College basketball getting a boost from less star power, Packer says

ON MEDIA

April 01, 2005|By RAY FRAGER

HERE ARE some players who won't be at this weekend's Final Four: Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James and Dwight Howard. If they'd gone to college, they would be in their respective junior, sophomore and freshman years. Instead, they're doing their dunking in the NBA.

But who needs them? Not college basketball.

That's essentially what CBS analyst Billy Packer said yesterday.

"When you look at the college game now, it has never been healthier," Packer said during a conference call.

Packer argued that the steady defection of the nation's top high school talent directly to the NBA - as if they keep landing on those lucky spots in Chutes and Ladders that send you to the top - has rid college basketball of a privileged class of prima donnas. Coaches thus don't have to kowtow to teen superstars, he said.

"We're seeing a culture of the college game that rewards team play," Packer said.

Packer calls the national semifinals tomorrow (6 p.m., WJZ/Channel 13 and WUSA/Channel 9) and the final Monday (9 p.m.) with play-by-play man Jim Nantz.

Many years ago, I referred to Nantz as "Vanilla Ice" for a too-cool, too-detached, too-dull approach. Those years are long gone, and his call often helps save the telecasts from Packer's pedantic approach, especially when he engages Packer in a debate over some point of court proceedings.

Though the Final Four has yet to reach Super Bowlesque status, CBS has extended its related programming to four hours before the first game telecast. At 2 p.m., the network has a one-hour show on the college game's 25 greatest players. At 3 p.m., Outside the Games examines the new NCAA Academic Performance Rate standards and host Armen Keteyian interviews NCAA president Myles Brand.

From 3:30 to 6, The Final Four Show sets up the Illinois-Louisville and North Carolina-Michigan State games with the CBS studio crew of Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis. Among the planned features are pieces on the bond between Louisville's Taquan Dean and Francisco Garcia and Illinois' stirring comeback victory over Arizona in the regional final.

While praising the college game, Packer joined the chorus of media criticism for the NBA, saying the league had no feel for improving how the sport is played, only for its marketing. He also suggested one rather major rule change for the pros: switch from five-on-five to four-on-four. ...

Here's one other person you won't be seeing at the Final Four: Scott May. The former Indiana All-American, father of North Carolina's Sean May, asked the network not to show him because he felt it would take attention away from his son. "If anybody makes a request, we'd be silly not to honor the request," CBS Sports president Sean McManus said. So maybe we'll have to make do with shots of coaches' wives and noted Illini fan Bill Murray.

The women's Final Four airs Sunday at 7 p.m. on ESPN and the title game Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. Mike Patrick and Ann Meyers announce the game, joined by studio talkers Rece Davis, Lisa Leslie and Stacey Dales-Schuman.

Sorry for you Matt Riley fans, but at least all of your favorite television announcers are returning as the Orioles open their season Monday. Jim Hunter and Fred Manfra call play-by-play, and Buck Martinez and Jim Palmer wax analytic on WJZ, WNUV/Channel 54 and Comcast SportsNet.

On Monday, WJZ's coverage begins with a pre-game show at 2 p.m., with - are you noticing a theme here? - all of your favorite Channel 13 news personalities. That includes Mike Perry up in a helicopter. Just in case somebody hits a really high fly ball, I guess. Pre-game programming includes pieces on Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro. ...

ESPN starts the season Sunday night at 8 with the major league opener between a couple of teams you just may see a few times this season, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Jon Miller and Joe Morgan begin their 16th season together in the booth.

From a strictly business and ratings standpoint, it would be hard to mount an argument against WBAL's decision not to air Monday afternoon's coverage of The Players Championship golf from NBC. After all, Channel 11 was certain to draw bigger audiences for Dr. Phil, Oprah and, most significantly, its local news.

But more than 90 percent of NBC's affiliates decided to show the golf. Surely, a lot of them - maybe the overwhelming majority of them - would have picked up better ratings and more ad dollars with their regularly scheduled programming.

So maybe those other stations just figured it was the right thing to do.

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