Aside from split screen, road to Final Four was fast-moving and smooth

If the first few games are any indication, "Road To The Final Four" may indeed be the hit of the anywhere-but-Broadway season. This is heartening, especially since CBS is shoving 35 hours of hoops our way this weekend.

Generally, after all the David vs. Goliath nonsense dies down and the top-rated teams get rolling after usual doddering starts, opening-round pairings have a tendency to resemble intra-squad games. Not the Georgetown, North Carolina, Seton Hall and Arkansas opening acts yesterday.


Even with excessive visits with Professor Kool (Pat O'Brien) and his Brooklyn cabdriver buddy (Mike Francesa) in the studio, and those annoying split-screen intrusions, CBS kept things moving in a manner reminiscent of ESPN in its heyday. No greater compliment exists.

Of course, there were a couple of areas to take issue with: Like Lesley "Congratulations" Visser and her ever-present bits of nothing from behind the bench . . . Dan Bonner and his nervous laugh followed by an Oscar Robertson-like "Wow!"


In less than a half of the Georgetown vs. South Florida debacle, Bill Walton marked himself as a commentator worth listening to when, without reservation, he pointed out a player "is really hurting his team with his lousy shot selection. When you take turnaround jump shots from the baseline, you're really fueling the other team's fastbreak."

Later, after the Hoyas had put their lead in double figures in a fast-paced game, Walton wondered why Georgetown was suddenly slowing things down -- and, in effect, running the risk of the game's becoming just another one of those slow, boring, foul-strewn exercises.

Instead of simply flashing the scores of other games up on the screen so as not to distract anyone wrapped up in the game they were watching, the network attempted a high-tech coup with its split-screen capability.

Fortunately, it paid for its tampering as, during one sequel, cameras showed us a timeout, players just standing around as a kid mopped the floor with a towel and a break in the action for a couple of free throws from the other sub-regional sites.

Oh, easily the most introspective comment of the afternoon was delivered by Bonner at the Seton Hall-Fordham thriller won by the Hall, 78-76. Dan informed partner Mel Proctor, "Fordham's shots are going in the basket and they're a tough team when that happens."

No argument there, Dan, baby.

Same schedule today as yesterday, noon to 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. to unconsciousness (12:30 a.m.). Noon to 9 p.m. and noon to 7 p.m. sessions tomorrow and Sunday carry us through the second round and to the Sweet Sixteen.

That figures out to 35 hours, gang, which would be OK if it wasn't for the fact there's a load of other goodies to sample during the next few days.


Besides the Orioles and Cardinals on Channels 2 and 20 tomorrow (1 p.m.), ESPN has the Pirates and Twins and WOR counters with the Braves and Mets at the same time. Let's see even the most accomplished channel-switcher try to keep three ballgames, hoops and the women's final of Lipton International tennis on ABC going at one time.

* The nip in the air the last few days, not to mention the moisture, reminds us that football must be just over the next hill since the Super Bowl is a faint memory now. Our sentiments exactly, exclaims the NFL, which unveils World League II tomorrow on USA Network (8 p.m.) and Sunday on ABC (1 p.m.).

Hey, the big boys aren't fooling around this trip, assigning 100 of its chattels to spring work release while propping up the operation with an eight-figure bank account. Well, actually, ABC agreeing to show games through 1994 gives hint of where the money is coming from.

For, as we all know, all teams in the NFL are losing their jerseys in these tough economic times. Or at least that's what owners want everybody to believe as they fight off pleas from money-losing networks for relief from their TV rights contracts.

When all is said and done with lost TV revenue, look for the teams to jack up ticket prices and hold firm against any meaningful free agency program for the players.

Also, with an apparent loss of broadcast revenue in their future, the owners are more apt to stop throwing up roadblocks in front of expansion as a means of lining their pockets with hefty expansion fees.


As a service to help the masses familiarize themselves with the WLAF names, the weekend matchups have the Birmingham Fire taking on the Sacramento Surge, the New York/New Jersey Knights (nice name) testing the London Monarchs and the Ohio Glory duking it out with the Orlando Thunder.

* Speaking of dukes, the TVKO (pay-per-view) fight of the month is tonight (9) and it has Tommy Hearns attempting to atone for a shocking knockout loss against Iran Barkley four years ago. Both men have taken too many punches over the years, but Hearns still has no trouble finding incentive: A $1.3 million pay night and a record sixth world title. As for Barkley, he of the two eye operations and other problems, he simply likes to mix it up with someone, anyone.

* The PBA stop on ABC tomorrow is Cleveland (all aboard) . . . The only sport missing on the tube each of the next two afternoons is fencing. Sunday, beginning at 12:30 p.m., sees the World Cross Country Championships (tape) on ESPN, NBA hoops, spring football, two spring training baseball games and figure skating in addition to the NCAA tourney all at the same time. Then, beginning at 4 p.m., golf (men's, women's and seniors) and tennis (men's final of the Lipton) join basketball.