CBS has fan singing tournament blues

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament is on CBS exclusively this year, leaving sports viewers with just the memories of ESPN's full-court coverage. It's enough to make a guy misty. Or break into song (with apologies to the Beatles):

Yesterday, it was so fun to watch NCAA.

The games just went on and on all day.

2& Oh, I'll sure miss that other way.

Suddenly, the tourney's not all that it used to be.

There's a game or two that I won't see.

, No more ESPN, oh, woe is me.

When the games would switch -- with no hitch --

it was a treat.

I'm sure CBS will try its best,

' but can't compete.

Yesterday, ESPN once had the NCAA,

but 1 billion was too much to pay.

Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Actually, this may be a good thing. Last year, on the opening two days of the tournament, you could sit in front of your television at noon and watch games for the next 12 to 13 hours.

Even in a blowout, you didn't dare move from the set very long -- say, to make sure the children weren't entering their Impressionist phase with crayons on the bedroom walls. No, if you got up, ESPN just might leave Knoxville, Tenn., and go to Richmond, Va., where there were 10 seconds left in a one-point game.

No such problem this year. CBS (channels 11 and 9) comes on at noon Thursday and Friday for first-round coverage, then stops at about 5. The games return at 8 p.m. and run until about 12:30 a.m.

Is this a better deal for college basketball fans? The knee-jerk answer is no. ESPN was on longer and showed more games.

But lock that knee back in place. Consider the bigger picture.

About 60 percent of the country receives ESPN. About 99 percent of the country receives CBS. ESPN viewers saw six games (and parts of others) on the first day of the tournament last year. CBS viewers saw one, a late-night telecast that began at 11:30.

Think of it this way: You can show all of the games to some of the people all of the time, or you can show some of the games to all of the people some of the time.

Those who enjoyed whip-arounds to exciting finishes on ESPN shouldn't worry either. With start times staggered this year, games are designed to end almost in shifts, giving CBS many opportunities to catch last-gasp baskets.

CBS is making much of the fact that it will produce a telecast of every tournament game, whereas ESPN drew on NCAA Productions for two-thirds of the games. That's not the point, though. When being inundated with basket after basket, Joe Viewer isn't necessarily scrutinizing production values.

Though it would be nice for CBS to turn over 12 hours to college basketball instead of 9 1/2 , a reasonable person can't very well expect network affiliates -- whose late news already is being pushed back to the wee hours -- to give up so much local programming, including their 6p.m. newscasts.

So, though the cabled among us may wail at the lost dunks, the NCAA tournament is an example of sports television actually moving toward a broader audience. And, in an era when pay-per-view looms menacingly behind your picture tube, that is something to applaud.

* CBS has the Big East final Sunday at 12:15 p.m., followed by the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. ABC (channels 13, 7) is carrying Iowa-Ohio State (the Buckeyes can win the Big Ten title outright) Sunday at 2 p.m., followed by the Southeastern Conference title game. On ESPN tomorrow, there are four championship games, starting at 11:30 a.m., then two more Sunday starting at 12:30 p.m. . . . ESPN will have an NCAA tournament special Sunday at 6:30 p.m., featuring John Saunders, Dick Vitale, Jim Valvano and Bill Cosby. That's right, Cosby. Seems that Cosby, a Temple alumnus, called from Las Vegas Tuesday after Valvano, a Rutgers grad, said that the Scarlet Knights deserved an NCAA bid over the Owls. Cosby is scheduled to call in again Sunday after the NCAA makes its picks.

*

So there you are, just sitting and watching college basketball's season wind down on ESPN. Of course, one part of ESPN's season never winds down.

It's Dick Vitale, the Timex of sportscasting -- he takes a licking (from the critics), but keeps on ticking.

You've heard it before: "Uh-oh, here it comes, here it comes, here it comes, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh [or was it 'oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh'?]. That's awesome, bay-bee, with a capital A. A 360. A monstuh jam. Are ya kiddin' me? Are ya kiddin' me? Are ya kiddin' me?"

Or words to that effect. Even if Vitale didn't utter all those things, say, during Wednesday night's Florida A&M-Northeast; Louisiana game, he said them at some point this season, possibly in that sequence.

So, as we head into a Vitale-less (pronounced Vitalis? Rub that one in, bay-bee!) NCAA tournament on CBS, consider how Mr. Enthusiasm could take on How about boxing? "We're in the 10th round,and the Razorman. Razor Ruddock, is way behind. He can't beat Mike Tyson on a decision. Ruddock needs a trifecter. Get a KO, Razor, get a KO...But,uh-oh,it's the Ironman,Mike Tyson,with the right hand,and it's all ovuh, its all ovuh,it's all ovuh." Or in Peter Jennings anchor chair..."It's the General, H. Norman Schwarzkopf. He's got those aircraft carriers. Better get a TO, Saddam."

NCAA on CBS

The NCAA basketball tournament programming schedule on CBS (channels 11, 9):

* Sunday, 6:30-7 p.m.: Tournament selection show.

* Thursday, noon-5 p.m., 8 p.m.-12:30 a.m.: Two first-round doubleheaders.

* March 15, noon-5 p.m., 8 p.m.-12:30 a.m.: Two first-round doubleheaders.

* March 16, noon-9 p.m.: Second-round quadrupleheader.

* March 17, noon-7 p.m.: Second-round tripleheader.

* March 21, 8 p.m.-12:30 a.m.: Regional semifinal doubleheader.

* March 22, 8 p.m.-12:30 a.m.: Regional semifinal doubleheader.

* March 23, 4-9 p.m.: Regional final doubleheader.

* March 24, 1-6 p.m.: Regional final doubleheader.

* March 30, 5-10 p.m.: National semifinal doubleheader.

* April 1, 8:30-conclusion: National championship.

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