With cable scoring KO's, nets may come off ropes


Don't be surprised if, after years of outright neglect, the networks jump back into covering boxing with both feet. If and when it happens, they will have cable to thank for first sustaining then moving to return the popularity of the sweet science.

For example, USA Network, with its "Tuesday Night Fights" series, which will be on 45 weeks in 1993, has gone head-to-head with NBA basketball on TNT six times lately, and it has been no contest. While the boxers have been averaging a 2.5 rating, the NBA has run up a 1.9, a 32 percent disparity.

At the same time, ESPN is beginning to score with its Sunday night shows, and premium channels Home Box Office and Showtime aren't complaining about responses to their shows. Tomorrow night (10), HBO will do very well with its card featuring George Foreman (71-3) taking on Pierre Coetzer (39-4) and Tommy Morrison (33-1) opposing Carl "The Truth" Williams (25-5).

On the wings of a USA card Tuesday, during which Buddy McGirt successfully defended his WBC welterweight title against Genaro Leon and gained a 2.5 rating, ESPN moves in with a couple of heavyweight names -- Tony Tubbs (32-4) vs. Tyrell Biggs (25-5) -- Sunday (9 p.m.). Chances are the fight will be a yawn, but the big guys always translate to an increased audience.

* NBC gets to go first Sunday with its AFC championship game pitting Miami and Buffalo, Bob Costas & Friends getting things started with "NFL Live" at noon. It's a worthy pairing leading up to the NFC title matchup on CBS between San Francisco and Dallas, which figures to do a dynamite number.

Of course, the so-called No. 1 announcing teams of Dick Enberg and Bob Trumpy and Pat Summerall and John Madden get to call the action and, if that's not bad enough, both nets will have folks down on the field and outside the dressing rooms providing gems of inside information. Now down to the sidelines where O.J. Simpson will lead a cheer for the Buffalo Bills: "Gimme a B. . . ."

* Don't misunderstand, Dick Vitale is a wonderful fellow: Lively, interesting, knowledgeable, fun to be around. That is until a basketball game starts and he is asked to provide analysis.

During a classic contest between Indiana and Michigan the other night, won by the former, 76-75, Vitale provided no insight as to why Indy, the underdog, led nearly throughout. Instead, it was his usual touting of a favorite player or two as if he's in the bidding to be their agent.

Late in the game and with Michigan closing fast and, at one point, taking the lead, Vitale screeched four times in a 15-second time period, "Get a timeout, Bobby babeee," in the direction of Indiana coach Bob Knight. It was vintage Vitale, which translated means it had little to do with the conduct of the game.

Good thing Jim Valvano was aboard in the studio to provide some calm and insight. The game got the best rating ESPN has had in a couple of years, and deservedly so. It was hoops as it was meant to be played, not the slapping, hacking, complaining, showboating, rolling on the floor, baiting the referees mish-mash we see too often these days.

* The tube provides a decathlon and more this weekend, no fewer than a dozen sports being featured, including sled-dog and swamp buggy racing.

The true Renaissance man might go with Katarina Witt and Scott Hamilton performing in "Champions on Ice" on USA Network tomorrow (11 a.m.), followed by the college soccer championship game at 2 p.m. on Channel 9, followed by World Cup skiing on TNT at 5 p.m. and capped by the third round of Hawaiian Open golf at 8 p.m. on TBS.

The conventional fan can load up on college hoops with either George Washington vs. Massachusetts (Channel 20) or Auburn-South Carolina (ESPN) at noon, Georgetown-Villanova at 1 p.m. (Channel 5) and North Carolina-Clemson at 1:30 p.m. on Channels 2 and 7. That's just the first wave of games, N.C. State taking on Florida State at 4 p.m. on Channels 2 and 7 and Billy Packer's CBS game, Duke vs. Iowa, at the same time. Kansas and Louisville collide on ESPN at 7:30 p.m.

By the way, is it possible to tire of watching one team's games week after week? We'll find out before spring because 20 of Duke's games will be on nationally and, in this region, two or three more, not counting the ACC tournament.

Physical types have college all-star football games in the form of the Senior Bowl at 2 p.m. on ESPN and the Hula Bowl at 3 p.m. Channel 4. Then, at 10 p.m. on HBO, Foreman swaps punches with Coetzer, a rough and ready South African who could give Big George trouble for a while. That's before the NFL conference title games Sunday, of course.

Oh, the sled-dog racing is on Wide World of Alaska Sports on ESPN at 6 a.m. (no misprint) Sunday.

* Rookie ESPN hoops analyst Kareem Abdul-Jabbar already has proven he has a good grasp of his new calling by telling USA Today: "There are times when you can help people understand [what's going on in a game], but other times when talk is totally superfluous." Are you listening, Mr. Vitale?

* Pam Shriver's tennis shindig, staged at the Baltimore Arena Thanksgiving week, can be seen on Home Team Sports at 8 tonight. It will have rugged competition, the Sharks and Red Wings on ESPN at 7:30, the Cavaliers and Pacers at 8 on TNT and the second round of the Hawaiian Open golf tourney (live) on TBS. ESPN has World Cup skiing at 10:30 p.m., and it's the good kind, the downhill.

* Three cheers for ex-Channel 2 staffer John Saunders: The ESPN mainstay has just picked up the anchor desk job for "ABC's Wide World of Sports," and he'll show well moving in behind Frank Gifford.

* Happy 44th birthday, Bobby Grich.

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