March Madness 2021: How to watch and stream NCAA Tournament games online for free—even without cable
March Madness generally drives HR departments bonkers. This year, though, the corporate gatekeepers might just throw their collective hands in the air and say the hell with it.
In a normal year, employees watch games secretly (and not so secretly) at their desk or take long lunches at the nearest sports bar, significantly slowing down office efficiency. (And we won’t even go into the issues that surround the office bracket pool.)
But the past year has been anything but normal. Many are still working from home, and a lot of work schedules are much more flexible now (which, of course, could make the 2021 tournament even more problematic).
Whether you’re rooting for your alma mater or hoping for a Cinderella story, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament is one of the most anticipated sporting events of the year. Don’t have a TV in your home office or, if you’re back at work, hoping to sneak a game in without the boss knowing? Here’s when the games will be airing along with ways you can watch for free, without a cable subscription.
When and where does March Madness air?
The 2021 NCAA Tournament, as always, takes place in several segments. Here’s when you can catch each one this year.
March 18: The tip-off games, pitting the four lowest-seeded automatic bids against the four lowest-seeded at-large bids. The games will air on TruTV and TBS.
March 19–20: The first set of games for this year’s NCAA Tournament will air on CBS, TBS, TNT, and TruTV.
March 21–22: The second set of games for this year’s tournament will also air on CBS, TBS, TNT, and TruTV.
March 27–28: The semifinal rounds will air at 2 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 27, and 1 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 28. Afternoon games will air on CBS. Evening games will be on TBS.
March 29–30: Regional championships are decided starting at 7 p.m. ET on Monday, March 29 (on CBS) and 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 30 (on TBS).
April 3: The penultimate tip-off starts at 5 p.m. ET on CBS
NCAA championship game
April 5: The decisive game airs at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.
How can I watch March Madness games for free?
The best way to watch any sort of network programming for free on a big screen is with a good HD antenna, but you won’t be able to watch the entirety of the NCAA Tournament over the air. CBS is only broadcasting select games. (Others will air on TBS, TNT, and TruTV.) The CBS games will cost nothing beyond the equipment price. To ensure you’re getting the most reliable signal, you’ll want to test the antenna in multiple locations in your home.
How can I watch March Madness 2021 games online?
There are loads of online options to watch 2021 NCAA Tournament games, some completely free and others with free trial periods if you’ve cut the cable cord. If you’re not near a TV, you can log on to TBS.com, TNTdrama.com, and TruTV.com (or the TBS, TNT or TruTV apps).
Prefer another option? Here are a few alternatives.
CBS’s streaming service will give you access to some of the games. You can get a one-month free trial, followed by a $6 monthly charge.
This free service lets you watch local broadcast channels with no monthly fees or contracts. The hiccup is it only services part of the country.
Dish Network’s Sling is one of the OG cord-cutter options. It has an extensive selection of ESPN options in its lower-tiered Orange plan. That will run you $35 per month—and $50 if you choose the Blue plan to gain access to more sports channels. You’ll get a three-day free trial first.
Formerly known as DirecTV Now and AT&T TV Now, AT&T’s streaming service will run you $70 per month and up. There is no longer a free trial option.
Hulu + Live TV
You can try the service free for a week. Once that’s up, you’ll pay $65 per month.
After a two-week trial, you can expect monthly charges of $65.
This sports-focused cord-cutting service carries CBS in most markets. There’s a seven-day free trial, followed by monthly charges between $65 and $80, depending on the channels you choose.
Does the NCAA offer any service for me to watch the game I want?
Kind of. March Madness Live will stream all 67 games on the NCAA website, as well as on Apple, Android, Amazon, and Roku devices. It’s also available on Xbox One. You’ll need to log in with your username and password from your TV provider, however.
Can I watch March Madness games on Amazon?
No NCAA Tournament games are currently scheduled to stream on Amazon this year. But you can have Alexa deliver real-time tournament scores, schedules, and information, as well as live radio for each game.
Which team is favored to win the 2021 NCAA Tournament?
Early oddsmakers are betting on the Gonzaga Bulldogs this year, but several other teams are in the pack. Here’s how the odds were shaking out as of March 19 on VegasInsider.
Gonzaga Bulldogs: 2-1
Baylor Bears: 5-1
Michigan State Spartans: 6-1
Illinois Fighting Illini: 7-1
Iowa Hawkeyes: 16-1
Oklahoma State Cowboys: 16-1
Alabama Crimson Tide: 16-1
Ohio State Buckeyes: 16-1
Houston Cougars: 16-1
Where is March Madness being held?
Because of the pandemic, this year’s tournament is different from past years. All games will take place in Indiana, with the majority held in Indianapolis. They’ll be played at Mackey Arena, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum, and Lucas Oil Stadium.
Are there changes to the NCAA Tournament brackets because of the pandemic?
There are! Since all games take place in the same city, the usual considerations for geography aren’t a factor, so teams will be placed in brackets based on their rankings. This is called using the S-curve to determine the playing order. There will be only 31 automatic qualifiers (instead of the usual 32) and 37 at-large selections (up from the usual 36).
Also, instead of overlapping, all Sweet 16 games will now be played at separate times to protect players.