CBS holding its breath on Smith, too

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In 1978, Len DeLuca helped Gary Williams close on his home in Boston when DeLuca was a Boston attorney and Williams was a Boston College assistant leaving for his first head coaching job at American.

Eighteen years later, DeLuca, now the vice president of programming for CBS Sports, is waiting, like Williams, to find out if super sophomore Joe Smith will be returning to Maryland next season, but for entirely different reasons. Williams is worried about the linchpin of his program, and DeLuca wants to know if he can pencil the Terps into next season's CBS schedule.

The comings and goings of underclassmen is just one of the factors DeLuca must weigh when he and analyst Billy Packer set out to plot CBS' pre-tournament schedule.

The process starts just before the tournament in March, when DeLuca surveys the college landscape for good teams and good players. Then he looks again just after the tournament to see if any new clubs, such as Florida, which surprised everyone north of Gainesville by making the Final Four last year, have burst on the horizon.

"You'd look after the Final Four and then you have the Florida situation and you go, 'Oooh, we'd better get Florida on, because going in, nobody knew who they were.' We almost started our SEC package six months early in Charlotte. We nearly had a Florida-Arkansas final," said DeLuca.

The Final Four and the May date when underclassmen have to decide whether to enter the NBA draft used to close the book on scheduling, but now DeLuca says the "Voshon Lenard factor" has been added to the mix.

He's referring to the Minnesota guard who took advantage of a new NBA/NCAA rule that permits a player who has declared his draft eligibility to return to college if he doesn't like where he's been picked.

The Terps missed the cut for this year's schedule, but fit "heavily" into CBS' intersectional plans for next season, provided, of course, Smith returns for his junior year.

Things will be quite different next season for NCAA basketball on CBS, DeLuca says. For one thing, the network will pick up more of the Southeastern Conference as a part of its new deal with the league, and will lose the Big East tournament semifinals.

As for this season, DeLuca says concerns about lower ratings for CBS' early games are unfounded, because there's still a long time to go in the game.

"It's like a Middle Eastern bazaar marketplace. Everything is on, on all levels. Ultimately, the good news, and there is good news about there being 22 games on a Saturday, is that it's vicarious promotion for CBS, because from March 12 at 6 o'clock until April 3 at 11 o'clock, we're the only game in town," said DeLuca.

Sportscaster du jour

Well, it's sweeps month, when all manner of special series and stunts come out of the closet to spike up the local ratings.

Channel 11 is weighing in with celebrity sportscasters who will fill in for Gerry Sandusky on the 11 p.m. news this week. The list includes former Orioles Ken Singleton and Rick Dempsey on Monday and Tuesday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke on Wednesday, Orioles outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds on Thursday and Orioles broadcaster Jon Miller on Friday.

Notice a theme here?

"It should be fun," said Channel 11 news director David Roberts. "At a time when a lot of the fun has been taken out of the sports section, we think this will be a chance for the viewers to see how good a sports anchor these folks can be. Our competitors are certainly entitled to think that this is a ratings stunt, but this is part of our strategy to build the most compelling sports cast."

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