CBS' tournament ratings don't add up to Packer

Media Watch

March 27, 1998|By MILTON KENT

Billy Packer is a very perplexed man these days. Packer, who will work his 24th Final Four this weekend starting with tomorrow's national semifinals (Channels 13, 9, 5: 42 p.m.) from San Antonio, doesn't understand why CBS' ratings for the NCAA men's tournament aren't higher than the 3 percent boost from last year.

Packer said yesterday that he had done some analysis of his own, adding up the ratings from the myriad games on Saturday afternoons across the country and, by his calculations, the cumulative number was an 8.5, almost two rating points higher than the 6.6 that CBS is averaging to date. By Packer's logic, since CBS is the only place to watch the tournament and interest appears to be so high, at least on a surface level, the ratings should be higher.

"Does that mean that all those people who are talking about the tournament, that they don't want to watch? It makes no sense," Packer said.

It certainly isn't that the games are unwatchable. This year's tournament contests, with few exceptions, have made for dramatic television.

So, why aren't more people watching? Maybe it's the way the games are done. We've said it before and we'll say it again: Technically, CBS does a wonderful job of telecasting the games. The pictures and sounds are beautiful, but the passion of college basketball -- its biggest selling point -- is largely absent.

The network sells tradition for a sport that is tradition-less because its principal component, the players, changes so frequently. Jim Nantz is a solid play-by-play man and with the right analyst, he could soar, but Packer isn't that man. He knows the game maybe better than anybody, but he seems unable or unwilling to go beyond a clinical, scholarly approach to a game that is full of excitement when played at its best.

And you can't forget Packer's penchant for saying stupid things at the wrong times, both on the air and off. In his latest ditty, Packer criticized "60 Minutes" last week for running a less-than-complementary piece on the Fresno State program and took a wicked shot at reporter Lesley Stahl.

Perhaps the solution is to go back to Packer's early days on network television and team him with a third man, say Bill Raftery or Clark Kellogg, who will draw on the passion of college basketball, while leaving the X's and O's to Packer.

Dean's list

Former North Carolina coach Dean Smith will play an active role on tomorrow's 1 1/2 -hour pre-game show (Channels 13, 9, 4 p.m.) leading into the Stanford-Kentucky game and in the moments between that game and the Tar Heels-Utah game.

But how much of a role will Smith have played in helping his former team get prepared to play the Utes? After all, he remains on the school's payroll as a consultant, and still has an office next to his successor, Bill Guthridge.

"I'm careful to be very objective, and you can be and must be in the studio," Smith said earlier this week. CBS executive producer Terry Ewert said the network has discussed Smith's relationship with the school and program and has no problem with his ties.

Well, it should. Smith has been saying "we" and "I" throughout the tournament when talking about North Carolina, and while it's perfectly understandable, given how long he has known and trusted Guthridge, that he would give him advice, viewers have the right to know that their analysts at least attempt to avoid obvious conflicts of interest.

From the distaff side

ESPN, in its third year of carrying the women's tournament, will have the Final Four at 7 tonight from Kansas City, Mo., as No. 1 Tennessee tries for a third straight title and a perfect season. Coordinating producer Mo Davenport says that while the Lady Vols, who are unbeaten in 37 games this season, will be the backdrop of the tournament, the all-sports channel will not forget Arkansas, North Carolina State or Louisiana Tech.

"I'm asking our people to make sure we're presenting a coverage that is balanced and fair to all the teams," said Davenport, who went on to say of the Lady Vols, "Clearly, they have a chance to accomplish something special, but we won't cover them at the expense of the other teams."

Analyst Ann Meyers, who will work alongside Mike Patrick, says ESPN ought to step up to the plate with more games, both during the tournament and in the regular season.

"We should know who the top players are in this country. It's because there's not enough exposure out there, not just on TV, but in the media," said Meyers, a four-time All-American at UCLA. "I'd still like to see ESPN do more, as far as highlights. They show some of the games, but then they don't show all the interviews or the features, like they do on the men's tournament. I'm thinking, 'You're the network of the women's game, but we don't have all these little inside stories like the men are getting.' "

Pub Date: 3/27/98

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