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NCAA FINAL | SOUND AND VISION

Announcers Show Their True Colors

April 03, 2001|MIKE PENNER

Final score from the Final Two in Minneapolis Monday:

Billy Packer 82, Bill Walton 72.

Objectivity behind the microphone was as big a non-factor during CBS' telecast of the NCAA championship game as Arizona's cast-away-and-pray three-point shooting. No cheering in the press box? No chance, not with Packer--pronounced P-ACC-ker--providing color commentary, most of it tinged a distinct Duke blue, and Walton trying to provide unbiased analysis of a game involving one of his sons.

In other words, both announcers were severely conflicted by family ties. Walton had his boy, Luke, coming off the bench for Arizona. Packer had his Dukies coming in from the Atlantic Coast Conference, where Packer once played and coached, where he still calls games during the regular season before annually dragging the ACC banner with him wherever he may roam, combing the road to the Final Four for CBS.

CBS, which needs to be reminded that there's a gulf of a difference between good journalism and good television, thought it was a splendid idea to assign Walton to Arizona's games during the Midwest Regional in San Antonio. Hey, didn't Bob Griese mist up a few years back as he watched his son Brian win the Rose Bowl for Michigan? Why not milk these father-son nights for all the pathos they're worth?

So CBS miked up Papa Walton's for Luke's games against Missisippi and Illinois and an awkward uneasiness ruled. Then CBS sent Walton to Minneapolis, seated him behind a desk next to Clark Kellogg, and had Greg Gumbel ask him for a prediction minutes before Duke and Arizona tipped off for the national title.

Walton picked Arizona, of course.

But, lest anyone accuse him of unbridled bias, Walton did allow that the game could be decided in overtime.

Ah, but this would be Duke's night, with Packer leading the cheers. Excuse me: That's Duke University, as Packer reverentially referred to the school throughout the telecast, as in, "That's a bad foul by Duke University." But that did not send a player from "the University of Arizona" to the free throw line. No, just "Arizona." In Packer's world, the halls from which the Wildcats hail are evidently not as hallowed. Do they even have halls out there, in the middle of the desert? No one genuflects in Tucson, do they, unless it's to knock the sand and the dead rattlesnake skin out of one's Nikes.

In Packer's world, Michigan State is "Michigan State," USC is "SC" and Duke is "Duke University." College basketball's institution of higher learning, headed by dean Mike Krzyzew-

ski--though it's OK to call him "Coach K." So storied, so esteemed, that the rest of the country can only look on from afar with envy.

Right?

That was the theory forwarded by Packer when Duke's Carlos Boozer appeared to foul Arizona's Loren Woods on a shot during the first half, only to receive no whistle from the official. No call, no foul--and the Metrodome crowd booed loudly.

"There is no question," Packer announced, "that this is the repercussion against the Duke program by people who said we've seen enough from officials that give Duke the breaks.

"I've never seen this in a basketball game before. Where you figure the crowd basically is (a mix) of all kinds of fans."

This prompted partner Jim Nantz to interject, rather reasonably, "Then again, maybe we just have a majority of people in the building tonight being Arizona fans."

Packer was incredulous. This was the NCAA final. How could a basketball outpost such as Arizona have more fans in the building than Duke University?

Packer: "I'm not buying that one. I'm saying it's Arizona and it's Duke and the neutrals are going in one direction."

Nantz: "Would you say the officiating is too?"

Packer: "No, I'm not necessarily saying that. But every call now is being questioned. And look at how Lute [Olson, Arizona's coach] is working the fans! And we're going to see Mike Krzyzewski try to get the referees back in tow. Kind of interesting."

Then he mused about "two seasoned veteran coaches . . . going to make the guys in the striped suits work hard tonight." Not to mention the sideline reporters who went 0 for 2 in trying to corner one of these seasoned veteran coaches at halftime for a courtside word or two--also known as the Most Thankless Job in TV Sports.

The best Bonnie Bernstein could do was pull Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins aside to ask about the Woods-Shane Battier matchup, won by Woods in the first half.

Dawkins told Bernstein that Woods played a good half but predicted Battier would be more aggressive defending him in the second half . . . thanks for another piece of priceless insight, Coach.

Battier did come back in the second half to block a shot by Jason Gardner and flip the ball to teammate Chris Duhon, who passed to Mike Dunleavy for a three-point field goal and a five-point turnaround in Duke's favor. A nice little play.

"That's one of the all-time blocks right there!" Nantz enthused.

"The play of the tournament so far!" Packer, not wanting to be outdone, excitedly added.

Well, well.

Duke University was on its way to its third NCAA championship under Krzyzewski. With barely a minute to go, Packer began the countdown: "Now Mike Krzyzewski is trying to have the clock as the sixth man for Duke."

No need, really. Duke already had its sixth man, behind the CBS mike, seated alongside Nantz.

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