NBC and Irish eyes are smiling New exclusive deal still football as usual


August 23, 1991|By RAY FRAGER

It's college football season, so let's wake up the echoes:

Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame,

They're paying the Irish 1 mil per game.

Put each contest on TV,

Love them or hate them, you wanna see.

Come on you networks with all the gold,

With Irish football, ads will be sold.

So when you sell, you'll think it swell

that the Irish are on TV.

The biggest change in televised football this fall isn't that Notre .. Dame is going to be seen a lot -- that's a given, along with the coach of a top-ranked team worrying about that big game against Rice -- it's that the Irish have an exclusive deal. Several months ago, NBC contracted with Notre Dame to televise all Irish home games for $37 million over five years.

Some might have worried that this would lead to a rush of television deals with football powers, busting up the arrangements between networks and conferences or the College Football Association. But it's clear that Notre Dame football is a special case. Pick any sports dynasty, and Notre Dame has outlasted it, surviving even the Gerry Faust years to rank annually in anybody's top 25, and likely in the top 10.

Among the top-rated regular-season college football games of all time, Notre Dame figures in five of the six.

So, successful though the other schools may have been, don't expect them to get their own television deals (however, given some of its past off-field incidents, Oklahoma might be able to work out something with "America's Most Wanted").

"Notre Dame would have been on national television every week, regardless of whether they had a deal with NBC. They apparently earned this position," Dick Enberg, who makes up the play-by-play third of NBC's Notre Dame announcing team, said at a news conference this week. Bill Walsh is the analyst and John Dockery the sideline reporter.

"It's the subway alumni of this university that make it such a strong program," Enberg said.

And this television deal just makes the Irish stronger. Imagine how much tougher it will be to recruit against them. Walsh, were he once again head coach at Stanford, would not be too happy about Notre Dame's network deal.

"I'd be distressed. I'd be green," Walsh said. "But Notre Dame has always had an advantage. Notre Dame historically has had every advantage."

Will it now have the added advantage of homer announcers working national telecasts? Enberg said that is something he and his colleagues will strive to avoid.

"My first question [when the job was offered] was, 'How do I maintain my credibility?' But Notre Dame asked if I would be available because I wouldn't be that kind of announcer [biased]," Enberg said.

Walsh said Irish opponents actually may receive more attention because the announcers will get to devote extra time to the opposition as Notre Dame stories become familiar to them and the audience over the six games.

But the opposition won't get that weekly attention. Then again, they're not Notre Dame.

"It's a real market [for televised football]," Dockery said. "It's a big business."

That it is, but we don't switch on our televisions on fall afternoons to watch business. And Enberg -- who said he is "turned on by things old and full of tradition" -- can reconcile the business with the game.

"That gets reconciled at about 1 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon," Enberg said.


NBC's first Irish game is Sept. 7 at 1:30 p.m., the opener against Indiana. The last time Notre Dame played the Hoosiers in football, 1958, Enberg called the game as an Indiana student announcer working with fellow student Phil Jones, now a CBS White House correspondent. . . . Part of the grand collegiate tradition is August football, and the first two games of the season are Wednesday and Thursday. First comes the Kickoff Classic between Penn State and Georgia Tech, and then the Disneyland Pigskin Classic between Florida State and Brigham Young. Both games start at 9 p.m., and the Raycom telecasts will be carried by Channel 54.

ABC's college football schedule has been enlarged, as it has added the CFA to its Big Ten/Pacific-10 package. ABC will provide eight more games to viewers this year, up to 24. The network's opener is Miami-Arkansas on Aug. 31 at 12:30 p.m.

There will be several new-but-not-really-new faces among ABC's announcers. In addition to Keith Jackson, Bob Griese, Brent Musburger, Dick Vermeil, Gary Bender and Lynn Swann, "Monday Night Football" will be working some weekends. Al Michaels, Dan Dierdorf and Frank Gifford are scheduled for college games.

Joining "ABC's College Football Scoreboard Show" are Julie Moran and Bo Schembechler. Moran was co-host of NBC's NBA magazine program, which often ran opposite Saturday cartoons. Schembechler, president of the Detroit Tigers, once seemed a cartoon character himself -- old Mr. Gruff, the football coach -- during his many successful seasons at Michigan.

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