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NCAA TOURNAMENT / CHAMPIONSHIP GAME | TV-RADIO

And Now for the Viewers, Here's a Break to the Action

March 31, 1998|LARY STEWART

Nice of CBS to throw in a little basketball among all those commercials.

Good game, good announcing, good camera work, but there was just one commercial after another during Monday night's NCAA championship game.

Too bad the stuffed shirts at the NCAA don't think like the stuffed shirts at Augusta National. When CBS televises the Masters in less than two weeks, it will be allowed only four minutes of commercials per hour, and there are only two sponsors.

Monday night, it seemed as though there were at least 15 minutes of commercials an hour, and there were too many sponsors to count. With each break, we got three, four, five spots and usually a CBS promo too.

One big difference between the NCAA tournament and CBS' other marquee event, the Masters: CBS pays about $250 million a year for the rights to the tournament, as compared to about $1 million for the Masters.

Why the big difference? Can you spell G-R-E-E-D?

The NCAA, although it represents amateurs, seeks the big bucks. The Masters people don't care about something as mundane as money.

Not only were all those commercials Monday night a nuisance, but they also affected the game. At one point in the first half, as commentator Billy Packer noted, a TV timeout came just in time to give the Utah players a needed rest.

There was also a TV timeout with 1:35 to play that benefited a tired Utah team, which was still in the game at the time. Jim Nantz called it "an officials' timeout."

We also got the Microsoft Data Bank and the CBS Sportsline Stat of the Game, and Mountain Dew sponsored the graphic with those stubby little computer characters that Packer uses to break down plays.

It's really too bad the commercialization has gone this far. It's been a great tournament for CBS, capped off with another close game with another come-from-behind winner.

"If we can just get another close one," Sean McManus, CBS Sports president, said on the phone from San Antonio earlier Monday.

Well, CBS got what it wanted. Unfortunately, viewers got a commercial-filled telecast that was otherwise fairly clean.

There was a shot of David Caruso, who stars in the CBS show "Michael Hayes," but CBS really didn't overdo such blatant promos.

Nor did it overdo shots from the crowd. Nothing wrong with showing John Wooden, the master.

Packer showed he is a much better basketball commentator than he is a judge of journalism, having recently caused a stir by calling "60 Minutes," CBS' acclaimed news show, "a cancer in our organization" because it dared do some honest reporting about college basketball.

When calling a game, Packer generally is just what you want in a commentator. He knows the game and communicates that knowledge well without gimmicks or histrionics. But for some reason he got carried away Monday night and talked too much.

Packer, who no doubt has heard Dick Vitale call games, must know you have to give a telecast room to breathe. Packer, somewhat out of character, was nearly suffocating at times with his nonstop chatter.

Nantz, who is easy on the ears, is a good partner for Packer because he willingly stays out of the way.

Another problem with Packer--and just about every other college basketball commentator--is his tendency to go overboard in his praise of the coaches. It's as if they never make a mistake.

Near the end of the game, Packer screamed, "Brilliant strategy by both coaches."

But at least he never screamed for a "T.O., baby!" He didn't have to, not with all those TV timeouts and commercial breaks.

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