ESPN upset with sign-off by Simms


The announcement that Phil Simms was leaving ESPN for NBC seemed so harmless the other day, but in the wacky world of sports television, nothing is ever as it seems.

Simms' defection for a three-year, reported $1.2 million deal with NBC, which includes an NFL analyst's slot and a role in the network's Olympic coverage next summer, has made the folks at ESPN more than a little angry.

You see, ESPN thought it had locked up Simms to a two-year deal last July, when he joined the network as an "NFL GameDay" analyst. Mike Soltys, an ESPN spokesman, said the network sent Simms' agent, David Fishof, a contract Nov. 18. Soltys said Fishof told the network that the signing was "a technicality."

When Simms, a former Super Bowl MVP with the New York Giants, pondered a return to the NFL with the Cleveland Browns earlier this month, Soltys said Fishof told ESPN that the former quarterback would work for the Browns or ESPN next year.

Trouble was, Simms never signed an ESPN contract, a fact that Fishof was quick to note in a three-paragraph statement issued yesterday.

"Many significant issues could not be resolved throughout the year, and, therefore, Phil and ESPN never executed any agreement," said Fishof's statement.

Soltys said that ESPN is "analyzing its options" regarding its contract with Simms, but that, under the circumstances, it would be difficult for Simms to work at ESPN. Simms, who appeared on a national teleconference, seemed hurt by the swift and furious reaction from ESPN.

"I'm sorry it had to come to this," said Simms. "I hope it can be worked out in the next few days."

That's our hope, too. After all, we just want to see everyone happy.

The regional roundup

Here's a look at the announcer pairings for this weekend's NCAA tournament broadcasts on CBS:

The Thursday and Saturday locations will have Sean McDonough and Bill Raftery manning the Southeast Regional, with Bob Lobel as on-site reporter. Tim Ryan and Al McGuire will call the action in the West, with Michele Tafoya as reporter.

Baltimore viewers will see Maryland's semifinal meeting with Connecticut at about 10:35 p.m., preceded by North Carolina-Georgetown from the Southeast at 7:45 (Channel 13).

On Friday and Sunday, Verne Lundquist and Quinn Buckner are the voices at the East Regional, with Andrea Joyce reporting.

Local viewers will see the Wake Forest-Oklahoma State game from there, followed by the Kansas-Virginia game out of the Midwest Regional, with Jim Nantz and Billy Packer on the call.

The Air is up there

Those are actual cheers and huzzahs you hear coming from 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York, as NBC officials dance a jig over the return of Michael Jordan to the NBA.

Sunday's Chicago-Indiana game did a 13.4 rating in the national Nielsen overnight sample of 32 markets across the country. When the numbers from all the nation's markets are tabulated later this week, it should surpass the 9.0 rating for Christmas Day 1993 between Chicago and Orlando as NBC's highest-rated regular-season NBA game.

By the way, the Bulls are slated for three regular-season appearances on NBC, which has eight more telecasts to go before the playoffs. In fairness, though, the Chicago games had been scheduled before Jordan ended his dalliance with baseball, but the attractiveness of those games certainly has leaped with his return.

Moving to the big office

Home Team Sports announced late last week that chief programmer Jody Shapiro has taken over as vice president and general manager of the Bethesda-based regional sports cable channel, succeeding Bill Aber, who will take over as GM of WBZ-TV in Boston, which, like HTS, is owned by Group W.

Shapiro, who came to HTS in 1984 after eight years with Major League Baseball Productions, has been behind some of the most innovative programming and production techniques in the business, which have earned the network sports Emmys for its coverage of the Orioles and of Washington Capitals hockey.

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