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 court
Thomas Northcutt/Getty Images

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, including the Final Four and the National Championship, which airs this year on TBS.

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 2.

This story has been updated for the 2018 season.

Catch CBS games over the air or over the top

Starting with the First Four on March 13 and 14, CBS will broadcast around 20 games throughout the tournament.

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.

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).

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. That includes the Selection Sunday show on March 11, when the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee reveals which 68 teams have made the tournament cut, as well as the Final Four on March 31 and the National Championship on April 2.

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 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 the 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 Ultra or AirTV Player and Adapter bundle 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 is also offering discounts on a RCA HDTV Indoor Antenna and AirTV Bundle when you prepay for three months, and the same antenna a la carte when you prepay for two months.

DirectTV Now steps onto the court

Launched last year, 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. Use their channel lookup tool to see if you can get a live CBS feed in your area as well. 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 remains a possibility

Despite reducing its prices, PlayStation Vue continues to be the most expensive of the March Madness-ready streaming services. Its 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 includes 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 and Fire TV.

One size fits all with Hulu with Live TV and You Tube TV

Unlike their competitors,  Hulu and You Tube each offer a single, flat-fee package that includes the four channels you need to catch all of March Madness. They’re priced comparably—$35 a month for You Tube TV and $40 a month for Hulu with Live TV—but you’ll need to check with each service to see which offers the required live channel streams in your area before making your ultimate decision. As with many of the services, there's a 7-day free trial available.

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. A new Fast Break feature will provide live streaming “whip-around” coverage of every tournament game during the first two full days of tournament action, including live look-ins, instant highlights, and game commentary.

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.

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