If college game needs a spark, it has the perfect plug in Vitale

Media Watch

February 19, 1996|By Milton Kent

COLLEGE PARK -- If that battery company that uses that rabbit needs a human spokesman, it could hardly do better than Dick Vitale, because, like the bunny, Dickie V keeps going and going and going.

Yesterday's Maryland-Missouri nationally televised game was just one more stop in the traveling college basketball road show that is Dick Vitale.

"What I have is a basketball junkie's dream life," said Vitale before yesterday's game. "I'm having so much fun. All I can say is that it's being enthusiastic, doing something with a passionate feeling. All of that has been so good to me, because basketball's been good to me."

During hoops season, Vitale follows an ABC/ESPN schedule that would likely drop a horse. Two days ago, for instance, Vitale was in Chapel Hill for the North Carolina-Virginia game. Tonight, he'll be in Landover for the Connecticut-Georgetown dust-up, with Kentucky-Alabama and Cincinnati-Louisville to come later in the week.

The love of the game, of course, is the immediate fuel that powers the former Detroit Pistons coach, but Vitale is also particular about his lifestyle, eschewing red meat, tobacco and alcohol, as well as confining his breakneck pace to the season.

"If I were doing it 12 months, there's no way I could do it. I couldn't survive," said Vitale. "But going the way I go -- going intense for three-four months, then laying back, and picking your speaking engagements or whatever -- you have more control. I've been lucky. I'm not complaining."

Vitale's complaints these days are limited to the NCAA over the way it treats athletes, particularly as it fails to pay them a stipend.

In the case of Maryland guard Duane Simpkins, who is in the midst of a three-game suspension for getting a loan from a former AAU coach to pay back overdue campus parking tickets, Vitale, while admonishing Simpkins for making a bad choice, blames the system.

If athletes were receiving a monthly payment from the NCAA from a fund generated by the fees collected from CBS for telecast rights to the men's tournament, Vitale says players might not find themselves in the kinds of jams that Simpkins got into.

"Here's the perfect example. Maybe if he [Simpkins] had a stipend, like $100 a month or whatever, he would have had some money to pay those bills without letting them accumulate and accumulate," said Vitale.

More from Dickie V later this week.

Another network

For public consumption, ESPN officials are not exactly quaking at Friday's announcement that Turner Broadcasting will launch an all-sports news cable channel by December that will combine the resources of CNN and Sports Illustrated.

Indeed, ESPN has seen challengers come and go, and yet the Bristol, Conn., behemoth, now juiced by the even bigger Walt Disney monster, continues to grow and flourish.

As Diane Lamb, an ESPN spokeswoman, pointed out, ESPN already has in place an impressive collection of sports news programs, with a planned expansion on ESPN2, which will join the signature "SportsCenter" on ESPN.

But there is evidence that CNN/SI, as the new channel will be called, will have some heft, and may give ESPN a nice little run for its money in the area of sports news gathering.

For one thing, the names CNN and Sports Illustrated -- brought together by the merger of Turner and Time-Warner -- give the kind of reputation that no cable operator with channel availability can ignore, especially Time-Warner, the nation's largest cable operator.

Also, by not going after event programming, CNN/SI won't be bound by those troublesome little "partnership" arrangements that other carriers are entangled in, thus bolstering its journalistic credibility with the public.

Hoosier hookup

Between 10 o'clock and midnight tonight, Stan "The Fan" Charles' "Baltimore Sports Exchange" will join electronic hands with his Indianapolis counterpart, Dave "No Known Nickname" Ellswick, to discuss the prospects, real or imagined, of the possibility of the name Colts returning to Baltimore to adorn Charm City's new, nameless football team.

And, for those of you who are into symmetry, try this on for size: Charles' station, WCBM (680 AM) is the former Baltimore Colts flagship station. Ellswick's WIBC (1070 AM) is the current home of the Hosses.

Makes you want to sing "We Are the World," doesn't it?

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