Color analyst Raftery bright spot for CBS tournament coverage

Media Watch

March 17, 2000|By Milton Kent

It's no secret that sports television is an analyst-driven medium, and no more so than during the NCAA tournament. Sure, the play-by-play man frames the action, but it's the color guy who sets the tone and benevolently dictates how we, the home viewer, will see what we see.

In that regard, there is no more kindly dictator than CBS analyst Bill Raftery, who is working the tournament games from Minneapolis, including tomorrow's second-round action.

A good chunk of what you'll see, outside the vision of producer Bob Mansbach or director Mike Arnold will come from the often off-centered mind of Raftery. For instance, from the game tapes that were sent to him of the eight teams that played Thursday, Raftery earlier this week edited together a tape of the kinds of tendencies and eccentricities that he would be looking for during the games to show to the production team.

"This truly is a team effort," said Raftery earlier this week. "Beyond working these great games, you get enthusiastic about working with these folks. It's the closest thing to a team sport you can have with gray hair. Everybody's got a finger in the pie, and that makes it great."

It helps that Raftery has been working with Mansbach, one of CBS' best producers, for six years. The two have developed a solid rapport that goes a long way during the first tournament weekend, given the network's mandate to give the country as much of a taste for the tournament as possible. Often, an announcer may be in the midst of a good thought, when the word comes down from New York that it's time to pull back and let an audience see the end of a different game.

"He [Mansbach] can say things to me that don't even rattle me," said Raftery. "If he says, `Bill, this is what we have to do,' then I don't even worry about it."

Raftery, who formerly coached at Seton Hall, has been a big fan of Maryland coach Gary Williams since Williams was a teen-ager growing up in South Jersey, and likes the job Williams has done with this year's team.

"It's been a typical Gary Williams year. He's gotten the maximum out of a team that didn't have a lot of expectations, what with Steve Francis and the rest leaving. I'm not sure how far they'll go, but I know that they will play hard and Gary will get the best out of them," said Raftery.

Knight fall

Hope someone makes good whine out of the sour grapes that are coming out of ESPN and Fox over CNN/SI's reporting of allegations against Indiana men's basketball coach Bob Knight this week. Keith Olbermann, for instance, from the Fox Web site, said the story, which took a year to report, had "cheap shot written all over it." Gosh, you don't suppose that if either Fox or ESPN had former Indiana players on camera talking about the excesses of Knight that they would run it, no matter when those things were alleged to have happened, not to mention leading into the NCAA tournament, do you?

Speaking of Knight, the new "Real Sports" show includes a Frank Deford chat with l'enfant terrible and his wife and son, as well as a Jim Lampley profile on former Indiana player Luke Recker, who transferred to Arizona, then to Iowa, where he'll play for former Hoosier Steve Alford. The show premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on HBO.

To mike or not to mike

It's hard to know who has come off the worst in this whole flap about placing microphones on NBA coaches for nationally televised games, the coaches who are shirking their responsibility to help promote the game or the self-righteous sportswriters and commentators who have criticized the league, NBC and Turner Sports.

NBA Commissioner David Stern, who compromised this week by allowing the option of bringing a boom mike into team huddles, gets a little of the blame for this on two fronts. He should have done a better job of introducing the possibility to start, and then he should have stuck to his guns in insisting that the coaches wear the clip mikes, at risk of a $100,000 fine.

All Stern -- who initiated the policy, not the networks -- wanted to do was give the home viewers and Internet users a taste of what fans who sit behind the benches and sportswriters who sit at press row hear.

Instead, he backed down to the whining coaches, who are all too willing to take their cut of the $2.5 billion that NBC and Turner are paying the league in rights fees, without giving anything back. It seems as though they took their cue from recalcitrant baseball players, coaches and managers who have repeatedly blocked Fox and ESPN from using their catcher-cams and microphones.

The most distressing aspect of this flap is the blind support of many sportswriters, the very people who ought to be in favor of total access. Instead, many of them appeared to let their loathing of television get in the way of a common sense issue.

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