Monday, March 29, 2010

Nantz: 'The Year the Tournament Changed'

On-court action the past three weeks limited discussion about expansion of the NCAA Tournament, but the voice of the Final Four -- CBS Sports play-by-play man Jim Nantz -- said Monday that he believes this year's tournament, with many higher seeds winning games, provides ample reason for change.

"I think people will look at 2010 as the year the tournament changed," Nantz said during a teleconference with CBS on-air talent and production personnel. Although analyst Clark Kellogg said the NCAA has evaluated expansion scenarios with 68, 80 or 96 teams, Nantz said there were only two options. "Eighty's not a consideration. It'll either stay where it is or go to 96."

And Nantz said this year's event provided many reasons why expansion would be good for the event.

Studio analyst Greg Anthony agreed: "There's just not much difference between the best and the rest anymore."

Their perspective was one that's been surprisingly long in coming during this tournament. As mid-majors advanced and upsets broke brackets across the country, it seemed more and more like someone would eventually make the case that a bigger tournament was the answer -- and that this year's event was a prime example. Someone, specifically Nantz, finally made that case Monday, and his colleagues joined the chorus.

Of course, you have to wonder about the timing -- because supporting and expanded tournament certainly could be good business for CBS. Just because the NCAA has hinted about rebidding the event does not mean that the current rights holder is precluded from bidding itself. Also, with dates for future Final Fours already set through 2016 (it goes to Houston in 2011), it would be hard, but not impossible, for the NCAA to make a significant expansion overnight. By showing its support for a bigger event, CBS could certainly indicate that it has plans to pay for a bigger tournament if the two parties stay the course through what remains of their current agreement.

As CBS prepares for this weekend's Final Four, network officials said they were excited about the quartet of teams that will converge on Indianapolis this week. The group includes perennial powers in Duke and Michigan State as well as West Virginia and Butler.

Some believe (and, of course, they must) that the tournament has already changed -- especially without big-name, tradition-rich programs such as Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina or UCLA involved in the Final Four.

"The storylines that have developed this year have made this a little bit different tournament," said CBS Sports and News president Sean McManus. "We've got two schools with good heritage and tradition and we've got two other good stories. It's dependent, as most Final Fours are, on the closeness of the games. I think we're going to be fine."

While Duke brings some star power to the event, McManus compared the Final Four to February's Super Bowl, which was without a major-market team but still set ratings and viewership records.

"The story of New Orleans and that that city had been through actually turned out to be one of the most compelling storylines in recent years," he said.

Duke-WVU Set for Prime Time in Final Four

After a hometown lead-in for the Final Four, with Indianapolis-based Butler facing Michigan State at 6:07 p.m. in the national semifinal Saturday, CBS Sports set Duke vs. West Virginia as the late game. The tip time is tentatively set for 8:47 p.m. (depending, of course, on how long it takes the first game to finish).

TV darling Duke -- the only No. 1 seed to reach the Final Four -- appropriately gets the later start because it drives ratings.

Even though the program has not reached the Final Four in five years, Duke remains a known commodity. Casual fans know Coach K. And, despite the rants of ESPN's Dick Vitale and others, people do either love or hate the Blue Devils. That makes for familiarity, and for strong TV ratings.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

'Going Home' Line Lasts Through Weekend

Credit Butler coach Brad Stevens with the line of the weekend, a line from Saturday afternoon that had lasting power thoughout the weekend quartet games that set the Final Four.

When analyst Len Elmore asked Stevens if he was excited about his team "going home" to Indianapolis for the Final Four after beating Kansas State, the coach offered a correct and off-hand, "Well, we were going home no matter what," and he was not begin smart with his response -- just accurate.
Maybe that matter-of-fact approach played a part in the team's success.

It sounded a bit like Elmore was taken aback by the response, though. He recovered from it initially, seeming to laugh along with the obvious punch line for which he had played the straight man, but Elmore then made reference to "going home" a couple more times in their brief post-game interview, which either hinted that he was ticket at Edwards for hitting his softball question out of the park or at himself for asking it in the first place.
It was not dead after the game, either. On Sunday, when Jim Nance and Clark Kellogg talked about games during the Final Four during the end of their work on Duke-Baylor, Nance again mentioned Butler going home, and he sounded like he was smiling when he said it.
Apparently, the matter had become a bit of shared an inside joke -- and hopefully because it was a good thing and not because anyone thought Elmore was at fault or Stevens was being disrespectful.

Passing Touch and Passing Responsibility

Two games Saturday set half of the field for the Final Four, and they provided a glimpse of a play-by-play man who deserves more high-profile assignments as well as an interesting look at how TV analysts/experts often fail to shoulder responsibility when they're wrong.

Unfortunately, it's not likely the announcer will get better assignments during the NCAA Tournament or that those analysts and experts will change their approach.

First, the announcer. Play-by-play man Gus Johnson, whose work draws regular raves at this time of year (as it should all year round), put together another stellar effort working with Len Elmore as Butler defeated Kansas State. Johnson brought accuracy, emotion and energy to the assignment, setting up Elmore, who capably found spots for interesting comments and insights. They're a solid announcing team that works well with each other and entertains and informs viewers -- a perfect TV match.

After the Butler game, when Johnson led the telecast through all the correct high points (OK, a some a little earlier than necessary with several minutes remaining in the game), CBS Sports moved to West Virginia-Kentucky, called by Dick Enberg and Jay Bilas.

It was a stark contrast, with Enberg fumbling a bit during the intro to the second game. Still, Enberg-Bilas also represent another solid TV match. They're understated compared to Johnson-Elmore, but Enberg eventually found his rhythm during the game and the underappreciated Bilas provided quality analysis to match the regional final assignment.

With Enberg leaving college basketball assignments after this season's tournament (meaning Saturday was his final game), a spot higher on the pecking order of announce teams for the events would seem open for Johnson.

A logical move would be to keep Johnson-Elmore together and find another partner for Bilas -- he's a worthy member of a top team but it would be insanity to break up Johnson-Elmore.

But, and it's a big but, CBS Sports might not have the tournament next year and Johnson could be left out of the action on an ESPN-controlled event. Many expect the NCAA to opt out of its current TV deal before an August deadline to do so, look for more money and potentially expand the event in the future.

If that were to happen, Johnson could just get shut out of a bigger role -- despite regularly proving he deserves one.

Now, those analysts and experts. They continually prove they cannot admit they were wrong.

Again, the Butler game was a perfect example. Nobody on CBS pre-game studio show picked Butler and most people at ESPN also expected a Kansas State victory.

After Butler controlled the game and advanced to the Final Four, nobody, nobody at all, said they were surprised or wrong. Instead, it was revisionist history -- pointing to when they (the basketball media) were collectively correct earlier -- or citing things that sounded like excuses.

