As for its tournament rooting interest, CBS pulling for nationwide blizzard

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Remember that song John Denver croaked several years back, the one about sunshine on his shoulders? If Len DeLuca, CBS Sports vice president for program planning, decided to redo it -- though, geez, how can you improve on a classic? -- the song might go like this:

Storm clouds out my window make me happy.

Snow showers in the forecast make me smile.

Bad weather on the weekend means big ratings.

Let's all do a rain dance for the Eye.

DeLuca admitted it was a bit perverse, but, as he looked outside his New Jersey home Wednesday night, he was delighted to see the snow blowing. Hoping for poor conditions, he said, is part of a network programmer's life. And, at this time of year, DeLuca would hate for his hours of work and those of his colleagues to be wiped out in a blaze of sunshine.

DeLuca is one of the people in charge of setting times for NCAA basketball tournament games and deciding which affiliate gets what game. After the bracket was announced Sunday night, CBS officials went to work on tip-off times. On Monday, they were submitted to the NCAA, some adjustments were made, and DeLuca could get around to praying for a nationwide blizzard.

"The goal is to maximize prime time," DeLuca said, referring to setting times that put the most attractive matchups on at night.

"You lay it out, and it looks good. But then you say, 'You can't have Oklahoma and Oklahoma State playing at the same time. You can't have Michigan and Michigan State playing at the same time.' "

Various networks -- satellites sending specific games to specific cities -- are set for affiliates, with those schools identified as home teams taking precedence. After that, other factors come into play. Take Baltimore's situation, for example.

One reason Channel 11 carried La Salle-Seton Hall yesterday was that La Salle represents the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, of which Loyola is a member. Another reason was that Seton Hall is a member of the Big East, and Baltimore is considered somewhat of a Big East market. Our city also is an Atlantic Coast Conference market, so why didn't North Carolina-Miami (Ohio) come here? That game was sent to Washington, another ACC market, and, because the Baltimore and D.C. viewing areas overlap, CBS likes to send different games to the two affiliates.

"Baltimore is in that swing area," DeLuca said. "The key is you are in a flexible area."

Last night, Channel 11 and much of the country carried Louisiana State and Brigham Young.

"There are certain times that we sell big names," he said, "and [LSU's] Shaquille O'Neal is a big name. We're setting up an LSU-Indiana game in prime time Saturday night."

Affiliate wishes play a large role, too, DeLuca said. For example, the Louisville, Ky., and Lexington, Ky., stations wanted today's Oklahoma State-Georgia Southern game instead of Cincinnati-Delaware, featuring a team relatively close to the Kentucky cities. No, the affiliates said, we'll pass on Cincinnati. We want to see Eddie Sutton, the former Kentucky coach, leading Oklahoma State. Wish granted, CBS said.

Not all are, though.

"There are some who ask for games because they're being played at arenas in the area," DeLuca said. "So what? We turn those kinds of things down."

There is always the best-laid-plans aspect of all this planning, however.

"All these matchups can go up in smoke," he said. "If Campbell beats Duke, the game starting our Saturday telecast will be Campbell vs. Iowa."

* New York, New York, a wonderful town, but will Francesa ever pipe down?: So, here we go, the last minutes of yesterday's La Salle-Seton Hall game. La Salle has led practically all game, but Seton Hall is making a comeback. All of a sudden, the screen splits into two little boxes.

La Salle-Seton Hall is up in one corner, and North Carolina vs. Miami (Ohio), a one-point game with less than a minute left, is in another. Mel Proctor's voice is replaced by that of Pat O'Brien, back in the CBS studio. And with O'Brien is famous New Yawk talk show host Mike Francesa, who only occasionally sounds as if he could have played one of Melanie Griffith's pals in "Working Girl."

Miami, trailing, is getting ready to inbound the bawl, as Francesa might say. In fact, he might have said it, but I was too busy yelling at him to shut up already, because, on one of those little boxes, Seton Hall finally was going to take the lead. Then CBS switches to Verne Lundquist's play-by-play on Carolina-Miami.

By this time, I've lost track of the La Salle-Seton Hall game, in which a few baskets apparently have been scored. I couldn't tell, because the players are so small. Not wanting to spend the rest of my life frozen in a Clint Eastwood squint (two movie references in three paragraphs; I believe that's a radio-TV column record), I move so close to the set that I get sunburn on my nose. Ah-ha, Seton Hall has taken the lead, and Carolina has stolen the ball.

You can't fault CBS for trying to cover the endings of two tight games. But, with the split screen as used yesterday, it's hard to follow the action unless you make like a 5-year-old watching "Bill and Ted's Back to the Future Adventures with the Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles." Maybe CBS' technique looks great on a big-screen television. But The Sun doesn't see fit to buy me one, and journalistic ethics prohibit me from dropping manufacturers' names (Sony) into (Toshiba) my column (RCA) in (Pioneer) hopes (Magnavox) of getting (Mitsubishi) one free.

As for Francesa, he's best in small doses, and certainly not when there is action in a close game.

*

Come out of that howe, you scwewy wabbit, before I bwast you: It didn't take wong, oops, long for that Energizer bunny to get on my nerves. While watching the last two minutes of the La Salle-Seton Hall game, I must have seen him march across the screen at least eight times. It's enough to make a guy feel just like Elmer Fudd.

*

Juan Bell Fan Club of the air: Stan "The Fan" Charles has returned to the airwaves with nightly shows, 10 p.m.-1 a.m. Monday through Saturday on WCBM (680 AM). Phil Wood has gotten back behind the microphone to join Charles on Thursdays and run the show on his own Saturdays. Wood, however, could latch on with the new all-sports station in Washington, WTEM (570 AM), which goes on the air next month.

Charles, who apparently could fill three hours each night just with calls from his relatives and childhood friends, has been his familiar, opinionated self in the first week. The other night, he branded former Orioles third baseman Craig Worthington "a loser." And Charles continues to dog Bill Ripken and champion Juan Bell. Not put off by Bell's underwhelming showing last season, Charles holds that Ripken's incumbent status at second base is a case of major-league nepotism. Charles' advice to Bell this week: get his last name changed to Ripken.

On Tuesday, Charles should be somewhat more reserved, as he is host to a show on traveling to the new stadium.

*

Sock it to me: Maybe March Madness is more than just a hackneyed phrase. It truly might be a disease. Take the boss' behavior yesterday, for instance.

I entered his office for one of our little heart-to-hearts in which we share ideas -- his usually about my poor performance, mine usually about whether it would help if I waxed his car. Instead, I found him doing play-by-play to himself.

"Last seconds, Boss has the ball [it's one of his endearing little qualities that he refers to himself that way]. He turns, shoots -- arrrrrrrrrhhhhh -- it's good at the buzzer."

The boss had tossed a small black object into a wastebasket he placed on a shelf. When he stepped from behind the desk, I figured out what the object was. He was barefoot. The boss had rolled up his socks to enact buzzer-beaters. I quickly left the office before he decided to throw me an alley-oop.

Things My Boss Wants To Know (NCAA edition): If Pat O'Brien is going to be in a studio with no fireplace, shouldn't he be wearing a sweater? . . . Wasn't it a good career move for Bob Knight to appear in commercials for Domino's Pizza rather than Slim-Fast? . . . Is it true that CBS wanted Digger Phelps to work regional semifinals, but he declined because he was unaccustomed to getting past the second round?

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