With TV, the point's often in the showing

Media Watch

March 05, 1998|By Milton Kent

There are more than a few people who subscribe to the theory that nothing important happens unless television is there to chronicle it, and the proof of that postulate exists in the flap surrounding Connecticut women's basketball player Nykesha Sales and her scoring record.

Whether you agree with the way Sales got the record or not -- and goodness knows, everybody, even people who couldn't care less about the sport, has an opinion -- you can't argue that there wouldn't even be an argument if not for the fact that the game in question, between Connecticut and Villanova, was televised, thus making the clip of Sales getting an uncontested layup at the beginning of the contest available to everyone.

In case you missed it, Sales, a senior, ruptured her Achilles' tendon in a game two weeks ago, essentially ending her collegiate career. However, her coach, Geno Auriemma, arranged a deal with the Villanova coach to allow Sales to score the basket, giving her the all-time school scoring record. Sales was one point short of the record when she was injured.

The fact is that, in our culture, television's spotlight, for good or bad, provides credibility and authenticity, and nowhere does that ring more true than in sports. In our "see it now" mentality, the great accomplishments of the past have become obscured because there were no television cameras around to record them.

In a weird way, the Sales controversy has demonstrated the blessing/curse nature of television exposure. Five years ago, Sales could have done what she did and almost no one would have known about it because, save for the later rounds of the NCAA tournament, the sport just wasn't deemed interesting enough to be shown on television.

But in those five years, thanks, oddly enough to Connecticut's unbeaten march to the 1995 NCAA title, and a wave of attention since, women's basketball has become a growing staple of the winter and now, through the WNBA, summer, television schedule, thereby exposing all its joys and shortcomings.

All this makes you wonder if the Zen-like question, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" might not be replaced someday, on a sports level, by "If an athlete does something significant, and it's not on 'SportsCenter,' did it really happen?"

Expanding waste-line

On most NFL Sundays, it's hard to find 30 minutes of worthwhile material on any of the pre-game shows. That makes it even harder to believe that ESPN is going to expand "NFL Countdown" from its current unnecessarily long 90 minutes to two hours next fall.

That's right. A two-hour NFL pre-game show. Every Sunday. May the saints preserve us.

How does this happen? The answer is actually very simple and two-fold. First, there are rumors that Fox officials are considering expanding its show from 60 to 90 minutes to meet ESPN head-on, though it may have trouble getting their affiliates to clear the extra 30 minutes.

More to the point, thanks to the new television contract, ESPN is on the hook to the NFL for $600 million in rights fees for its Sunday night game every year, and it's going to have to squeeze out every penny it can get in advertising dollars.

So, it created another 30 minutes of pre-game show for advertisers who want a piece of football, but not the more expensive rates charged during a game. That's all well and good, but from a viewer standpoint, is there really enough going on in the NFL to warrant two hours of coverage before the first kickoff, even on an all-sports channel?

Ultimately, you, the viewer, will be the judge of that.

Back on the victory stand

The American Sportscasters Association has tapped NBC's Dick Enberg and Chris Berman of ESPN as the top sportscasters of the year, in the results of voting announced yesterday.

Enberg, the chairman of the board of the ASA, was named top play-by play announcer for a fifth time, while Berman was selected top studio host for the third straight year.

The two men will receive their hardware at the association's annual dinner in New York next month.

Pub Date: 3/05/98

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