The first televised college basketball game was played Feb. 28. 1940, when Pitt faced off against Fordham at, fittingly, Madison Square Garden.
|What||First televised basketball game|
|Who||Fordham vs. Pittsburgh|
|When||February 28, 1940|
|Where||Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY|
|Broadcast||By NBC on W2XBS|
|Viewers||Estimations vary from 400-1,000|
|Result||Pittsburgh won 57-37|
The most famous arena in the country and home to plenty of famous college basketball moments to come was the perfect spot to debut the new technology. The double-header that day in 1940 included a second act with No. 1-ranked NYU (!) against Georgetown.
The game was broadcast on W2XBS, one of a handful of experimental stations started as forerunners to the modern television broadcast networks. Today, W2XBS is known as WNBC, or Channel 4 New York, the flagship station of the NBC television network.
Imagine: the ability to go back in time, to take in the sights and sounds of the first basketball game ever broadcast on television. Except… it wasn’t all that big of a deal. It was so readily ignored by the majority of the public that finding artifacts from the game itself isn’t easy. The photos above and below come courtesy of Fordham's Joe Di Bari.
Fordham University also has a pair of photos from that night atop this article from the 75th anniversary of the game, and Getty Images has a pretty great photograph from the game at this link as well. But coverage of the game (and especially coverage of the historic moment in television history) is hard to come by because television simply wasn’t a big deal at the time. According to Mitchell Stephens, professor of journalism and mass communication at NYU, “before 1947 the number of U.S. homes with television sets could be measured in the thousands.”
Interestingly enough, just five months earlier the first televised football game also featured Fordham, and a small corner of a page in the next day’s New York Times was devoted to the hosts’ win against Waynesburg: “The Rams had the televised game well in hand by halftime” was the only mention of TV’s moment in the Times’ story.
As for the basketball game itself, Fordham kept things close in the first half, trailing 28-23 at halftime. But the Panthers used a 14-2 run in the first eight minutes of the second half to open up a huge lead and went on to win by 20 points, ultimately outscoring the Rams 29-14 after the break.
Fordham would finish that year with an 11-8 record, Pitt with an 8-9 record, and neither reached the NCAA tournament, which that season was in just its second year.
They both, however, held a piece of history.