Channel 11 passes on NCAA pairings show


You're in good company, Baltimore. With Savannah, Ga.; Burlington, Vt.; and Fargo, N.D.

Only four CBS affiliates in the country are pre-empting the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament selection show for local programming -- those three cities and Baltimore's Channel 11.

So, come tomorrow at 6:30 p.m., you can turn your antenna toward Washington, because D.C.'s Channel 9 will carry the selection program. And then there's always ESPN for cable viewers. Viewers in Savannah, Burlington and Fargo may not have such options. But they don't have a local team headed for the tournament.

"It comes down to: 'Are you having a local newscast, or are you going to carry the pairings?' " Emerson Coleman, Channel 11 programming director, said yesterday. "It would be inappropriate not to have a local newscast. Our responsibility as a public trustee is to show the news."

Other public trustees have made different decisions. Channel 9, for example, is pre-empting the network news for its local newscast.

WBAL will carry network news at 6, which follows an afternoon of college basketball on the station. Then Channel 11 goes into its newscast when most of the country's CBS affiliates -- with the additional exceptions of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tucson, Ariz., which are telecasting a Pacific-10 game -- are showing everyone's favorite bracket. (Los Angeles has the selection program on tape delay.) Coleman said Channel 11 will broadcast tournament information, especially trying to get Towson State's assignment nearly as soon as it's announced.

"We'll incorporate that information into our news show," Coleman said.

"We're going to edit a version and show it on the local news," Channel 11 sports anchor Vince Bagli said.

But that's not enough for some people. Such as the Towson State basketball team. The East Coast Conference champion Tigers are having a selection party tomorrow at the university student union, planned around watching the selec

tions unfold on CBS. The party has been pooped.

The school considered installing an antenna at the student union so Channel 9 could be received and the Tigers and their supporters could see where and against whom they're headed. However, the antenna would have been too expensive, Towson State spokesman Dan O'Connell said.

"We understand their [WBAL's] problems, but it kind of really takes an edge off it. I think it's a pretty sad thing," said O'Connell, who added the Tigers may learn their fate first via a phone call from a fan watching the D.C. station at home.

Sure, the Tigers and the rest of us could settle for the truncated version of the selections on Channel 11. But it's just not the same. Although nothing more than a list of schools and sites, the revelation of the NCAA bracket has a certain drama to it, foreshadowing tight game finishes ahead in 60-plus hours of tournament coverage.

Avid college basketball fans -- and CBS must have believed there were enough to warrant a $1 billion rights fee to the NCAA -- love the uncovering of the pairings. It's the first veil dropping in the seven-veil dance that is the tournament. Channel 11's programming choice, by contrast, is a cold shower.

Coleman said Channel 11 has no plans to pre-empt any network game coverage in the coming weeks, and even a dribbling hoopaholic must acknowledge the importance of newscasts. Though no one can predict what news will break tomorrow, couldn't WBAL just go with its local show at 6 p.m., as Channel 9 is?

Bagli said WBAL will carry information on the entire NCAA bracket, with the sports segment of the news expanded "enough to accommodate this thing comfortably."

Enough for fans to fill in all their blank brackets? Better crank up that VCR, folks, and work over the "still pause" button if you expect to keep up.

There are even more options:

* Watch Channel 9 either through your antenna or cable system.

* Watch ESPN for the same kind of bracket featured on CBS, though it will be delayed somewhat.

* Watch Channel 11 and concentrate on finding just a few teams you're interested in.

* Watch Channel 11, but first hire a personal secretary extremely proficient in shorthand to fill out your bracket.

* Wait until the expanded late Sunday night sportscasts for your information.

* Go to sleep early, then wake as soon as the morning newspaper hits your driveway. Read the bracket contained therein.

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