Basketball over war?

NCAA Tournament coverage on MTV instead of CBS? It could happen, CBS Sports President Sean McManus said.

If the United States goes to war with Iraq and major developments occur during the tourney, CBS might pre-empt its basketball telecasts. If that happens, McManus said CBS probably would shift the games to MTV, VH1 or TNN.

Those cable networks are owned by Viacom, as is CBS.

“That’s a decision you have to make at the time of the crisis,” McManus said. “If there is a war going on and there are important news elements to cover, that will take precedent over a sporting event.”

The tourney begins in full force on March 20 and 21 with 16 games each day. (That follows what amounts to a preliminary-round game on March 18).

In other NCAA Tournament television matters:

Thursday and Friday night sessions will begin shortly after 6 p.m. (Central time), a half hour earlier than in recent years. The move is being made for the traditional reason television networks rearrange sports schedules ratings.

McManus said the goal is to have the night session end before midnight in the Eastern time zone. Some late games had been dragging on later than that in recent seasons, when viewer levels drop as people go to bed.