Update

How to catch March Madness without paying for cable TV

Our cord-cutter's guide will show you how you can watch every game in the tournament for free.

basketball on court
Credit: Thinkstock

This story has been updated for the 2017 season.

It's time for the Final Four! Gonzaga will face South Carolina on Saturday, April 1 (tip off is 6:09 PMEastern), and North Carolina will battle Oregon that same evening (tip-off is 8:39 PM Eastern). The winners will advance to the national championship game on April 3.

For millions of sports fans, brackets, not baseball, herald the arrival of spring. With its big upsets, Cinderella stories, and weird mascots, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship has transcended sports to become a cultural event.

But it’s a bittersweet time for cord cutters. If the logistics of following 68 teams through a month-long tournament aren’t arduous enough, nearly 70 percent of games are televised on cable channels. This year, however, the Final Four and National Championship return to CBS for the first time since 2013.

The 67 games that make up the tournament will be broadcast across four networks: CBS, TBS, TNT, and truTV. Based on the schedule at press time, we’ve put together a strategy that will allow you to watch every minute of March Madness live without a cable subscription. The options below will take you all the way through to the title game on April 3.

Catch CBS games over the air or over the top

Starting with the First Round on March 16, CBS will broadcast around 20 games throughout the tournament, including, as we mentioned, the Final Four and the National Championship. It will also host the Selection Sunday show on March 12 when the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee reveals which 68 teams have made the tournament cut.

The easiest—and only free—way to watch all the CBS action is with a good antenna. If you’re purchasing one for the first time, remember to first check to see what stations you can receive in your area and which antenna type you’ll need to pull in your CBS affiliate. Given the challenging logistics of catching so many games, you might also want to invest in an over-the-air DVR to time-shift some of your viewing.

Rabbit ears TV antenna Thinkstock

You can catch 21 games on CBS with only an antenna.

If you can’t access CBS over the air, consider subscribing to CBS All Access. The app will give you live streaming access to every game broadcast on the network. The games, however, are only available in markets where CBS All Access—which also features on-demand programming—offers live streaming. That’s currently more than150 markets across the U.S., so chances are good you’re in one.

A subscription with limited commercials costs just $6 per month, or you can go ad free for $10 per month. The CBS All Access app is available for Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, PS4, Xbox, Windows 10, iOS and Android.

Sling is the thing for Turner telecasts

As with previous years, the bulk of the tournament will be aired on three Turner Sports networks—TBS, TNT, and TruTV—with most of the action on the flagship station. TruTV will host all the First Four contests.

The Sling Blue package will give you all three of those channels—along with more than 40 other popular networks—for $25 per month. (If you’re already a Sling Orange customer, you currently get TNT and TBS and can purchase the Comedy Plus Extra add-on for an additional $5 per month to get TruTV.) A Sling TV subscription also comes with a seven-day trial; that’s important because March Madness actually runs through the first week of April. If you time your subscription right, you could avoid paying for a second month of Sling to catch the Final Four and championship game.

Sling TV press conference Martyn Williams

Sling TV’s Best of Live TV package will get you all the Turner Sports broadcasts.

You can watch Sling TV on your iOS or Android device or on your big screen with a Chromecast, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV. Currently, the service is offering a discounted Roku Premiere+ or Apple TV with a three-month commitment, or a free Roku Express when you pre-pay for two months.

You’ll still need a way to access the games broadcast on CBS, so Sling TV is offering an already discounted RCA antenna for an additional 25 percent off, bringing the grand total to just $37.49. Just enter the promo code SLING2 when you make your purchase.

DirectTV Now steps onto the court

A new option this year is DirectTV Now. Launched just over two months ago, AT&T’s streaming service offers many of the same channels as SlingTV. Its basic package will give you more than 60 channels—including TBS, TNT, and TruTV—for $35 per month. This lineup also includes ESPN and ESPN2, both of which will certainly have highlights and other coverage of the tournament. As with Sling TV, you get the first seven days free.

You can stream DirectTV Now to your computer, iOS or Android devices, Apple TV, Android Fire TV, and Chromecast.

PlayStation Vue still a possibility

Despite reducing its prices, PlayStation Vue continues to be the most expensive of the March Madness-ready streaming services. It’s Access monthly package offers 45-plus channels for $40 month—at least in markets where the service includes the majority of local network affiliates. If most of the local broadcasters haven’t agreed to carriage, the monthly fee drops to $30 per month. The channel lineup, however, includes CBS along with TBS, TNT and TruTV, so going this route could save you the cost of purchasing an antenna or a CBS All Access subscription if you’re in one of the select areas where the PlayStation Vue has a live local CBS affiliate.

PlayStation Vue also recently added a multi-view feature, which may further justify paying that little extra. It allows you to watch up to three live channels all on one screen, so you can focus on one game while keeping an eye on one or two others at the same time.  A live score feature will be added soon to PlayStation Vue, as well.

PlayStation Vue is available on PlayStation consoles, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, or iPad, but the multi-view feature is currently only available on the PS4.

What about NCAA March Madness Live?

The NCAA is once again offering all 67 games through the NCAA March Madness Live app. In addition to the game streams, the app offers live scores and stats, an interactive bracket, classic March Madness videos, game notifications, and curated social content.

As attractive as this options sounds for cord cutters, the claim that you can watch the entire tournament with NCAA March Madness Live is a little misleading. Only the CBS broadcasts are available without a cable subscription, and then only on your computer and iOS or Android mobile device. To view CBS’s games on your TV, or any of the Turner network broadcasts on any device, you need a cable subscription login. Still, it may be worth downloading if you don’t want to miss any of the CBS matchups when you’re away from a TV.

ncaa march madness live NCAA

NCAA March Madness Live streams all 67 tournament games, but you’ll still need a cable subscription to view most of them.

Time for tip off

The options for streaming live sports have never been better, so don’t let cutting the cord make you miss the NCAA champs cutting the net. Grab a beer and your bracket and take advantage of these cable alternatives for sideline seat for one the greatest sporting events of the year.

Note: This story was updated after publication to clarify PlayStation Vue's subscription rates.

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