CBS back into college football with eye on NFL down road

Media Watch

September 06, 1996|By Milton Kent

When UCLA meets No. 2 Tennessee tomorrow night (Channel 13, 8 p.m.), the game will be another step along the road the Volunteers hope will end at the Sugar Bowl, the site of the national championship game Jan. 2.

For CBS, the game means a whole lot more.

The Bruins-Volunteers game kicks off CBS' weekly college football schedule, one that the network hopes will re-establish it as one of the big players in sports television.

"We used to despise these days [rules and production seminars], but I could hardly wait for this day to come.

"I feel whole [professionally] for the first time in a while," said Jim Nantz, the lead voice of CBS' college coverage.

In the early 1980s, CBS began to amass a college football schedule to rival that of ABC, the longtime leader on the college gridiron scene.

But CBS foolishly let its deals with the College Football Association after the 1989 season lapse under the tight-fisted reign of former network president Laurence Tisch, assuming, perhaps, that with the strong NFC package of the NFL, its college fortunes would be fine without the colleges, save for the occasional bowl games.

However, when the NFL left CBS for Fox in 1994, the Eye was sent on a downward spiral that only lately has started to reverse. An easy way out of the tailspin was to go back to the colleges, through the acquisition of Big East and Southeastern Conference games, along with a share of the Bowl Alliance.

This is all a part of the plan to make an all-out assault on the NFL when the current television contract expires after next season.

"Football, for television, is America's sport. A lot of us have felt that if you don't have football, you're really not a full-service sports department.

"This is hopefully the start toward getting into football for real," said Rick Gentile, CBS Sports programming chief and No. 2 executive in the department.

Nantz will be joined in the booth by former UCLA coach Terry Donahue, with former ESPN studio analyst Craig James performing those duties for CBS' new studio show, with the ubiquitous Pat O'Brien as host.

Choose your sport wisely

Baltimoreans waited 12 years for choices like these, and here they are: Will you watch the Orioles, in the midst of a pennant race, against the Detroit Tigers on Sunday (Home Team Sports, 1: 30 p.m.), or does the Ravens-Pittsburgh game, an all-important early season AFC Central Division matchup (Channel 11, 1 p.m.), tickle your fancy?

Meanwhile, if mediocre football is of interest to you, there's always the Chicago-Washington game (Channel 45, 1 p.m.) on Sunday, followed by (yawn) the Giants-Cowboys go-round.

A quick digression: While national analysts and commentators have been batting Baltimore around like a pinata lately, one network type, Fox studio analyst Steve Lyons, is rooting for the city and its baseball team to do well, if only for a selfish reason.

"I predicted the Orioles would win the division, and every one of the other teams that I picked are leading their divisions, so I want people to think I know what I'm talking about," Lyons said.

More from the former Red Sox utility player next week.

All is calm, all is bright

In contrast to the men's U.S. Open field, which was up in arms before the tournament about a perceived effort to finagle the draw to get a Pete Sampras-Andre Agassi final, the women appear to be happy.

That's because the United States Tennis Association scrapped its Super Saturday format, in which the women's singles final was sandwiched between the two men's semifinals.

Now, the women's and men's championships will take place on Sunday, though the men will still have to play on consecutive days, while the women have a day off.

"I think a lot of Super Saturdays weren't worth the price of having those three matches. There have only been a couple of real Super Saturdays. "That's a pretty busy day," said CBS analyst Mary Carillo.

One player viewers should watch is 15-year-old prodigy Martina Hingis, who meets top seed Steffi Graf in one semifinal today (Channel 13, 11 a.m.).

Hingis has beaten No. 4 seed Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and seventh seed Jana Novotna in successive matches and has served notice that she'll be around for a while, according to Carillo.

At the same time, Carillo wonders if Hingis isn't burning herself out by playing singles, doubles and mixed doubles.

"The kid's 15 years old. I think she'll soon enough learn that she's too good to enter all three events because she'll probably be busy on the final weekend," said Carillo.

Tomorrow's card of men's singles semifinals and women's doubles finals starts at 11 a.m., and Sunday's championship doubleheader gets under way at 2 p.m.

Pub Date: 9/06/96

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