Both Greg Anthony on CBS and Dick Vitale on ESPN pointed to the fact that Butler should not be a surprise, and that the team was a top-10 pick during the preseason. Never mind that they both said Butler would lose when previewing the game.

Guest CBS analyst Bill Self, the Kansas coach, said Butler did a great job reacting and rebounding when it was trailing in the game. (Vitale also made the same point.) OK, that's a nice example of giving credit when deserved, but Self could've offered more insight there. It was an example begging for more details from a coach. What do you say? What do you not say? How do you keep a team calm or motivate them at a time like that?

Finally, Seth Davis said K-State looked tired after playing a double overtime game in the regional semifinal. Really? A game two-days earlier was an appropriate excuse? Especially for college players at the top level who often played multiple games during the same day during their summer basketball leagues.

Maybe our experts sometimes just need to say they were surprised or wrong. That would be an important improvement for TV sports.

Top Team Gets Final Word on Final Four

CBS Sports has set tip times for Sunday's regional finals in the NCAA Tournament. They are:

2:20 p.m. -- Michigan State vs. Tennessee (Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery)
5:05 p.m. -- Duke vs. Baylor (Jim Nantz/Clark Kellogg)

The timing puts the remaining No. 1 seed and usual TV favorite Duke into a timeslot that could overrun into prime time and before "60 Minutes" and draw as many viewers, and ratings, as any game this weekend.

It also features the No. 1 on-air team for CBS Sports, Jim Nantz/Clark Kellogg, giving that duo the featured spot and final word on network TV regarding the tournament before next week's Final Four -- when they'll call all three games.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Regional Finals a Finale for Enberg, Too

CBS Sports has set tip times for Saturday's regional finals in the NCAA Tournament. They are:

4:30 p.m. -- Kansas State vs. Butler (Gus Johnson/Len Elmore)
7:05 p.m. -- Kentucky vs. West Virginia (Dick Enberg/Jay Bilas)

The nightcap could be the last for Enberg, 75, during the NCAA Tournament because he accepted a job in December as the TV play-by-play man for the San Diego Padres. That opportunity meant he would have to forgo assignments for the tournament in the future -- and he's been calling games during "March Madness" for one outlet or another since the 1960s.

He'll still likely have a network presence by working some tennis, golf and late-season NFL games, though.

Visionary TV Sports Pioneer Simmons Dies

To many casual sports fans, the name Chet Simmons means little, but the TV sports pioneer ranks as an accomplished visionary who forever changed the way sports fans view their games.

Simmons was part of the team that made "Wide World of Sports" a reality at ABC Sports, and he later helped revitalize NBC Sports. He also served as the first president of ESPN. And he was the first president of the USFL.

He was smart enough to contribute to and lead organizations that reshaped sports television (and sports in general) in the United States. He was also smart enough to know he did not know everything -- wisely estimating 30 years ago that "what lies ahead for cable television is incalculable at this point."

While Simmons was not as well known outside the industry as the late Roone Arledge, the driving force behind ABC's "Wide World of Sports" and that network's groundbreaking coverage of the Olympics, or even Dick Ebersol, the leader of NBC Sports, he was no less an important figure in shaping sports on TV during his lifetime.

Simmons died of natural causes Thursday in Atlanta. He was 81.

Where Simmons went, credibility followed. For example, sports on TV was in its infancy when he started his career in the late 1950s, but Sports Programs Inc. eventually became ABC Sports -- a division of an up-and-coming network that made sports personality driven and profitable, setting a template that would be followed for years to come.

At NBC Sports, the same thing happened with Simmons leading the team. When ABC's success set a standard, other networks worked to match that approach -- and NBC improved greatly with Simmons as president.

Then, in 1979, Simmons jumped to cable TV and served as president of a fledgling all-sports network, ESPN, at the time of its launch.

"Chet Simmons' leadership and vision in our first years were absolutely critical to ESPN's survival," George Bodenhiemer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, told The Associated Press. "He was the only industry president to have pioneered both sports broadcasting in the late '50s and cable television in the late '70s."

While Simmons was in charge, ESPN brought fans early round coverage of the NCAA Tournament and NFL Draft. Of course, ESPN also introduced sports-specific studio programming, with "SportsCenter" becoming a daily fixture.

In addition, covering all his stops in sports TV, Simmons helped launch the careers of numerous commentators.

"Chet did so much more than take a chance on us young people 30 years ago," ESPN anchor Chris Berman told The Associated Press. "What you see today would have never been possible without him. We'll miss him as a mentor and as a friend. All of us will be forever indebted to Chet Simmons."

Credibility followed even after ESPN. As the first president of the USFL, Simmons helped the league secure a TV deal and, eventually, earn respect as a quality professional football league. Although the league did not survive, the talent on team rosters included many who became NFL standouts and even Hall of Fame selections -- among them quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Steve Young and defensive tackle Reggie White.

After the USFL, Simmons served as a media consultant for Madison Square Garden and taught as an adjunct faculty member at the University of South Carolina.

In 2005, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 26th annual Sports Emmy Awards.

KU Coach Gets TV Consolation Prize

Coach Bill Self has reached the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament -- as a studio analyst.

CBS Sports announced Self will join the studio team of Greg Gumble, Greg Anthony and Seth Davis on Saturday and Sunday.

Self's squad entered the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and a favorite to reach the Final Four, but the Jayhawks were ousted by Northern Iowa last week. Despite the loss, Self, who led Kansas to the national championship in 2008, ranked as a logical selection for the TV seat usually reserved for active coaches at this time of the year.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

TV's Most Poweful? The Masters, NFL

We're nowhere near the on-field part of pro football season, and golf season (at least to casual fans) remains a couple weeks away, but two out-of-season entities -- The Masters and the NFL -- clearly rank as two of the most powerful TV sports property owners in the United States.

First, The Masters, which controls almost everything about how golf gets portrayed during the sport's first major each April. While CBS Sports has held rights to the event for decades, it operates on a year-to-year contract with Augusta National Golf Club, and that enables the private club and its leaders to wield all the power in the relationship.

So, viewers get beautiful pictures of the course and references to "patrons" as opposed to "fans" or "the gallery." At the same time, CBS works under an ever-present threat that controversy or missteps could impact whether or not the network covers the tournament in subsequent years.

While the relationship has never been seriously threatened -- because CBS has toed the line and because, well, it's golf, not life or death -- Augusta National has flexed its muscle from time to time. Most notably, club officials chafed in 1995 when CBS analyst Gary McCord referred to the 17th green as so fast it was "bikini-waxed." He also said body bags were stacked behind the green for golfers who missed their approach shots.

He was removed from coverage of the tournament the next year and has never returned, despite the fact that he covers every other golf tournament the network broadcasts.

Like The Masters, the NFL is clearly in charge -- though not usually as overbearing -- in its relationship with broadcast partners. And a broadened definition of those partners made that clear a couple weeks ago.

