Roberts' play-by-play gives female sportscasters voice

ON THE AIR

January 17, 1995|By MILTON KENT

STORRS, Conn. -- In the world of sports broadcasting, host of a show in the studio has become the post to crave, and while Robin Roberts has a share of that at ESPN, she's looking to spread her wings and fly.

That's why she was so enthusiastic about yesterday's assignment, a play-by-play job at the Tennessee-Connecticut women's game, matching the top-ranked Volunteers against the No. 2 Huskies.

"For basketball, it [doing play-by-play] was pretty natural," said Roberts. "I was pretty adamant about doing some play-by-play, and I didn't have to twist any arms."

Roberts, who anchors "Sunday SportsDay," has been adding more play-by-play opportunities to her portfolio, including a tennis match last November and a North Carolina-Virginia women's game next month, both for ABC. She is also hoping to do some men's games for ESPN.

"I've noticed that women haven't had the chances at play-by-play, and I'd like to get them," said Roberts. "I don't want to be pigeonholed as a reporter or a host. For us [women] to have a chance to show what we can do, we have to do play-by-play."

Roberts, a basketball star at Southeastern Louisiana in the early 1980s, has been instrumental in raising the visibility of women's basketball at the total sports network by pushing for ESPN regularly to run scores involving Top 25 teams.

"The real test was one Sunday when I was off, and I noticed that the scores didn't run," said Roberts, with a laugh. "I said, 'No, you just don't run them when I'm here. You have to run them all the time.' It's just the right thing to do."

Replay no go for Joe

Count ESPN analyst and former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann as a big-time opponent of the return of instant replay in any form to the NFL.

"I've always been against replay," he said. "It's a game played by humans, and it should be called that way. Besides, the stoppage in play really does affect the tempo of the game."

Theismann is even opposed to the USFL version of replay, where a coach was given a replay timeout and could signal for a break by tossing a flag onto the field.

"He [the coach] could use it for any reason other than to check a play. He could use to slow the other team's momentum. If I was a coach, I'd use it for that. It's very disruptive," said Theismann.

A year in the life

Well, the kids at Fox have finished their first year as home of NFC telecasts, and the republic, not to mention the football-watching public, has come through largely unscathed.

"It's been a very smooth transition for me," said play-by-play man Pat Summerall, who left CBS to join Fox. "It's almost like things were very, very, very carefully planned for us. It's been comfortable for us."

As for concerns that Fox would gloss up the game beyond the recognition of fans who like just the meat and potatoes of the sport, Summerall and his analyst partner John Madden say that's nonsense.

"You really can't change. There's only one way to cover a game, and that's the way it's played," said Madden. "You can produce a pre-game show. All the differences came in the pre-game show. There were more people and more elements. All the glitz was in the pre-game show."

Said Summerall: "I haven't seen any big, glitzy changes. We just approached the game with more tools. Besides, we both like meat and potatoes."

The pucks drop soon

Now that this little hockey flap has been cleared up, ESPN has wasted no time putting together a schedule of games, including Friday's Buffalo-New York Rangers game at which the Rangers' 1993-94 Stanley Cup championship banner will be hoisted above Madison Square Garden.

ESPN will carry 14 regular-season games, including a six-week Sunday night series, starting Feb. 5.

ESPN2, meanwhile, will have up to 37 regular-season games, less than half the originally scheduled 75, with telecasts to air generally on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

In addition, "The Deuce" will premiere "NHL 2Night" (isn't that clever?), a hockey news and highlights show, starting Feb. 7 at 11:30 p.m.

As part of its new NHL arrangement, the networks have the right to lift the home market blackout once a season per team.

No scheduling word yet from Fox, though a promo for its coverage aired after Sunday's NFC championship.

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