After going long, college football might come up shorter this year

ON MEDIA

The Kickoff

September 01, 2006

College football brings with it spirit, tradition, thrills and Lee Corso - and fans just can't get enough. (Except maybe when it comes to Corso.)

But this year they're going to get less. That's less as in less action per game with the new rules that will get the clock started sooner on kickoffs and changes of possession. About 15 to 20 fewer plays per game should get the game length closer to three hours rather than 3 1/2 -plus.

Count ESPN analyst Kirk Herb- streit among those who are not thrilled. Why do the games have to be shorter?

"That's the beauty of sports," Herbstreit said in a conference call this week. "[At a game,] I don't watch my watch. I don't care how long it takes.

"Now, the media guys, who have stories to write, they care."

Bob Davie, who joins Herbstreit and play-by-play man Brent Musburger on ABC's Saturday Night Football, put on his coach's cap to register his dislike as well.

"I hate to see snaps taken away from the game. ... Defensive coaches probably like it, and offensive coaches probably hate it," Davie said.

Then, clearly still wearing that coach's cap instead of his television headset, Davie added, "I'd rather see them take away some of halftime or even ... TV timeouts."

Hello, Bob, this is ESPN calling. We hear you're willing to take a pay cut.

Let Dave Brown, an ESPN vice president, speak up for the rule change.

"In this day and age, with all the competition you have for entertainment ... it's better to have shorter games," Brown said.

But not fewer commercials.

Checking the lineup

The Musburger-Herbstreit-Davie team - along with Saturday Night Football itself, billed as the first weekly prime-time college football series on broadcast TV - is just one of the new facets of ESPN/ABC's college football coverage this season.

Some highlights of the other new announcing crews:

Brad Nessler and Bob Griese are joined by Paul Maguire, formerly of ESPN's Sunday night NFL booth.

Mike Patrick, the displaced Sunday night play-by-play voice, teams with Todd Blackledge.

Doug Flutie scrambles into the college football studio on both networks.

Dan Fouts moves from analysis to play-by-play, stuck with Tim Brant.

Ron Franklin, who may not get the credit he deserves for his outstanding play-by-play work, now is teamed with Ed Cunningham.

Corso, Herbstreit and Chris Fowler return for a two-hour College GameDay, which has a new Saturday starting time of 10 a.m.

When you're a Jet ...

Everyone will soon be sick of it - because it will air over and over and over during coverage of the U.S. Open - but, for now, that's a great new Nike commercial with Maria Sharapova. As she heads from her hotel to a match, Sharapova is serenaded by maids, a cabbie, tournament officials and various others, including tennis commentators John and Patrick McEnroe, with West Side Story's "I Feel Pretty." That is, until she whacks a fierce backhand on the first point of her match and all the singing stops.

Waiting for Woods

Remember how I would mention a national rating for some sporting event and then how Baltimore's number almost invariably would be lower? It has been a while, so: CBS got a 5.9 rating for the final round of the Bridgestone Invitational golf, won by Tiger Woods in a playoff. In Baltimore, the coverage drew a 4.4 on WJZ/Channel 13.

However, that number is perhaps explained by WJZ's airing the golf on tape delay after the Orioles-Tampa Bay Devil Rays telecast, which got a strong 5.8.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

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