While many were justifiably focused on the NCAA's likely effort to opt out of its television deal and look for higher bidders, the NFL sealed a $720 million deal with Verizon for mobile TV rights for the next four years. That's $5.6 million per year for each team in the league the next four years, and that's four what has been a small piece of the NFL's inventory.

In addition, every action the league makes garners attention. Big attention, even when its the off-season.

Alter the overtime rule during the league meeting? Covered. Speculate about the trade of Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb? Covered. Announce the team that would be the subject of the annual "Hard Knocks" series on HBO? Covered.

While some might wonder about the news value of some NFL-related items at this time of year, the nation's most-watched sport certainly generates year-round interest ... and merits year-round coverage.

Also, in contrast to Major League Baseball, which spaces out the announcements of its post-season awards in a manner that seems slow and tiresome, the NFL offers a tidbit here and a tidbit there (while knowing where they fit in the big picture) in a manner that only seems to whet appetites for more.

Best of all for the NFL, nobody questions the approach -- just as nobody will question how the The Masters goes about its business. No other TV property owners get such treatment, and none could warrant an approach, either.

It works for those two simply because they are so powerful, and because people are so interested. Because of that, they can set the rules -- such as extending the NFL Draft over a three-day period and moving into prime time this year -- and their TV partners (and the media in general) almost have to follow. Sometimes it's just good to be the king.

No Packer? No Problem in NCAA Tournament

Forty-nine games into the NCAA Tournament, and the absence of Billy Packer for the second year in a row has helped make an exciting event a bit more enjoyable.

Appropriately (and thankfully), analysts, experts and fans have been more interested in the games themselves than the folks calling the action. That's the way it should be.

This tournament marks the second Packer has not worked since he was replaced by Clark Kellogg as the lead analyst for CBS Sports. That move, announced in July 2008, heralded the start of more enjoyable experiences for college basketball viewers during the postseason.

While Packer always found a way to stoke some controversy, Kellogg offers context.

Few on-air TV types drive ratings (although some believe John Madden could), but Packer always seemed to believe he was the show. His ability to evoking reaction and response were reliable, but mostly a matter of appropriately timed tournament-related bluster.

Sure, Kellogg (and most of the other color commentators) seem somewhat bland by comparison, but Packer relished a role as the outspoken conscious of college basketball and in striving to meet that self-imposed expectation he sometimes just sounded critical or harsh for no reason at all.

This season, we're getting good games with generally good descriptions of the action -- minus any unnecessary agendas or talking points. If that stuff does have a place on TV sports (and it does), it's coming from experts in the studio or those working halftime shows.

Without Packer on the NCAA games, we've seen a move toward a better balance in that regard.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sanitized, Standardized Tournament a Loss

As the NCAA works to enhance and promote its brand during the NCAA Tournament, viewers lose a bit of character, geography and personality while watching games on TV.

How? Those sanitized, standardized basketball courts at each of the venues. Boring.

It years past, viewers knew the locations of games (or the schools hosting the events) just by looking at the court.

Sure, the boring blue NCAA-sanctioned courts have the name of the arena in one end zone and the city hosting the event in the other, but it's nothing like tuning in and knowing withing a few seconds that the game was at The Pit in New Mexico or some other historic or well-known facility.

Instead, games have been sanitized and whitewashed, like watching a movie on cable that's been shown so many times on TV that the version that hits the screen no longer includes all the original dialogue. It's still interesting, but not nearly as good.

Tiger's Time Not Telling, But Worth Taking

Nothing new, nothing, emerged from ESPN's five-minute interview with Tiger Woods, but the all-sports network did the right thing by taking the limited access it could get Sunday.

Interviewer Tom Rinaldi almost whispered the questions he lobbed at Woods (and that made Rinaldi sound a bit cautious and unnecessarily deferential), and Woods answered those he deemed not personal information. Still, Woods never hesitated with an answer, so there were a lot of questions in the brief interview.

Nobody expected an revelations in five minutes with Woods, but Rinaldi asked appropriate questions and summed up both his performance and that of Woods when asked about the golfer's demeanor Monday on "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio.

"He was cordial, but ultimately, as the interview showed, he was guarded," Rinaldi said.

Guarded and in control, clearly.

Because Woods wanted to control the interview, CBS Sports passed on a similar five-minute interview. Network officials said the limitations were a deal-breaker. Maybe they're angling for some longer, sit-down ... someday.

It's hard to imagine Woods ever allowing that to happen, though. As much as media members claim to know Woods (or any sports star or celebrity for that matter), he's one of the best at controlling his message, and it's hard to imagine him ever agreeing to spend an undetermined amount of time with any member of the media. Although there are probably a handful of print or TV types who must believe they're the one who will get that opportunity.

While CBS positions itself as above the fray with high standards by rejecting the interview terms, it should have taken the offer. It's the network of The Masters, where Woods will make his return in two-plus weeks, so it would've been a good on both journalistic and promotional levels.

And because any honest journalist/reporter already knew what Woods would not answer (all the things he sidestepped on ESPN), it would've been nice to see if someone was capable enough of getting anything different or interesting in a short interview.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tip Times Set for Regional Semifinals

CBS Sports set tip times and announcer assignments for the NCAA Tournament's regional semifinals. Here's the schedule ...

7:07 p.m. -- Syracuse vs. Butler (Gus Johnson/Len Elmore)
7:27 p.m. -- Washington vs. West Virginia (Dick Enberg/Jay Bilas)
After 7:07 game -- Kansas State vs. Xavier (Johnson/Elmore)
After 7:27 game -- Kentucky vs. Cornell (Enberg/Bilas)

7:07 p.m. -- Ohio State vs. Tennessee (Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery)
7:27 p.m. -- Baylor vs. St. Mary’s (Jim Nantz/Clark Kellogg)
After 7:07 game -- MichiganState vs. Northern Iowa (Lundquist/Raftery)
After 7:27 game -- Duke vs. Purdue (Nantz/Kellogg)

Ratings, Response Strong for Tournament

According to initial Saturday night ratings for the NCAA Tournament, CBS attracted an average of 9.6 million viewers -- helping the network "win" the night, and continuing a trend of strong response for this year's tournament.

On Thursday, the first day of the tournament, the network's "March Madness on Demand" effort attracted the largest single day of traffice for a live sports event in Internet history. Three million unique visitors consumed 3.4 million hours of combined audio and video during that single afternoon.

Those who watched the tournament online that first day represented a 20 percent increase from 2009.

Also, CBS said the online "Boss Button," which hides the screen with audio and video from the online coverage with one click of a button, was clicked more than 1.7 million times Thursday.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

No Surprise, ESPN Tops Emmy Nominations

As an all-sports network should, ESPN (counting ESPN2, and ESPN Deportes) earned the most nominations for Sports Emmy Awards announced this week.

Everything from journalism ("E:60" and "Outside the Lines") to studio shows, documentary films, technical achievement and more were represented as ESPN earned 54 nominations for awards that which will be presented April 26 in New York City.

