Arizona game gives Coppin State big-time foe, big-time audience


For Arizona, Saturday's basketball game with Coppin State is just another stroll in the television park, another chance for coach Lute Olson and his "ready for prime time" hair to stroll the McKale Center sideline, looking cool before a good chunk of the country.

For the Eagles and their hardscrabble coach, Fang Mitchell, however, Saturday's game is the rarest of rare opportunities, the chance to measure themselves against the best of the best, but with a kicker: a network audience.

"I thought it would be a good thing for college basketball generally to get this game on," said Mike Aresco, vice president of programming for CBS Sports. "Here's Arizona, the defending national champions and they're playing one of the Cinderella stories of last year's [NCAA] tournament, the kinds of teams that rarely get regular-season national television exposure. It's a good mix."

Aresco said the network didn't arrange the matchup, as it frequently does when teams from other conferences or regions want to play. The Wildcats already had Coppin State on their schedule, and as Arizona is a part of the Pac-10, one of the conferences in CBS' stable, the network was entitled to get the game.

What made the contest attractive was the Eagles' ambush of South Carolina in the tournament opener last season and their near conquest of Texas in the second round, not to mention Mitchell's charisma.

"Coppin State is a school that the casual fan has heard about. He may not know where it is, but he's certainly heard of them. Also, by virtue of Fang and his nickname and his flair, our fans and people in general will have a hook to draw them in. We got a lot of smiles from people when we added this game," Aresco said.

Don't look for a lot of Coppins to get this kind of break into the future. CBS has been taking regular-season college basketball ratings hits for a few years now, and bringing a steady diet of teams that few people outside the basketball set know isn't a good way to get healthy.

And while half the country, including the West, parts of the South, the Mid-Atlantic and New England, will start with the game, they'll be switched to the other regional telecast, Clemson-Illinois, if the Coppin-Arizona game gets out of hand.

But for once, Cinderella will get a chance to do some damage before midnight and with a few people watching.

Fore more years

NBC and the U.S. Golf Association yesterday announced a four-year extension to a deal that places the association's marquee events, including the men's U.S. Open, on the network through 2003.

Under the terms of the contract, which began in 1995, NBC also will have exclusive rights to the U.S. Women's Open, the U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Amateur championship and will produce a U.S. Open preview and year in review shows.

Westward expansion

With some significant help from corporate parent Walt Disney, ESPN will break into the business of programming a regional sports channel next October, when ESPN West signs on.

The 24-hour, Home Team Sports-like outlet, will service Southern California, Nevada and Hawaii, armed with games of the Anaheim Angels and Mighty Ducks, which are both either owned or controlled by Disney.

"We've been looking at regional television for a long time and with the Ducks and Angels, now made sense," said George Bodenheimer, ESPN's executive vice president of sales and marketing.

Bodenheimer added that ESPN is looking into other regional channel opportunities, but the company lags far behind the Fox/Liberty alliance, which has locked up a lion's share of the nation's regionals and the rights to the teams that go with them.

When not carrying its own programming, the new channel will also show ESPNEWS, Mexican League baseball and Latin American soccer as well as surfing, biking, extreme sports and fitness programming from other ESPN channels. No decision has been made on how much current ESPN on-air talent will be a part of the new channel.

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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