Versus showing that it has versatility

The Baltimore Sun

Celebrating that we got through the summer without any sunburn on our notebook (though the SPF 30 did smear the ink) with the Labor Day weekend edition of sports media notes:

* You might just think of Versus as that channel that carries the NHL, fishing, sports-related movies and other stuff you don't watch, but it is up to 23 college football games this season (four more than last year), starting with tomorrow's New Mexico-Texas Christian matchup at 6 p.m.

Versus also will carry the 125th edition of "The Game," Yale at Harvard on Nov. 22. It's a rivalry so fierce, spectators are required to check their trust funds at the gate.

* If you're looking for college football's best three-man crew, Brad Nessler, Bob Griese and Paul Maguire are calling tomorrow's Southern California-Virginia game at 3:30 p.m. on ABC (channels 2, 7). A reminder for Terps fans who want to watch Maryland's opener against Delaware on TV: U are out of luck unless U somehow receive the lightly available ESPNU.

* Some final ratings numbers from the Beijing Olympics, as reported by Nielsen via NBC: The Games drew 214 million U.S. viewers, making it the most-watched event in American television history, topping the 1996 Atlanta Olympics by 5 million. The rest of the top five are also Olympics - 1994 Lillehammer, 2004 Athens and 1988 Seoul.

The average prime-time rating was 16.2, which is 8 percent more than Athens. Baltimore, buoyed by watching native son Michael Phelps, finished tied for sixth for highest ratings in U.S. markets. WBAL averaged 21.1 percent of the Baltimore audience across the 17 nights of prime-time coverage. The top 10:

Denver 23.1 Baltimore 21.1

Salt Lake City 23.1 Oklahoma City 21.1

Minneapolis 22.1 Nashville, Tenn. 21.0

Indianapolis 21.3 Columbus, Ohio 20.4

San Diego 21.3 Portland, Ore. 20.2

* There's just something about watching the U.S. Open tennis tournament on USA that I hope carries over to ESPN next year. I should call it a je ne sais quoi, which is French for "I dunno," given that I found myself yesterday afternoon transfixed by a women's match between an American I had never heard of and a Frenchwoman I had never heard of.

Watching them and hearing the informed commentary of Bill Macatee and Tracy Austin, I wished I didn't have to break away - especially before I could figure out why the American woman seemed to have a couple of slits cut out in the back of her shirt.

* ESPN hasn't overhauled its playbook by going to live SportsCenters during weekdays, but it showed a few tweaks can mean a better offense.

Wednesday offered a good example. The stories of the Boston Red Sox's acquisition of outfielder Mark Kotsay and the Jacksonville Jaguars' finally getting No. 1 draft pick Derrick Harvey under contract broke in the morning. Under the previous format of repeating the last SportsCenter from the night before, these stories would have been relegated to updates inserted into the show. But with live programs, the news was able to be integrated, making the SportsCenters much more up to date.

* Would you like a show dedicated to how you're getting fired? That's life in the NFL. Tomorrow night at 8 on the NFL Network: Around the League: Roster Cuts.

* Sigh. Back to school means high school football games on ESPN. The network will carry a matchup between two Kansas City, Mo., area schools Sunday at noon. Then on Monday at noon, the Kirk Herbstreit Ohio vs. USA Challenge pits a team from his home state against one from Florida. Lots of blue-chip recruits in action.

And we don't need this. I know the cat is not only out of the bag as far as putting national attention on high school athletes, but the cat also has already clawed the bag into little pieces. It's disappointing to see Herbstreit, whose college football work on ESPN I generally admire, involved in such an enterprise.

* Look for a series of baseball promotional spots soon to highlight postseason telecasts on Fox and TBS. Among those featured are comedians Jeff Foxworthy and Frank Caliendo, American Idol's Randy Jackson and the animated Stewie from Family Guy. The theme is "There's Only One October." (Which is handy to know. After all, in the Jewish calendar, some years have two months of Adar.) Just curious, though. Does Major League Baseball really want to be associated with a cartoon character motivated by thoughts of matricide?

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