Other networks with the highest number of nominations included ...
  • HBO 21
  • NBC 17
  • NFL (Network, Films and .com) 18
  • MLB Network 12

Thursday, March 18, 2010

CBS Sports: No Split Screens for Tournament

CBS Sports programming head Michael Aresco told USA Today the network does not plan to utilize split screens for coverage of games during the NCAA Tournament, and that it has instituted an approach that will allow more flexibility to switch between games if they become lopsided.

Switches are something that inevitably bring excitement and interest to the event, so that's a good thing. Let's hope the network leans toward the upper range of his stated 10- to 15-point window when a teams is leading to make a switch, though. After all, a 10-point lead requires just two or three possessions before it could become a slight, single-digit advantage.

Also, what's interesting, is that at a time when TV screens keep getting bigger and bigger -- a seemingly perfect match for split screen or picture-in-picture presentation -- the network does not plan to follow a path that would match that potential technology. Aresco said CBS would not use side-by-side or split-screen views for games.

Another reason for that move might eventually be 3D technology. That approach seems set to emerge, or at least be pushed, as the next big thing in sports TV programming and viewing and watching a game on 3D by itself probably represents the preferred method, as opposed to a split-screen approach.

NCAA Tournament Works on Radio, Too

CBS Sports, and will draw millions of viewers and visitors during the NCAA Tournament, but they're not the only exclusive media outlets for games.

People without access to a TV, computer or mobile device (and that's an admittedly dwindling group these days) truly get a feel for the games and the tournament itself on Westwood One Radio, which holds exclusive radio rights to the event.

Host John Tautges capably directs listens between games when they're switched form one matchup to another -- and Westwood One seems to do that with a regularity TV viewers would enjoy -- while their group of on-air talent at the game sites does their jobs well.

For the opening weekend of action, that contingent includes play-by-play talent such as Gary Cohen, Bob Papa, Wayne Larrivee, Ted Robinson and Dave Sims. The network's group of color comentators includes former coaches such as P.J. Carlesimo, Bill Frieder, Pete Gillen and John Thompson.

It's just a good group, and a good network that does its job well.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Master-ful Move Makes Comcast a Player

When Tiger Woods returns to competitive golf at The Masters, ratings on ESPN and CBS Sports should spike to record levels.

It's a fairly safe place for Woods to return, because officials at Augusta National can limit who gets credentials from the media to the exclusive event, thereby limiting questions about the personal problems of the world's best golfer. It's also a ratings bonanza for the tournament's TV partners -- ESPN, which provides coverage of the first two rounds and CBS, which carries the final rounds the season's first major, scheduled April 8-11, as it has since 1956.

Still, another media player has emerged this year: Comcast. According to Variety, the media giant, which built its strength as a cable operator and might soon acquire NBC, plans to provide 3D coverage of all four rounds of The Masters.

That coverage will be available only on a special Comcast channel or online ( Of course, people who want to see the coverage must have computer screens or TV capable of showing 3D programming.

While that's a minority of screens at this time, industry and TV experts expect 3D-compatible hardware as the next major area of growth for media in the coming years. Also, the move makes Comcast a player on its own terms for a major sports event -- something else that might become a growth area in future years.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Real Seeds: No. 1s All Tip in Prime Time

While some continue to debate who was seeded where and why for the NCAA Tournament, there was no debate about who would end up in prime-time TV slots for games Thursday and Friday.

All four top seeds (Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Syracuse) were slotted to tip at 7:15 p.m. ET or later because, even in what should be lopsided matchups, the network believes, and ratings usually confirm, that big-name, top-seeded teams matter.

Not surprisingly, the 8-9 matchup in each of the four regions also was assigned to tip at night. Logically, at least according to seeds, that game should be the best first-round game in each region, which makes it a strong candidate as good TV. It's also a good fallback when the top seeds build big leads against their overmatched opponents in those same timeslots.

Here's a look at the TV times, team seeds and announcing tandems for all of the first-round games ...

12:20 p.m., 10 Florida vs. 7 BYU (Kevin Harlan/Dan Bonner)
12:25, p.m., 6 Notre Dame vs. 11 Old Dominion (Dick Enberg/Jay Bilas)
12:30 p.m., 2 Villanova vs. 15 Robert Moris (Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery)
2:30 p.m., 4 Vanderbilt vs. 13 Murray State (Spero Dedes/Bob Wenzel)
After 12:20 game, 2 Kansas State vs. 15 North Texas (Harlan/Bonner)
After 12:25 game, 3 Baylor vs. 14 Sam Houston (Enberg/Bilas)
After 12:30 game, 7 Richmond vs. 10 St. Mary's (Lundquist/Raftery)
After 2:30 game, 5 Butler vs. 12 UTEP (Dedes/Wenzel)

7:10 p.m., 8 UNLV vs. 9 Northern Iowa (Harlan/Bonner)
7:15 p.m., 1 Kentucky vs. 16 East Tennessee State (Enberg/Bilas)
7:20 p.m., 6 Marquette vs. 11 Washington (Dedes/Wenzel)
7:25 p.m., 3 Georgetown vs. 14 Ohio (Lundquist/Raftery)
After 7:10 game, 1 Kansas vs. 16 Lehigh (Harlan/Bonner)
After 7:15 game, 8 Texas vs. 9 Wake Forest (Enberg/Bilas)
After 7:20 game, 3 New Mexico vs. 14 Montana (Dedes/Wenzel)
After 7:25 game, 6 Tennessee vs. 11 San Diego State (Lundquist/Raftery)

12:15 p.m., 2 West Virginia vs. 15 Morgan State (Gus Johnson/Len Elmore)
12:25 p.m., 6 Xavier vs. 11 Minnesota (Ian Eagle/Jim Spanarkel)
12:30 p.m., 5 Temple vs. 12 Cornell (Jim Nantz/Clark Kellogg)
2:30 p.m., 4 Purdue vs. 13 Siena (Tim Brando/Mike Gminski)
After 12:15 game, 7 Clemson vs. 10 Missouri (Johnson/Elmore)
After 12:25 game, 3 Pitt vs. 14 Oakland (Eagle/Spanarkel)
After 12:30 game, 4 Wisconsin vs. 13 Woffard (Nantz/Kellogg)
After 2:30 game, 5 Texas A&M vs. 12 Utah State (Brando/Gminski)

7:10 p.m., 8 Gonzaga vs. 9 Florida State (Johnson/Elmore)
7:15 p.m., 7 Oklahoma State vs. 10 Georgia Tech (Eagle/Spanarkel)
7:20 p.m., 5 Michigan State vs. 12 New Mexico State (Brando/Gminski)
7:25 p.m., 1 Duke vs. Arkansas Pine Bluff or Winthrop (Nantz/Kellogg)
After 7:10 game, 1 Syracuse vs. 16 Vermont (Johnson/Elmore)
After 7:15 game, 2 Ohio State vs. 15 UC-Santa Barbara (Eagle/Spanarkel)
After 7:20 game, 4 Maryland vs. 13 Houston (Brando/Gminski)
After 7:25 game, 8 California vs. 9 Louisville (Nantz/Kellogg)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Regional Strength a Tournament Tale

Just minutes after the folks at CBS Sports unveiled the NCAA Tournament field Sunday evening, with Kansas as the "No. 1 overall seed," the network's talking heads were almost unanimous about the difficult challenge ahead for the Jayhawks.

