CBS exec revved up for tourney

ON THE AIR

March 13, 1995|By MILTON KENT

If you think the drama of NCAA tournament games is heart-stopping for players, coaches and short-term investors, try being a network executive who doesn't know whether his network will be on the air when the commercial ends.

That's the situation that faced Rick Gentile, CBS Sports senior vice president of production a couple of years ago, just after the network bought up access to all 63 games, including the first-round contests.

Gentile, who will serve as the tournament's executive producer when it opens Thursday afternoon, was sitting in a New York control room, moving parts of the country from the end of one game to another in a procedure called "flexing."

The trouble was, so much flexing had gone on and so many satellites had been shifted to accommodate the flexing that Gentile had no way to know if the CBS eye would be blinking and if he would need to find another line of work once the commercial was over.

"I wish I could tell you how we got there, but I can't and I couldn't then," said Gentile. "I ran into the control room to see what was going to happen when we came out of commercial because we, honest to God, didn't know if we'd be in black or if there'd be a network on the air."

Thankfully for Gentile, a former executive at the Elias Sports Bureau, there was a network, and he's thrived and survived.

The 45-year-old native of the Bronx will be the man, who, in consultation with other CBS executives, will decide which games will go where, which announcers will call the games and what times those games will start, not to mention when to bring Dubuque in to see action from Baltimore.

"It's the greatest job in the world and I love it, and I never love it more than when the NCAA tournament comes around because you are in the middle of it," said Gentile.

"I get on the elevator at my apartment house and people are talking about the tournament and they only know about it through me. Oh, there are the newspapers, but they're watching it because of me. That's at its most simplistic form, but it's such a thrill."

Dueling bracket shows

Yes, CBS had the advantage of getting the 64-team men's NCAA tournament field just before ESPN, but frankly the guys from Bristol, Conn., did the better job, grabbing the selections about a minute after CBS, and providing instant and trenchant analysis with Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps, though both 60-minute shows were 30 minutes too long.

More importantly, ESPN hit the ground running with solid interviews, as Vitale, Phelps and John Saunders got right to George Washington coach Mike Jarvis about the Colonials' chance to make the field.

CBS, however, slid right from the start, with a hokey Hollywood opening that set the tone for the whole hour, closing the hour with an even hokier scene as five grown men re-enacted a scene from their days in the high school basketball huddle.

Here's hoping the basketball will be better than the selection show.

Bonny Bonner

Here's a prediction: In the not-too-distant future, CBS, or some other network, is going to have to find regular work for Dan Bonner, who has vaulted right to the top of the list of college basketball analysts.

Bonner, who will get some NCAA tournament work, was nothing short of brilliant this weekend at the ACC tournament. He contributed one insightful comment after another, blended in with a kid's sense of wonder and excitement and a ribald sense of humor. With any luck, Bonner will still be working during the second weekend of the tournament.

It would have been nice if the Raycom/Jefferson Pilot production crew, which was near the top of its game, could have provided the score and clock more often. Some telecasts do get bogged down in charts and graphs, but you can never give the audience too much basic information.

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