CBS' method to March Madness is to get good games, ratings


When the clock strikes noon today and this year's men's NCAA tournament gets going, there will be pressure, to be sure, on each of the 64 coaches and the players who will endure this three weeks of madness.

There will also be a fair amount of pressure on CBS, the network that will bring the insanity into your homes between today's first-round games and the championship on April 1 from the Meadowlands.

This isn't just another group of sports telecasts for CBS, but the very foundation upon which its sports division operates, now that it is shut out of the professional sports biz.

That foundation has endured some cracks with lowered regular-season ratings, and a slide in tournament ratings over the last three seasons from a 9.4 in 1993 to a 7.3 in 1995, and from a 22.7 for the Duke-Michigan final in 1992 to a 19.3 for the Arkansas-UCLA matchup last season the lowest championship game rating in more than 15 years.

Those aren't good signs for a network that needs this tournament to produce in a big way, to promote its flagging prime-time lineup.

From a technical side, CBS plans no new advancements for this year's tournament, which kicks off with Connecticut-Colgate (Ch. 13, 9 at 12: 15 p.m.).

"You won't see any glowing ball or flaming trail," said Rick Gentile, CBS Sports senior vice president for production.

Maybe not, but the network, under Gentile's lead, will apparently move more quickly to get viewers out of potential dog games to other contests, except where there is a compelling local interest, say, for example, a Maryland game here.

A look at the locals

Strictly by the coincidence of seeding and the tournament committee's placement, analyst Dan Bonner will call the games from Tempe, Ariz., that involve teams with local interest, namely Maryland and George Washington.

Bonner, who does ESPN and Raycom games during the regular season, says Maryland, the seventh seed in the West, should dispatch tomorrow's opponent, Santa Clara, the 10th seed, (Channel 13, 2: 38 p.m.)

He also says the Terps have a chance to beat the region's second seed, Kansas, in a second-round matchup Sunday, provided they can engage the Jayhawks in an up-tempo game, and stay away from Kansas' inside power.

"Kansas likes to run up and down, and so if Maryland's going to want to press and Kansas wants to run, if you have a transition game, then Maryland's in that game. If you're going to have a half-court, slug-it-out kind of thing, then I don't think Maryland can win that kind of game with Kansas," said Bonner.

Meanwhile, Bonner says the nation will be intrigued by GW's Kwame Evans and Shawnta Rogers, two Baltimoreans whom he believes could help power the 11th-seeded Colonials to a run to the regionals, or at least past Iowa, the sixth seed, in the first round (Ch. 13, 8 p.m. tomorrow.)

"I think for both the Baltimore kids, if GW plays well against Iowa, I think they could both have games where people could sit up and take notice," said Bonner.

"George Washington is in a position, given their size, and given the experience they have and the fact that they can shoot the ball and their young guys, and all those dang Russians, they could be a team that makes a run in the tournament. Just looking at that bracket, they could do some damage."

From the distaff side

The ESPN networks kick off their coverage of the women's NCAA tournament with a first-round game, pitting Stanford, the West's top seed, against 16th seed Grambling tomorrow night at 12: 30 a.m. on ESPN, and four second-round games Sunday on ESPN2, one of which, namely the 9 p.m. contest, getting analysis from Pam Ward of WBAL (1090 AM).

On Sunday (Channel 2, 5 p.m.), ABC resumes its well-received "Passion to Play" series, with a look at three American skaters Dorothy Hamill, Nancy Kerrigan and Kristi Yamaguchi.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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