17 hours of draft coverage is a lot, but ESPN's prepared to tackle it


April 16, 1999|By MILTON KENT

Not to make this sound like spin for ESPN, but if you catch yourself watching more than, say, an hour of its NFL draft coverage this weekend, you'll really have to marvel at its ability to make the seemingly trivial appear to be essential.

Think about it: The process of selecting college football players for professional football service is decades old, and, on the face of it, not terribly exciting.

"We can't make it what it isn't, and it would be a mistake to try at this point," said anchor Chris Berman. "It's not a liftoff to Mars, though sometimes it's felt like that."

But, over the last 20 years, the self-proclaimed "worldwide leader" has turned the NFL draft into an event, with the kind of "blow-out-the-budget" operation that rivals the intensity of coverage that the all-news cable channels are devoting to the fighting in Kosovo.

"It [preparation time] is three months of hell, but it's a tremendous day of television," said ESPN producer Jay Rothman. "It's an exciting show. The first five minutes are scripted, but after that we fly by the seat of our pants."

Said Berman: "Are we overdoing it? I don't think so. We are more thorough than anyone else who would want to take on this job and you can quote me on that. The minute you lighten up on preparation is the minute you don't have information on someone."

Now, that was network spin of the highest quality, but lovingly delivered by a guy who has been a part of draft coverage since 1981.

And while some, including this writer, might question the propriety of 17 hours of coverage -- just a few hours fewer than the annual Jerry Lewis telethon -- for an ancillary event, it is there if you want it.

The proceedings begin at noon tomorrow from New York on ESPN with Berman flanked by a seeming cast of thousands, including Baltimore's own Mel Kiper Jr. as main draft analyst.

Mike Tirico takes over at 7 p.m. when the scene shifts to ESPN2 for three hours. Then, on Sunday, the fun begins anew at 11 a.m. on ESPN, before moving to ESPN2 at 1 p.m. for the final five hours.

Locally, WJFK (1300 AM), the Ravens' flagship station, will be home to 10 hours of coverage tomorrow, starting at 10 a.m. and originating from both the team's Owings Mills headquarters and from the downtown stadium. The coverage will pick up again Sunday at 11 a.m., wrapped around NASCAR coverage.

Bright lights, big time

It has been years, longer than many in these parts can remember, since the last time it happened, but the Maryland men's basketball team will get a CBS regular-season appearance next season.

The network announced that the Terps' Jan. 9 home meeting with Duke will be nationally televised, as one of nine games involving Atlantic Coast Conference teams on CBS next year, four with Duke.

Are the kids all right?

There are at least a couple of different ways to view Fox Sports Net's announcement that it will co-sponsor and telecast a high school national championship football game, starting in December 2000, as well as a weekly ranking of the top 50 teams across the country.

One way is to worry that big-time commercialism and scandal are about to be introduced to high schools, the last place that sort of stuff ought to be found.

The other way to view this is to ask when Division I-A college football is going to get on board and introduce a playoff system and title game.

Around the dial

The big game on the local men's lacrosse schedule, the annual Johns Hopkins-Maryland scrum, takes place tonight in College Park and Channel 2 has it at 8.

If Sunday's New York Rangers-Pittsburgh Penguins game truly is the swan song for Wayne Gretzky, Fox, in its final regular-season hockey telecast, intends to blow it out.

The network will show the game to 80 percent of the country, and will re-direct lead announcers Mike Emrick and John Davidson to Madison Square Garden, with Sam Rosen being deployed as a reporter. Baltimore will get the Boston-Philadelphia game (Channel 45, 3 p.m.), but the faceoff will be held up so that the country can see the pre-game festivities at MSG.

The NBA menu for the weekend kicks off tonight with TNT's presentation of the Indiana-Philadelphia game at 8 p.m., with Marv Albert and Reggie Theus on duty. Sunday's NBC doubleheader begins with "NBA Showtime" at 2: 30, followed by the Pistons traveling to Orlando, followed by Miami playing host to Indiana.

CNBC interrupts its weekend infomercial schedule Sunday for live coverage of racing from the American LeMans series from Braselton, Ga., starting at 3 p.m.

Pub Date: 4/16/99

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