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How Will Tonight’s NCAA Final Rate?

Monday, 4 Apr 2011 | 9:27 AM ET

So yesterday I got an e-mail from CBS that said that the network’s coverage of the two Final Four games earned an average rating of 8.9, which they said tied 2010 as the highest rated Final Four since 2005.

Kemba Walker #15 of the UConn Huskies goes to the basket against DeAndre Liggins #34 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the National Semifinal.
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Kemba Walker #15 of the UConn Huskies goes to the basket against DeAndre Liggins #34 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the National Semifinal.

Mike Aresco, executive vice president of programming for CBS, was quoted as saying he was excited as the Connecticut and Butler matchup “features two of the most remarkable stories of the season.”

While many have cited Butler’s participation in the finals for a second straight year as one of the reasons people will watch, I’m not in that camp. I believe that the people who would have watched this game anyway will watch, but there will be more people on the fence who won’t watch it than people are accounting for.

CBS , in its release, shows you the combined averages of the games. But check out what happens when I show you the ratings of the semifinal games, over the last 11 years as compiled by Sports Business Daily. I will divide them by the early game and the late game just so that it’s an apples to apples comparison.

Early Game Ratings

1. Louisville-Illinois, 10.0, 2005
2. Indiana-Oklahoma, 9.4, 2002
3. Arizona-Michigan State, 9.1, 2001
4. Florida-George Mason, 9.1, 2006
5. Butler-Michigan State, 8.6, 2010
6. Georgetown-Ohio State, 8.4, 2007
7. Butler-VCU, 8.3, 2011
7. Georgia Tech-Oklahoma State, 8.3, 2004
9. Michigan State-UConn, 7.8, 2009
10. Memphis-UCLA, 7.2, 2008
11. Marquette-Kansas, 6.3, 2003

Late Game Ratings

1. Maryland-Duke, 11.6, 2001
2. Maryland-Kansas, 11.3, 2002
3. North Carolina-Michigan State, 10.9, 2005
4. UConn-Duke, 10.5, 2004
5. Kentucky-UConn, 9.5, 2011
6. West Virginia-Duke, 9.2, 2010
7. Kansas-North Carolina, 8.9, 2008
7. Florida-UCLA, 8.9, 2007
9. North Carolina-Villanova, 8.5, 2009
10. UCLA-LSU, 8.2, 2006
11. Syracuse-Texas, 7.9, 2003

So, as you can see, both games fell pretty much in the middle of the ratings scale over the last 10 years. The next question is, are ratings in the semifinals good predictors of what ratings will be for the championship game?

To figure out if the semifinal games are a good predictor of the championship game, I will add up the two semifinal games and then rank them in order of how they should have finished if the semifinals were related to the final ranking. Remember, these are hypothetical.

1. 2005 – North Carolina-Illinois (20.9 score)
2. 2001 – Duke-Arizona (20.7 score)
3. 2002 – Maryland-Indiana (20.7 score)
4. 2004 – UConn-Georgia Tech (18.8 score)
5. 2011 – UConn-Butler (17.8 score)
5. 2010 – Duke-Butler (17.8 score)
7. 2006 – Florida-UCLA (17.3 score)
7. 2007 – Florida-Ohio State (17.3 score)
9. 2009 – North Carolina-Michigan State (16.3 score)
10. 2008 – Kansas-Memphis (16.1 score)
11. 2003 – Syracuse-Kansas (14.2 score)

So let’s take a look at the championship ratings over the last 10 years and show you how they finished.

Championship Game Ratings

1. Duke-Arizona, 15.6, 2001
2. Maryland-Indiana, 15.0, 2002
2. North Carolina-Illinois, 15.0, 2005
4. Butler-Duke, 14.2, 2010
5. Syracuse-Kansas, 12.7, 2003
6. Florida-Ohio State, 12.2, 2007
7. Kansas-Memphis, 12.1, 2008
8. Florida-UCLA, 11.2, 2006
9. UConn-Georgia Tech, 11.0, 2004
10. North Carolina-Michigan State, 10.8, 2009

Based on the semifinals, the top three games didn’t surprise ratings wise when it came to the finals. Last year’s final did slightly better than it should have, if you believe that the semifinals are predictive. The 2003 game featuring Syracuse vs. Kansas was supposed to be the worst rated game and it fell in the middle of the pack. Meanwhile, the UConn-Georgia Tech game was supposed to have great potential and it didn’t do well. The rest went according to interest for the semifinals game.

Based on what we found here, I’m not sure you can really say, as I have been saying for years by the way, that it’s about the teams. How could a North Carolina-Michigan State matchup be the worst rated game in the last decade?

So let’s try one more thing. How about point differential. Are ratings driven by the actual game itself and how good it is? Here are those top 10 games again (sorted in order of how they rated) with the final point difference next to them.

Championship Game Final Point Differential

1. Duke-Arizona, 10 points
2. Maryland-Indiana, 12 points
3. North Carolina-Illinois, 5 points
4. Butler-Duke, 2 points
5. Syracuse-Kansas, 3 points
6. Florida-Ohio State, 9 points
7. Kansas-Memphis, 7 points
8. Florida-UCLA, 16 points
9. UConn-Georgia Tech, 9 points
10. North Carolina-Michigan State, 16 points

There is certainly some correlation here. The top five games were decided by an average of 6.4 points. The bottom five games were decided by an average of 11.4 points. Both Butler-Duke and Syracuse-Kansas did better than how the semifinals had us believe they would rate and point differential probably played into that. That being said, Kansas-Memphis was a game that went into overtime before Kansas ran away late and if it were all about the point differential that game should have been tops.

So where does that leave us? Well, although I said on Twitter I thought the Butler-UConn game is going to be the worst rated game in a decade, having run the numbers, I’m not really sure I could say that. I’m also pretty sure that predicting ratings is a fruitless exercise.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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