Late to the game, ESPN finally steps up women's hoop coverage


Regular ESPN watchers should be noticing stepped-up coverage of women's basketball in recent days, with more scores and highlights of games involving ranked opponents, not to mention a new promotional campaign touting the network's pending coverage of the NCAA tournament.

The promos -- with Joan Jett doing a cover of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" theme and gospel singer Dorothy Norwood belting a revamped version of the Commodores' "Brick House" -- reflect ESPN's bolstered interest in the growing women's game, whose tournament and Final Four the network will carry in March.

It's about time, and while ESPN2 has had a weekly women's game -- and some weeks a doubleheader -- on Fridays since January, the older ESPN has been indifferent to the sport for most of the season, with only three live games that did not include the touring national team.

In addition, game highlights, or at least those that didn't include defending champion Connecticut -- less than an hour from ESPN headquarters -- have largely been nonexistent, and it's been easier to get scores for Top 25 games from the CNN Headline News sports ticker than from ESPN.

On one night in January, when Tennessee ran its home-court winning streak to a record 69 games, while Virginia's 61-game home-court streak was coming to an end, neither game got a mention, much less a highlight, on ESPN.

Fairness requires that I mention that I am a voter on the Associated Press' Top 25 poll board, and my interest in the game is higher than that of most people. I also concede that zeal for women's basketball will not soon approach that of men's hoops, if ever.

But the game's popularity does continue to grow, as witnessed by higher attendance and ratings.

In a related development, Pam Ward, who has been analyzing women's basketball telecasts for Home Team Sports and radio broadcasts for WBAL (1090 AM), has been hired to do color for at least one tournament game for ESPN.

Wyche joins NBC

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Sam Wyche has signed a multi-year contract to become a part of NBC's NFL telecast team, beginning next season.

Wyche, once called "wicky-wacky Sam" by an opposing coach, had been rumored to be under consideration by Fox to fill a studio chair left vacant when Jimmy Johnson went back to coaching.

However, Wyche said in a prepared statement that NBC was "the first network to contact me, and has been the most consistently persistent in their desire to have me on board."

It has not been decided whether Wyche, who guided the Cincinnati Bengals to a Super Bowl berth in 1988 during eight seasons there, will replace the departed Joe Montana in the studio or work in the booth.

Strong Daytona finish

CBS' coverage of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 was even more popular than the network hinted, getting a 9.2 rating and 24 share of the national audience when those Nielsen figures were released late last week. The 9.2 rating, culled from all over the United States, was a big boost over the 6.5/16 from the overnight survey, which just grabs numbers from the nation's 33 largest markets.

The rating is the fifth-highest since CBS started carrying the race from flag to flag in 1979.

Heading for an error

There are rumors that Fox is considering adding Tim McCarver as an analyst for its baseball coverage, to which we can only add this word: Don't.

McCarver, who has been a part of the New York Mets broadcast team, as well as ABC and CBS when those networks had baseball, was easily the worst part of ABC's postseason package, with his repetitive drone and silly puns.

He's hardly of the hip, fresh mold the network has looked for in its other sports packages. Supposedly, former Orioles Rick Dempsey and Ken Singleton also are under consideration by Fox. That's nice, but the network could go one better by taking a look at John Lowenstein, who got the boot from HTS.

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