IPHONE, IPAD); MEL LEVINE (LAPTOP)