Analyst Clark Kellogg looked at the Midwest Region bracket, saw Ohio State, Georgetown and Maryland and declared Kansas had the toughest road to Indianapolis and the Final Four.

Sorry, but that just sounds like hype for a couple of reasons.

First, because at this poinst of the season we expect quality teams to beat quality teams in order to advance. Second, Kansas will never have to play all three of those teams to reach the Final Four. Sure, if seeds hold Jayhawks will have to beat two of the three Kellogg mentioned (OSU, Georgetown and Maryland) but no team has to beat everyone in its region -- and it's hype like that that just makes the anticipation for the first meaningful games Thursday agonizing.

What the toughest region blather might indicate, though, is just where CBS's top play-by-play team (Jim Nantz and Kellogg) end up calling games when the tournament begins.

Also, the CBS folks questioned the move of Syracuse to the West Region at the No. 1 seed. It was a fair question (although the Orange's early exit from the Big East Tournament seemed reason enough), and the chair of the tournament selection committee, Dan Guerrero, the athletic director at UCLA, sidestepped it twice by talking in circles.

Granted, it was not a time for tough questions, and the analysts ensured that by lobbing softballs and not seeking specifics -- especially when Seth Davis asked about teams such as Illinois, Mississippi State and Virginia Tech, which did not make the field. He lumped all three of them into one question, making it all the easier for Guerrero to ramble on about nothing as he gave an answer.

March Missing -- Critique, Context, Contract

In the hours before the field for the NCAA Tournament was unveiled, two of the best conference championship games were those that mattered -- in Conference USA, where Houston surprised UTEP and earned an automatic berth, and in the Southeasern Conference, where Mississippi State lost a dramatic, one-point game in overtime to No. 2 Kentucky.

Those games were two of the best stories of the weekend.

In a weekend with almost wall-to-wall hype for the tournament, though, some necessary perspective was missing as everyone gladly jumped on the bandwagon of pre-tournament happiness.

First, critiques were missing, most notably of coaches. In one segment Saturday, an ESPN expert noted the strong freshmen class at Kentucky and credited coach John Calipari with putting together a solid class on short notice after getting the job last year. What should've been mentioned, and many fans know, is that Calipari pretty much just brought would would've been his class at Memphis with him to UK. So it's not like getting a strong class was a surprise.

Not as egregious, but certainly as interesting, was a mention of Louisville coach Rick Pitino during ESPN's solid "Outside the Lines" program. This week's edition of the show focused on former UK standout Winston Bennett and his battle with sexual addiction. At one point of the piece, it was noted that Pitino, who hired Bennett as an assistant with the Boston Celtics, warned and later fired Bennett when he found out about an indiscretion between Bennett and a student at Brandeis University, where the Celtics trained. After Pitino's well-reported peccadillo last year at Louisville, that matter years before just seemed ironic.

Back on the court, Mississippi State's almost-victory led to appropriate speculation about their resume as a tournament team. Was a one-point overtime loss enough to get them off the bubble, even with double-digit losses? It was worth discussion, but the ABC/ESPN crew let Calipari have an illogical last word on the matter.

"If we're the No. 2 team in the country, what are they?" Calipari asked while stating he did not believe his team deserved to win.

Mississippi Sate might benefit from Calipari's lobbying on its behalf, but if the Bulldogs do not get a berth to the NCAA Tournament, what that are/were (as a way of explaining their performance against UK) remains obvious to some. They were the SEC's defending tournament champion. They were an opponent that had played UK close in the regular season and knew them well. They were also a team that's should've won a few more regular season games (if they get shut out of the Big Dance).

Such illogical logic from coaches -- whether it's Calipari praising a fellow conference member or a coach such as Jay Wright lobbying for a larger field for the NCAA Tournament -- inevitably goes unquestioned by TV types, and one could just-as-logically argue that the coaches' arguments are somewhat self-serving, especially because what they support also enhances coaching security.

Finally, as the Mississippi State-Kentucky concluded, the first season of basketball under ESPN's $2 billion, 15-year agreement with the contract came to a close as well. It has been perhaps the most visible contract between a conference and a broadcast partner.

It was reached in August 2008 and the 2009-10 season was the first year of games broadcast under the deal.

What was most interesting about the deal was the clear relationship between ESPN and the SEC. That included a separate on-screen logo for basketball and football games televised by ABC/ESPN, and special mentions on the "Bottom Line" (that text that scrolls along the bottom of your TV screen on ESPN channels) about where SEC games could be found on TV if they were not being shown by the ESPN family.

But, and this is a big but, they still were on the ESPN family, as part of a sydicated package created by ESPN and called, The SEC Network.

So, while some the Big Ten Network represented an on-its-own effort by that conference, and while other conferences try to figure out the best possible widespread distribution for their athletic programming, the SEC got the benefit of a well-established partner that treated it quite well -- ESPN. And, after a successful year, the relationship mightonly get stronger in future years.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Hellacious Hype Makes March Maddening

As much as abundant hype during the two weeks before the Super Bowl engage and entertain me, the four days between the announcement of the field for the NCAA Tournament on Sunday and the first-round games on Thursday bore me to tears.

Let's play the games already!

Especially as this final week of conference tournaments winds down, when games usually mean nothing more than who falls where on the seed lines for the Big Dance, it's just time to play some meaningful basketball.

But, all the sports outlets -- CBS Sports, ESPN, every big and small talk radio show from coast, and anything and everything else -- will gladly play along. That's what makes March Madness so maddening.

Credit ESPN as the worst offender, with 89 hours (according to their creative accounting) part of the "Tournament Countdown" on ESPNU. That's right, between 7 p.m. Sunday and noon Thursday, they've labeld everything on ESPNU as programming leading up to the start of the tournament. That includes "The Herd with Colin Cowherd," which is simulcast with EPSN Radio. Will he really focus the entire show, every day, on college basketball? Let's hope not.

But, that's the power of the bracket, because even your grandma know about the bracket and advertisers and media outlets love to tie into that approach. Already this year and Lite Beer have conducted an online bracket for the best swimsuit model photos of all time.

On the heels of the highest-rated season of college basketball ever on ESPN (an average of 1.3 million viewers for 131 games, up 8 percent), it's also the power of college basketball itself.

