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Affils cry foul over CBS B-ball pass to ESPN

CBS affiliates are upset about the network's deal to send some of the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament over to ESPN Thursday while it went with wall-to-wall war coverage.

The reason: ESPN demanded exclusivity in return for airing the games.

What also irritated Bob Lee, chairman of the CBS affiliates board, was that CBS' war coverage ran a ticker sending basketball viewers to ESPN, while ESPN ran a ticker sending war viewers to ABC.

"I think it would have been in the public interest had cable not demanded exclusivity for this. A number of stations were prepared to do multicasting on their digital channels or make deals with third parties in their markets to carry the games," Lee said.

CBS sources said the network had to give ESPN exclusivity to get the deal done. Otherwise, the games might not have been aired at all -- CBS' most expensive option.

Sources said CBS paid $480 million to the NCAA for this year's rights to air the basketball tournament, part of an 11-year, $6 billion deal. If any of the games do not air, CBS loses the ad revenue but still must pay the license fees.

No money changed hands to get the deal done, CBS Television president Leslie Moonves said. CBS kept all of its advertising earnings, while ESPN claimed promotional time and any local ad avails.