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Another Issue Annoys Packer

January 11, 2002|LARRY STEWART

Billy Packer once called "60 Minutes" a cancer within CBS. Now CBS' lead college basketball commentator is upset again at his network's award-winning news magazine show.

"It's beyond comprehension," Packer said Thursday. "Any time they do a piece on college athletics, it's preposterous."

It was a negative story on Jerry Tarkanian and the felons on his Fresno State basketball team that got Packer's ire in 1998. This time it was a story Lesley Stahl did that aired Sunday night.

In Stahl's piece, Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers union, called the NCAA a sweatshop because of the way it treats college athletes.

Also on the show was Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker and co-founder of the College Athletes Coalition, which is seeking to change some NCAA rules it regards as unfair.

"What bothered me was that Lesley Stahl was so misinformed and so ill-prepared to do that piece," Packer said.

"Has she never heard of a Pell grant? Didn't someone think to have her ask about it?"

A Pell grant offers a stipend of up to $3,000 a year to underprivileged college athletes.

"Haven't they ever heard of Title IX?" Packer said. "If you pay male football and basketball players, you're also going to have to pay women soccer players.

"And someone should have asked the guy from the steelworkers union how many workers are left in the steel business," Packer said. "I'm from Bethlehem, Pa., and know all about the steel industry and how the union cost people their jobs."

Packer's tirade came at the end of an interview about Saturday's UCLA-Kansas game, which CBS will televise. Packer will work the noon game with his old NBC partner, Dick Enberg.

When the subject of the "60 Minutes" piece came up, Packer said, "I thought that's why you called."

He was ready to unload.

"It's scary," he said, "and I feel sorry for America. If the other stories on that show are as poorly done as the stories on college athletics, then people in this country are being misled.

"Why don't they ever invite me to one of their meetings when they're going to do one of these stories? I just don't understand it."

Oh Yes, the Game

As for Saturday's game, Packer thinks the Bruins will be facing a tough test.

"Even before Duke lost, I thought Kansas was the best team in the country," he said.

Kansas is ranked No. 1, UCLA is ranked No. 11.

Saturday's assignment gives Packer the opportunity to again work with Enberg. There may never again be an announcing team as good as Enberg, Packer and Al McGuire. That team was broken up when CBS wrested the NCAA tournament away from NBC.

Packer and Enberg worked two games together last season, and the previous season they were reunited with McGuire on a Connecticut-Michigan State game not long after Enberg signed with CBS. McGuire died about a year later, on Jan. 26, 2001.

Going Prime Time

Pro football works in prime time. "Monday Night Football," even though it averaged an all-time low rating of 11.5 this season, still ranked eighth among all prime-time programming.

Just imagine how well playoff games would do in prime time.

The NFL finally appears headed in that direction. Saturday's two playoff games on ABC will start at 1:30 and 5 p.m., which is 4:30 and 8 p.m. in the East.

CBS also gets a late game, 5 p.m. on the West Coast, on Jan. 19.

Since television viewership rises later in the day, late starts are a good thing for the league and ABC. More viewers mean higher ratings and more advertising money.

A later start is generally a good thing for viewers too. However, in Saturday's case, it's not such a good thing for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Staples Center. Because of the NFL playoff schedule, the women's free skate final, the marquee event, has been moved to cable.

The ABC Family Channel, formerly the Fox Family Channel, will carry the women's final at 8 p.m.--live in the East and delayed three hours in the West. ABC will show it on tape-delay the following day at 2 p.m.

The ABC Family Channel inherited the figure skating because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The postponement of the NFL games the following Sunday pushed the first round of playoffs ahead to this weekend.

The NFL reverts to a more conventional schedule on Sunday, which doesn't exactly thrill the people at Fox.

The early game, San Francisco at Green Bay, starts at 9:30 a.m., half an hour earlier than games begin during the regular season.

Fox would prefer a later kickoff, much later.

"The adjustment on Saturday is only half a loaf," said Fox Sports President Ed Goren. "Hopefully, the experiment will be well received and the league will take the next step."

One thing Fox's John Madden advocates is playing the conference championship games in prime time. "And I think each game should have its own night," he said. "Play one on Saturday night and one on Sunday night.

"It would give those games what they deserve."

This year's conference championship games will be played Sunday, Jan. 27, at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

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