In the hours after pairings are announced Sunday, almost every sports-related site on the Internet will boast some sort of bracket competition, allowing participants (most for free simply because the event drives so much traffic) to fill out brackets and compete for prizes.

It really is a powerful product -- and that power is in large part the reason the NCAA might sever its TV deal with CBS Sports after this year and look for more money (even though the remaining three years on the deal guarantee $2.1 billion). Still, it's also really an annoying product, because it produces so many byproducts.

With 65 teams (at least until somebody loses Tuesday), you'd think all those potential storylines would be appealing. They're not, though. Only a few teams in the tournament really have a chance and the abundance of hype, talk and what-ifs just make for an unbearable wait from the time we know the field until the the first game tips off.

Enberg Offers Powerful Priase of Olsen

Here's the statement by Dick Enberg (through CBS Sports) regarding the death of Merlin Olsen:

"God doesn't create perfect men, but he came mighty close when he brought us Merlin Olsen. He was athletically GREAT and just as GOOD as a man. He personified the Greek ideal of a "sound mind in a sound body." How privileged I was to call his games as an All Pro, Hall of Famer-to-be Los Angeles Ram, and then to work at his side in the broadcast booth for 12 years. He was meticulous and thorough in his preparation, lessons he had learned as an all-A student in high school and college. He was perhaps the brightest to ever play his position in the NFL. He was just as generous as a broadcaster as he was tough as a defensive tackle. I was privileged to be his TV colleague and his friend. I seriously doubt that I shall ever meet another that will measure up to his complete character. He was every part of a gentle giant."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Five-Time Super Bowl Analyst Olsen Dies

Former NFL great Merlin Olsen, a member of the Los Angeles Rams defensive front that earned the nickname "Fearsome Foresome" and who capably moved from his playing career (1962-1976) into television, died Thursday. He was 69.

Olsen, who was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982, worked as an NFL analyst for both NBC and CBS. During his time at NBC, he also had a recurring role as Jonathan Garvey on "Little House on the Prairie" and later earned his own lead role on the show "Father Murphy."

He worked five Super Bowls during his career (XIII, XV, XVII, XX and XXIII).

Olsen was suffering from a form of cancer, mesothelioma, which he said was from exposure to asbestos.

Deal, Debut Mark Big Week for ESPN Films

Remember when ESPN was mostly game coverage? Or even before that, when it had no games and was a compilation of contests and sporting events that had not earned coverage in any other venue?

That was so long ago that ESPN was actually an acronym. These days, for a while now actually, it's officially just ESPN.

During its 30-plus-year lifetime, the all-sports network has been cloned (ESPN2) and starting April 4 it's about to be copied online as well (on April 4 becomes

Through the years, ESPN has adapted and morphed, providing good things like a consistent home for sports journalism on TV with "Outside the Lines" and bad things, with too many talkers at times and a growing interest on high school sports.

Still, those who lead the network have never been afraid to try new things and ESPN Films certainly ranks as one of their more successful outside-the-box endeavors.

When knew a sports network could produce could films? We do now. Who thought they wanted that network produce films? OK, initially some people probably thought it was a far-fetched idea just to fill programming time. Instead, the films have become appointment viewing. And the ongoing "30 for 30" series, initiated as part of ESPN's 30th birthday, provides the recent highlights with solid documentaries from award-winning talent.

The first seven films that have debuted in the series have attracted and average of 1.2 million viewers and they've been generally compelling, interesting films focusing on topics such as: Wayne Gretzky's move to the Los Angeles Kings; the Baltimore Colts Marching Band and its existence even after the team left for Indianapolis; the life and death of USFL; Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder; and Maryland basketball standout Len Bias.

While A-list directors and producers have guided those projects, ESPN Films this week announced an agreement with Academy Award-winning actor Robert De Niro. He'll play legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi in a film that represents a collaboration between ESPN Films, the NFL, Andell Entertainment and Tribeca Productions, which is owned in part by De Niro.

According to an ESPN release, ESPN and Andell have Lombardi’s life story rights through his estate and Vincent Lombardi Jr. as well as the rights to the famous sports book "Instant Replay," which was written by former Packer great Jerry Kramer and the late Dick Schaap.

The film, "Lombardi," is set to debut on the weekend between the AFC and NFC conference championship games and the Super Bowl in 2012.

Previous ESPN films, before the "30 on 30" documentary series started, focused on topics such as Dale Earnhardt (with "3") ...

and Bear Bryant (with "Junction Boys").

No matter documentary or narrative, though, consistent quality and compelling stories have been the key.

That looks to be the same (thanks to sneak peaks and trailers) for "Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks," which will debut at 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPN. The documentary chronicles the NBA playoff series between the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks that developed not-so-suble good vs. bad storylines and allowed some characters and competitors to shine on a big stage.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

No Change for March Madness Lineup

While expanding the NCAA men's basketball tournament remains a prominent topic because the NCAA wants more money -- with potential TV revenues driving that discussion for change -- CBS Sports announced its lineup of on-air talent for this year's event, and it included just one slight change.

The announcing tandems are ...
Jim Nantz/Clark Kellogg
Dick Enberg/Jay Bilas
Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery
Gus Johnson/Len Elmore
Kevin Harlan/Dan Bonner
Ian Eagle/Jim Spanarkel
Tim Brando/Mike Gminski
Spero Dedes/Bob Wenzel

Only Dedes represents a change from last year's lineup.

Game assignments will be made Sunday after the tournament field is announced.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

CBS Plans 3D with LG for Final Four

CBS Sports plans to roll out 3D broadcasts of its events beginning with the Final Four in April.

Network officials announced the move, in partnership with LG Electronics USA and Cinedigm Certified Digital Cinemas.

So, with CBS talent (Dave Ryan/Steve Lappas), LG technology and 100 theaters owned by Cinedigm across the country, some people will be able to watch the national semifinals and national championship game in 3D.

The broadcasts will also be available in Lucas Oil Stadium and at the NCAA's interactive fan event in Indianapolis, Bracket Town.

With ESPN and its partner Sony having already experimented with 3D (for college football and again earlier this month with a Harlem Globetrotters game), and ready to roll out broadcasts with the FIFA World Cup this summer, the CBS-LG partnership represents another logical step -- with a broadcaster and technology source pairing up to address the same challenge.

Not surprisingly, the jockeying to be the first, or at least perceived as the first, with 3D has already started.

“CBS Sports has always been on the forefront of new technology to enhance the viewing experience,” said Ken Aagaard, executive vice president operations and engineering for CBS Sports. “Through our partnership with the NCAA and LG, and the technological innovations of Cinedigm, we are excited to be able to present Men’s Final Four weekend in 3D offering fans an exciting and different way to view a major sporting event.”

