Women banking on big names to pull the load in tournament


While teams like Princeton, College of Charleston and Drexel wreak havoc on the men's NCAA tournament office pool sheets, they can do wonders for the networks who run the Cinderella themes ad nauseam.

That's not true for television coverage of the women's tournament. For ESPN, which opens its second year of exclusive telecasts, the bigger and the more familiar the teams, the better.

"For the women's game, it's still the traditional teams that sell. Last year, San Francisco was the lowest seed, a No. 12, to get to the Round of 16. I don't know if we're at the point yet where a Cinderella team can get through to the Final Four and it's going to draw that much interest. So, selfishly, we like the big-name schools," said studio anchor Robin Roberts.

In particular, ESPN hopes to ride the waves with top-ranked and unbeaten Connecticut as hard and as often as possible. Throughout the year, the Bristol, Conn.-based network has been Husky Central, with lots of UConn references and features during "SportsCenter" and the handful of regular-season ESPN games.

Two former Huskies will serve as analysts during the tournament, one on the court, and the other, former Olympian Rebecca Lobo, the heroine of the 1995 championship team, in the studio.

"With Connecticut being undefeated, much like they were in 1995, there's a lot of national interest in that team. Can they go undefeated for the second time in three years? Connecticut or Tennessee coming out of the Midwest, either one of them making the Final Four, is great for us. They have tradition, they have a following. That's an easy game for us to put on," said Roberts.

Before that potential Midwest Regional final can take place, ESPN and ESPN2 will team up this weekend for 11 first- and second-round telecasts, leading off with Maryland, the ninth seed in the Mideast, meeting No. 8 seed Purdue at 6 tonight on ESPN2, followed at midnight by Colorado-Marshall joined in progress.

Futbol, anyone?

Because the United States automatically qualified for the 1994 World Cup by virtue of its host status, Americans missed out on the sense of drama that comes with qualifying matches, or so says ABC soccer analyst Seamus Malin.

The United States has made it through one round of qualifying and plays one of nine remaining matches Sunday against Canada at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif. (Channel 2, 2: 30 p.m.), and Malin says viewers should expect a ferocious game, even if there is still a year to go before the Cup finals in France.

"We had none of that kind of baptism of fire, and our introduction to the highest level of the game was actually in the World Cup finals themselves in 1994," said Malin. "Now, we've got to go through the rigors of making it and living up to the achievements of the '94 team, which advanced to the next round, which a U.S. team had never done, and surpass those achievements. Now, xTC the expectation level is higher, and that's going to be the big challenge for this team."

Around the dial

There'll be more thoughts on CBS's NCAA tournament coverage in this space next week, but here's hoping that for today's five-game telecast, which signs on about 12: 10 p.m. with Clemson-Miami (Ohio) coming at 12: 25, Channel 13 will drop those intrusive graphics telling us which soap operas we're missing, or at least cut back on them.

Local viewers will get a form of bonus tournament coverage with both the Coppin State-South Carolina game and the Navy-Utah matchup airing in their entireties, meaning that even if the games become blowouts, CBS must stay with them until their conclusions. Wake Forest-St. Mary's and Duke-Murray State serve as the nightcaps today.

After Sunday's soccer match, ABC will air another of those "Passion to Play" specials that chronicle women's efforts to achieve and succeed in sports (Channel 2, 5 p.m.) The latest program looks at the grooming of figure skater Tara Lipinski, go-cart driver Danica Patrick and tennis player Anna Kournikova.

On the documentary front, HBO unveils "Sports on the Silver Screen," with a look at sports-oriented films Sunday at 8 p.m., and NBC explores the careers of basketball greats Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell in "Giants of the Game," airing after the Houston Rockets-Miami Heat NBA game on Channel 11.

Finally, the Orioles continue exhibition play from Florida with televised games today and tomorrow at 1 p.m. on Home Team Sports. WBAL (1090 AM) will carry tomorrow's game.

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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