NCAA selection process also tough on local TV

WMAR lone local station to get Final 4 credentials

College Basketball

March 30, 2001|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

As far as sports are concerned, the past eight months have been awfully good to WJZ.

WJZ's parent network, CBS, owned the rights to broadcast AFC football, including games of the Baltimore Ravens, and the team's Super Bowl victory, too. Tomorrow in Minneapolis, the Maryland Terrapins will face the Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA men's basketball semifinals - and again the address will be CBS.

Yet the NCAA issued credentials to just one local station to cover the Final Four in Minneapolis: WMAR, Baltimore's ABC affiliate.

The reason? According to officials at all four Baltimore stations, the NCAA sets such demanding requirements that it is exorbitantly expensive for stations to earn the coveted passes.

"In my opinion, they have these antiquated, outdated rules to follow," said Joseph DeFeo, the news director for WBFF. "The NCAA has not been kind about this."

NCAA officials did not return several calls seeking comment.

As explained by local television executives, the rules go like this: To receive permission to cover the Final Four "home team," a local station must have received credentials to cover the overwhelming majority of that team's regular-season games. Then, an employee must appear in person to request passes from the NCAA to cover each round of the tournament.

For Maryland's first-round games in Boise, Idaho, WBFF and WMAR hired stringers to receive those credentials. WBAL assigned the task to an employee of its parent company. WBFF and WBAL did the same thing in Anaheim, Calif., for the West Regional semifinals and final.

But the NCAA said WBFF and WBAL hadn't done enough.

On the other hand, WMAR received the credential after sending sports reporter Keith Mills to Anaheim for the West Regional final between Stanford and Maryland. Jon Stiehm, WMAR's news operations manager, put a five-figure price tag on his station's costs for covering the tournament.

Without the NCAA seal of approval, stations will not be allowed into the Metrodome, the site of the Final Four, although familiar Baltimore faces will crop up in Minnesota. WBFF sports director Bruce Cunningham is expected to file reports from the stadium grounds, as is WJZ sports director John Buren. Buren's colleagues, anchors Sally Thorner and Kai Jackson, will be planted in College Park for their newscasts this evening and tomorrow.

WMAR's Scott Garceau will be the lone Baltimorean reporting from courtside tomorrow.

WBAL decided against sending anyone to Minneapolis, choosing to rely instead on footage from sister stations. Once his channel's credentials were denied, WBAL general manager Bill Fine said he scrapped plans for a full-hour special.

WJZ, which will broadcast extensive CBS coverage of the Final Four, did not even seek to win the credentials. "Basically, we understood those were the rules," said Gail Bending, WJZ's news director. "It's not always practical to send employees across the country to pick them up."

Even WMAR and other affiliates that did get the passes will have limitations on what they can cover. They can tape the open workouts today and capture crowd scenes tomorrow for broadcast after the games. But, according to CBS, all local TV reporters and camera crews must leave the Metrodome 75 minutes before tip-off, and they will not be allowed to return until CBS Sports' broadcast has ended.

The main advantage to WMAR: Garceau can take part in post-game news conferences, and he can beam stories from the basketball court for his newscasts.

CBS's coverage starts at 4 p.m. Saturday with a 90-minute show with hosts Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg and Bill Walton. Among the highlights will be a feature story about Maryland guard Juan Dixon and his upbringing after the deaths of his parents. In addition, announcer Dick Enberg will narrate a tribute to the late Al McGuire, the former Marquette coach.

Jim Nantz and Billy Packer will announce the games.

The Michigan State-Arizona game tips off at 5:42 p.m. tomorrow; the Maryland-Duke game will start 35 minutes after the first game ends.

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