The rollout of 3D also allows LG, which LG which introduced the first 3D LCD sets in Korea last year, to preview its entrance into the U.S. consumer electronics market with that technology. The company will be introducing the new feature in a line of 3D-enabled LED HDTVs and Blu-ray Disc players in the United Sates beginning this May.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Exposure Allows for More Comment on Punch

By now many fans who get their sports news on TV have seen (repeatedly) the punch Baylor freshman Brittney Griner threw against Texas Tech last week that prompted a two-game suspension.

By rule, the action required a one-game suspension and Baylor coach Kim Mulkey added another game.

A few years ago, the initial one-game suspension might have been the end of the story -- and it might not have been a story at all. That's because nobody would've seen the punch except those in the arena.

These days, though, a camera exists almost everywhere, and there's channel to cover almost ever game. While last week's Baylor-Texas Tech women's basketball game was hardly the subject of widespread television coverage, it was broadcast by the Texas Tech Sports Network.

The available video made it easy to pick up the footage, and for every broadcast entity to replay the incident.

As usual, ample speculation followed with many talking heads, among them Michael Wilbon on "Pardon the Interruption," wanting a significant suspension. Others, including ESPN's Doug Gottlieb, argued that one game was sufficient -- because that was required by rule.

The most valuable of those who commented on the situation was Kara Lawson, the former Tennessee women's basketball standout who serves as an analyst for ESPN. Because she played the game, and knows the sport better than others who had something so say, her opinion was interesting. She argued for a longer suspension as well.

No matter how much reaction got back to Mulkey, though, she did not go beyond an additional game.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Cowherd Cutback: Less Can be More

Enjoyable and entertaining ESPN Radio host Colin Cohwerd told listeners Friday that his four-hour nationwide show would move to just three hours beginning April 5 -- and it's a cutback he championed.

"I begged," Cowherd said of his discussions with management. Because he also co-hosts "SportsNation" on TV, Cowherd said he felt as if he was sprinting from show to show and not doing the quality of work he wanted.

Many affiliates only take part of the show, "The Herd with Colin Cowhed," and it's four-hour format makes it a midday program on the East Coast and a morning drive offering on the West Coast. Both New York City and Los Angeles affiliates carry the show.

For other markets that only get part of the show, the downside might be more Jim Rome as stations look for options to fill an hour of air time.

Cowherd believes his radio show should benefit greatly from the move. Few single-host shows run for four hours, and he sounded genuinely upbeat when announcing the move.

"I say this all the time, less is more," Cowherd said. "I have no interest being on the show for six hours. I'd rather have a tight, fast show."

In an unrelated move, "The Herd" is losing producer Amanda Gifford as well. She's leaving next week, with Wednesday as her last show, to take a management position with ESPN Radio -- overseeing some weekend programming and g and moving to a position that will allow her to mentor and teach a bit. For someone who earned undergraduate degrees in communications and education, it's a natural and savvy move.

She brought the show a lot of heart and personality, and her planning was key to many unseen aspects of its success. Hopefully, she'll get the appropriately appreciative and appropriately fun, sendoff she deserves during her final show.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Bracketologist: 96 Teams Too Many in Tourney

Count ESPN "bracketologist" Joe Lunardi among those against expanding the NCAA Tournament.

The man who turned a hobby into a respected avocation with spot-on analysis and prognostication about the annual men's basketball tournament believes the existing 65-team approach works quite well.

"There's no good basketball reason to do it, to expand the tournament -- at least dramatically," Lunardi told reporters on an conference call this week. "By that I mean no team with a realistic chance to win the national championship is being excluded by the current system."

He said some good teams do miss the tournament, but not any team that has the potential to win numerous games and contend for the crown. "I've never heard that argument," he said.

Still, Lunardi knows what drives any such decision, and he knows what just might happen. While the colleges and universities that comprise the NCAA are technically non-profit entities, the NCAA itself and the networks that would televise the event are not. Plus, the annual men's basktball tournament provides nearly 90 percent of the NCAA's annual revenue.

"Whatever decision is made is going to be for business reasons," Lunardi said. "The business people making the decision are going to make a plus-minus evaluation."

While Lunardi thinks those making the decision know that expanding the tournament would diminish the regular season and make late-season games and conference tournaments anticlimactic, he believes some expansion will happen. "It's coming sooner rather than later," he said, although he was not sure it would move to as many as 96 games.

He's adamantly against such a major expansion, too.

"My only wish is that they consider my sleeping habits. I do lie awake at night dividing 65 teams from 66," he said, insisting that the difference between the last team in and first team out is significant in the current format. He does not believe much of a difference would exist between the 96th team and the next team that misses in an expanded tournament, though. Because of that fine line, a line for a team that almost certainly would lose in first round, Lunardi thinks the process of selecting the final team would be "a pain in the ass." He added, "I don't think the world will be any better off if we don't have 13 Big East teams in the tournament."

BTN's Series Boasts Keith Jackson as Host

Iconic college football play-by-play man Keith Jackson plans to return to TV again this fall -- coming out of retirement again and serving as host of "Big Ten Icons" on the Big Ten Network.

The three-year old network announced the series and its host Thursday.

The BTN heralds the 20-episode series as the "most ambitious project" in its history, and that's a fair assessment -- especially if the network truly makes the multi-platform aspects of the program work. Along with the 20 shows hosted by Jackson, the project to count down the top 20 icons in the conference's history includes a dedicated Web site and Facebook page with interactive elements, video and more.

The shows will begin Sept. 18, 2010, after a football game on BTN, and end in early 2011, just before the start of the Big Ten men's basketball tournament. The site, set to launch in early September, will count down icons 50 to 21.

Still, Jackson's presence makes the TV series as noteworthy than its content. At 81, and off East Coast college football games for several years, he's a good pick to host a show that might have a bit more historical content and require some context. He told USA Today: "I'll just try to stay out of the way. They needed an old-timer to wobble around in front of it to get it going."

Expect the show itself to be similar to exclusive programs on any number of cable channels, as those outlets attempt to develop shows of their own. Because of that, the true success of "Icon" will be found in whether it feels and looks more like the "America's Game" series on the NFL Network (a good thing) or some top-10 beaches list on the Travel Channel (an average thing that just eats TV time).

Having Jackson on the job might help the show lean more toward the latter. According to BTN officials, he embraced the idea of the show and even wanted to have some editorial control.

According to the BTN, the list of 50 icons is being determined by a panel of on-air talent, network executives, conference officials and long-time conference observers.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Knight: NCAA Tournament Already Too Big

With a 96-team NCAA Tournament seemingly a foregone conclusion sooner rather than later because the NCAA wants more money -- and not because 31 worthy teams are left out of the existing 65-team event -- a few more people have lined up to oppose the idea.

Bob Knight, the all-time victories leader in Division I-A men's basketball and current TV analyst, offered his insights with "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio.

First, there was some sarcasm (what else from the often acerbic former coach?) and a tongue-in-cheek suggestion: "If they want to expand, expand it all the way, and then you play one game and you’re right back to 64. Then you’ve giving every team that can just dribble the basketball the opportunity to participate."

