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How cord-cutters can watch 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 the least amount of cash.

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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 more than 60 teams through a month-long tournament aren’t arduous enough, nearly 70 percent of games are televised on cable channels. The good news is that this year the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, the Final Four, and the National Championship will air on CBS. The only thing you’ll need is an antenna to catch that action.

Updated March 12, 2021 to report on the 2021 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire men’s basketball championship will be played in Indiana this year, with most of the tournament’s 67 games taking place in Indianapolis. The games 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 5.

Catch CBS games over the air or over the top

CBS’s March Madness coverage starts on March 19 with the First Round. 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 which 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.

tv antenna television Zedcor/Getty Images

You can catch most of the March Madness action with an over-the-air TV antenna (provided you’re in range of a broadcast TV transmission tower).

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 which 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.

If you can’t access CBS over the air, consider subscribing to Paramount Plus, the recently launched streaming service that that bundles ViacomCBS brands including CBS, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and Paramount Network into a single subscription. The app, which replaces CBS All Access, will give you live streaming access to every game broadcast on the network.

A subscription costs $6 per month or $60 annually with advertising, or you can go ad-free for $10 per month or $100 per year (the service offers a one-week free trial). If you’re already a CBS All Access subscriber, your membership should have transferred over to Paramount Plus automatically, and your CBS All Access app replaced on your streaming device with the Paramount Plus app.

Sling is the thing for Turner telecasts

As in 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 and TBS will split the First Four contests, and then the first and second rounds will air across all four networks. TBS will then share coverage with CBS of the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight contests.

sling logo Sling TV

Sling TV continues to dangle attractive incentives in front of new subscribers.

You can get all three of those channels with the Sling Blue package for $35 a month. Sling TV, which always has attractive incentives for new subscribers, is currently offering $10 off and a free DVR Plus for your first month, or an AirTV Mini streaming device for free when you prepay for two months. Sling TV also offers a free three-day trial.

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 free Amazon Fire TV Stick with a two-month prepaid commitment.

AT&T TV steps onto the court

AT&T’s streaming service offers many of the same channels as SlingTV. Its basic Entertainment package will give you more than 65 channels—including TBS, TNT, and TruTV—for $70 per month. This lineup also includes ESPN and ESPN2, both of which will certainly have highlights and other coverage of the tournament. Use their channel lookup tool to see if you can get a live CBS feed in your area as well.

AT&T also offers two-year contracts that include a free AT&T streaming device and unlimited DVR recording.

Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV

Unlike their competitors, Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV each offer a single, flat-fee package that includes the four channels you need to catch all of March Madness. They’re priced comparably—$65 per month—but YouTube TV is currently offering two weeks free and a discounted price of $55 a month for your first 3 months. Pricing aside, you’ll need to check with each service to see which offers the required live channel streams in your area before making your decision.

FuboTV is the sports leader—except for March Madness

FuboTV is best known for its sports coverage, and it includes many of the same live TV channels as the other services we’ve already discussed (check the company’s website to see if you can get your local CBS channel). But while the company recently added ESPN to its lineup, it doesn’t offer TNT or TrueTV, so you won’t be able watch every game.

FuboTV FuboTV

If you can get local CBS channels on FuboTV, you'll be able to watch most of the games in the tournament.

The NCAA March Madness Live app

march madness live NCAA Digital

The NCAA’s own March Madness 2021 app offers lots of specialized content that revolves around the championship series.

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 option 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; 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’s worth downloading if you don’t want to miss any of the CBS matchups while you’re away from a TV.

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 courtside seats for one the greatest sporting events of the year.

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