Channel 2 banks on 'Battle' to strengthen presence


Since he took over as Channel 2's general manager a year ago, Steve Gillotti has been looking for events that would strengthen the station's presence in the community. The trouble was, many of the biggest events like Artscape, the Afram festival and the Preakness were already taken.

So Gillotti went back to his Philadelphia roots, remembering the passion that city's Big Five college basketball teams inspired, and decided to bring this area's five Division I teams (Coppin State, Towson, Morgan State, Loyola and UMBC) together.

"We don't have a sports franchise here, and that was very much a part of our past. I felt we needed to re-create something that is rooted in the part of the community that we used to touch," Gillotti said. "I can't compete with the Orioles because, well, the Orioles are the Orioles, and they're a part of the fabric of the community, and the Ravens belong to the NBC affiliate (Channel 11). After these two things, where do you go? I figured, let's see if we can find another way."

Gillotti invited the athletic directors of the schools to the station last spring, and from that meeting came the "Battle of Baltimore Basketball Classic," with Loyola, Towson, UMBC and Morgan State meeting next Nov. 19 in a tournament with the final played two nights later. As members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Morgan State and Coppin State aren't permitted to play each other beyond their two yearly meetings, so each will participate in alternate years.

The general manager acknowledged that the athletic directors feared if the tournament didn't pay off in a way the station envisioned -- namely in the ratings -- that they would be dropped like the proverbial hot potato. That's why Gillotti took a couple of bold steps, or at least they seem bold by current television standards.

First, he guaranteed the station's commitment to the tournament for four years, while also agreeing to carve out a piece of prime time during the November sweeps, one of the four juiciest months on the programming calendar, to prove the station's strong interest in the schools and the tournament's concept.

"They [the ADs] told me: 'We're afraid. Every time we go down this road, when it doesn't work out, the TV stations drop us,' " Gillotti said. "I told them: 'If you're willing to make a deal for four years, I'm willing to invest prime-time hours to you, but it will take all of us to work on it and make it work.' They were really enthusiastic after that. And so am I. We may not get big ratings, but I don't care. I want it to grow and I think it has potential."

The station will take a similar gamble Monday when it televises the Towson-Michigan men's basketball game at 7 p.m. If there's any justice, its leap of faith should be rewarded handsomely.

Expansive coverage

Find out firsthand which Orioles will become members of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays or Arizona Diamondbacks today, as ESPN presents coverage of Major League Baseball's expansion draft on television and radio.

ESPN will lead off at 4 p.m. with two hours of coverage, featuring Karl Ravech as anchor, analysis from a team of experts including Joe Morgan, Dave Campbell and Peter Gammons, and on-site reports from Jimmy Roberts and Bob Carpenter in Phoenix and Bonnie Bernstein in Tampa, Fla. The group will shift to ESPN2 at 7 p.m. for four more hours.

ESPN Radio begins its five years of baseball broadcasts with periodic reports from Todd Wright, airing on WBAL (1090 AM).

The winner's circle

This year's CableAce Awards, the cable industry's version of the Emmys, were handed out in Los Angeles over the weekend, and the list of sports winners yielded some surprises.

For instance, CNN/SI's Leigh Montville captured the Ace for best analyst, beating out such heavyweights as Morgan and Dick Vitale, and the Golf Channel's "Golf Central," was selected best sports news series over "SportsCenter."

ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" was selected best sports events series, and "Outside the Lines" was named outstanding sports information series, beating HBO's heavily honored "Real Sports." "SportsCenter" anchor Dan Patrick was chosen best sports host, his first win in eight nominations. Mike Emrick was tapped as best play-by-play announcer for his call of New Jersey Devils games.

Can't win 'em all

It has been awhile since "Real Sports," which premieres tonight at 10, hasn't bowled us over, but the new episode of the critically acclaimed series is a bit flat.

It's not that the pieces that were made available to critics were bad, but the show has set such high standards that anything that doesn't reach them seems pale by comparison.

For example, Mary Carillo's profile of Detroit Pistons superstar Grant Hill is rather superficial. The most we learn from the piece is that Hill isn't a particularly good singer or dancer, and that he once got his automobile privileges revoked because he didn't pick up his father, Calvin, at the airport.

Likewise, a well-intentioned examination of the rise of black sports agents does little more than present people on both sides of the matter and let them have at each other, adding little in the way of nuance or insight.

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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