His real opinion came later: "I don’t think there should be any expansion. The ideal tournament to me is 32 teams. With 32 teams in the tournament, you’ve set up a tournament where virtually every team is going to be pretty good and have a chance to go somewhere."

The existing 11-year deal between CBS and the NCAA for the tournament runs for another three years, but a clause allows the NCAA to opt out after this season with no penalty -- if it decides to do so by July 31. Because the event provides a huge portion of the NCAA's annual revenue (more than 90 percent), some NCAA officials see it as an area for even more growth.

Opponents correctly argue that a 96-team would diminish much of the charm of the tournament and further water down college basketball's regular season. Those arguments do nothing to sway supporters, for whom the current economy provides another motivating factor. Some NCAA officials see this year's opt-out window as a perfect time to rebid the tournament, making the rights for the event available at a time when other sports properties are not on the market.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

NHL Tries Too Hard for Olympic Bounce

When radio and TV talkers speculated about a possible popularity bounce for the NHL in the wake of a strong Olympic tournament -- notably the two Canada-United States machups -- they proffered numerous possibilities for the sport to build off that apparent success.

Whether TV ratings for a once-every-four-year event really mean anything for the least popular pro sports league in the United States might take a long time to determine.

Still, the NHL showed subtlety was not part of its post-Olympics plan Tuesday night.

On the FSN broadcast of the Buffalo Sabres game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a matchup that included the Olympic tournament MVP (U.S. goalie Ryan Miller who plays for Buffalo) and the player who scored the decisive goal in the gold medal game (Canadian forward Sidney Crosby who plays for Pittsburgh), pre-game introductions included individual recognition of all Olympic hockey players participating in the game.

With the Olympic theme music in the background at the Mellon Arena, the public address announcer announced every player from each international team and the arnea spotlight then focused on each of the players, culminating with Crosby. While the approach produced some interested results, among them a big ovation for Miller in a rival arena, it also showed that the NHL does not believe its product can stand on its own.

As much as pro hockey could use a boost, it has to craft success on more than just the Olympic hype.

Sideline Reporters Move Front and Center

Two well-known sideline reporters made news early this week -- with one (Erin Andrews, at right) weighing celebrity vs. journalism and the other (Lisa Salters) becoming the focus for some criticism of sideline reporters in general.

Chronologically, Salters' situation came first. It was brought to light by an Orlando Sentinel blogger, Tania Ganguil, who talked with Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy about the work of sideline reporters in general and ESPN's Salters in particular.

The genesis for the discussion was an in-game interview between Salters and the generally loquacious Van Gundy, when the coach seemed less than thrilled with the situation. He said in-game interviews almost inevitably pose a challenge for coaches.

"After the game's hard enough. I can take some time and compose myself and answer questions fairly rationally," he said. "Between quarters stuff ... I'm not trying to be rude to the people that are interviewing me, but to be quite honest I don't want to deal with it. I want to get back in the huddle and talk to my players. I don't want to be answering questions.

"I got nothing against Lisa Salters. I respect her work. I like her. Tat's a bad time. That's a bad time. That's like coming down trying to carry on a conversation in the middle of the game with me. We're in the game. The game is on. It's just not where my mind is at that point."

Exasperating the specific situation was the fact that former New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy (Stan's brother) works as an color commentator for ESPN. He said such in-game interviews with coaches could be replaced with interviews of random fans.

In this case, despite Salters' proven track record of solid journalism and work in the most difficult job on TV sports, the Van Gundy brothers were correct. Those in-game interviews are just a series of bad things waiting to happen. News hardly ever gets broken, and they feel forced and uncomfortable -- no matter work works the sideline and for which network. But, networks keep trotting those reporters out there. While the economy has hit businesses of all kinds in the past year and a half, the sideline reporter subset seems almost recession-proof, and every TV crew seemingly has someone holding a microphone and asking questions at the wrong time.

Andrews, another proven sideline reporter (and probably the most popular and well-known of the bunch because of her looks and skill set), decided to build upon her popularity when she agreed to participate in this season's edition of "Dancing with The Stars." The ABC reality series, which airs starting in late March, features of variety of celebrities in a televised dance competition.

Ratings for the show dropped markedly last year and the producers hoped to rebound with an more recognizabel group of stars this season. The 11-member group also includes: 80-year-old astronaut Buzz Aldrin, actress Pam Anderson, reality TV mom Kate Gosselin, Olympic gold medal skater Evan Lysacek and NFL wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.

Expect the personable Andrews, a member of the dance team at the University of Florida as an undergraduate, to survive numerous rounds of cuts on the show.

Her decision to participate was not easy, though, especially in the wake of the well-publicized incident last July when a stalker posted a video of her changing in a hotel room. The video was taken without her permission in 2008, led to legal action and, eventually, the arrest of a man from Chicago. He was charged with insterstate stalking, posting them online and trying to sell them to a celebrity media outlet.

Andrews, whose father was an award-winning TV investigative reporter and who has regularly shown her own skill set as a journalist, weighed her options and said she eventually decided to participate in the program to "get my smile back."

It sounds like a nice change of pace, and she probably needs it after a rough year away from the job. Plus, there's no doubt it'll help her in her job, making her more popular and ensuring more and more assignments.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Olympics P.S. -- More of Same from London

Those who lamented the taped results of many events from NBC during the just-completed Winter Games might find little solace when the Olympics return in 2012 for the Summer Games in London.

Because of steady primetime ratings, and because of strong support from the International Olympic Committee, it's hard to imagine NBC changing its approach.

“Look at the numbers,” Richard CarriĆ³n said, the IOC's top broadcast executive, told Sports Business Daily. “Everyone thinks they’re a television producer. I think Dick Ebersol has proven to be a pretty good one, so I wouldn’t question his judgment.”

In addition, Canadian IOC member Dick Pound was among others who brushed aside U.S. criticism and offered support.

“That’s why you sell rights on a territorial basis to broadcasters who understand their audiences,” Pound said. “If the U.S. likes their Games delayed and told as a story, fine. The market will tell you if you’ve got it wrong. So far it hasn’t.”

Also, those who complain about the lack of live coverage of major events during daytime hours often seem to assume that ESPN or some other network and partners could do it better because they have a commitment to sports programming. Or, that a daytime ratings boost for live events would bolster NBC, making that another good reason to abandon its already proven business model. Sometimes, it's just not so simple.

By 2012 the model could change, with online, real-time news and smart phones delivering more and more timely information. By that time, NBC might adapt to meet those needs. And NBC itself might change by that time, too. It's pending purchase by cable giant Comcast might prompt an "on-demand" Olympics (as Comcast does with concerts, movies and other programs).

Rights for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, have not been awarded. However, an IOC official said they hope to award rights for the 2014 and 2016 Games in "Gatekeepers Package," which would put broadband, mobile and television into one package for media entities to consider.