The University of Nevada-Las Vegas basketball team and CBS analyst Billy Packer share a couple of characteristics.
Both are clearly the best. UNLV is No. 1, undefeated and seemingly headed to a second consecutive national championship, and Packer continues to be college basketball's most informative, effective commentator. But both bring with them troubling baggage.
In UNLV's case, there are coach Jerry Tarkanian's 100-year war with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, recurring reports of recruiting improprieties and other violations and a looming NCAA probation. With Packer, it's his apparent unwillingness to accept the notion that there are fundamental problems with the college game off the court and that much of the blame goes to the sports-coated brigade of coaches he so unfailingly extols.
"I'm not necessarily a defender of Tark or renegade coaches," Packer said in a news conference this week, "I'm a defender of their right to be heard."
So maybe Packer is trying to make cases for them. Anyway, Packer is unfortunately not alone among his broadcasting colleagues. How many announcers interrupt their breathless renderings of on-court events to reflect upon the sleazy side of college basketball?
Don't expect, then, to hear much negative about UNLV -- unless the Runnin' Rebels start turning the ball over and missing open jumpers.
CBS' telecast tomorrow begins at 5 p.m. (channels 11 and 9) with the half-hour pre-game show, "The Final Four Show" (who thinks up these names?), featuring Pat O'Brien, James Brown, Lesley Visser and Mike Francesa. Then it's over to Packer and Jim Nantz, calling his first Final Four after Brent Musburger's departure from the network.
Packer and Nantz may need lots of material if the Duke-UNLV matchup turns out to be a replay of lastyear's championship game rout. And if that rout develops, CBS' ratings could continue to take a tumble.
But don't get Packer started on ratings.
"My point is not to believe them if they're good or bad," he said. "My suggestion was for CBS to do its own ratings on sports.
"I'm amazed that people will watch so much basketball during the season, [and] why isn't there a synergism when there is only one place to watch it?"*
CBS also will carry the women's NCAA Final Four tomorrow, starting with a pre-game show at noon. This is the first live network coverage of the women's semifinals. Brad Nessler and Mimi Griffin will call the games, as well as the championship Sunday at 4 p.m.
... Though its run for this season is almost over, "Hoops," the radio talk show devoted to college and high school basketball, is playing well in crunch time.
On Monday, Stan "The Fan" Charles and Paul Baker presided over a consistently strong two hours of radio. If you are at all interested in college basketball, it was hard to leave the radio.
First, Maryland athletic director Andy Geiger eloquently laid out his plans for Terrapins athletics. It was just Charles, Baker and Geiger, with no phone calls, and it worked fine.
Then came John Feinstein of The National, who dished (or is that dissed?) on coaches for the next half-hour.
The last hour was a strong finish -- shooting guru Buzzy Braman, followed by Long Beach State coach Seth Greenberg and Cal-Santa Barbara coach Jerry Pimm. The latter two are regular conference opponents of Nevada-Las Vegas, and Pimm is the last coach to beat the Runnin' Rebels. The two couldn't figure out a way to beat UNLV, but it was good to hear them try.
What Charles and Baker lack in polish, they make up for in passion, particularly Baker. Hey, who needs callers?
"Hoops" concludes its season Monday on WCAO (600 AM), moving to an earlier time (7 p.m.-9 p.m.) to accommodate the NCAA title game. . . . Charles' baseball talk show on WCAO returns April 8 (Opening Day) at 10:30 p.m.
The World League of American Football has made it: David Letterman did a top 10 list on the WLAF Tuesday night (punctuated by a rendition of Mel and Tim's "Backfield in Motion" from Paul Shaffer and the band). This is only fitting, because USA Network's biggest innovation on the telecasts -- the Helmet Cam -- seems like a Letterman joke. In fact, the Helmet Cam (a lipstick-sized camera placed inside the quarterback's helmet) did play kind of humorously Monday night, despite the complex technology. I mean, seeing the quarterback duck and run through his face-mask view is a real
hoot. The best shot may have been when quarterback Kerwin Bell took off on a scramble that ended with his helmet knocked off. There, on the replay, was a shot from the disembodied helmet, rolling upside down on the grass. Take that, NFL.
It's not fair to judge a baseball announcer just on exhibition games, but here are some early impressions of Ken Levine, the addition to Baltimore Orioles radio broadcasts: Those who sometimes mistook Joe Angel's voice for Jon Miller's no longer have to worry about confusion. Levine sounds nothing like Miller. Levine doesn't have a "radio" voice, which doesn't necessarily matter. On the other hand, as advertised, Levine can be pretty funny. . . . A broadcasting coincidence, courtesy of Newsday's Stan Isaacs: Hamilton College in New York had a 26-1 basketball record in Division III this season, but Hamilton does not go to postseason tournaments. Among Hamilton's graduates is Neal Pilson, head of CBS Sports, which has paid $1.1 billion to the NCAA for the right to broadcast postseason basketball.
ESPN has added ex-major-leaguers Billy Sample and Steve McCatty as analysts for Tuesday baseball telecasts.