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DIANE PUCIN / ON SPORTS MEDIA

It's time for Charles Barkley to get serious

The outspoken former player will step away from TNT's popular 'Inside the NBA' after his recent arrest.

January 10, 2009|DIANE PUCIN

In 1992, without much NBA reporting experience or any Olympic reporting experience, I was assigned to cover the Barcelona Games and write about the Dream Team, that little collection of All-Stars and icons, you know, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley.

Barkley had recently left Philadelphia, my base, for Phoenix, but he was still treated as one of our local players. I arrived in La Jolla for a Dream Team training camp and had the chance to interview Barkley for an hour. He was respectful, insightful, funny and raunchy. When we finished I told him he'd be great on television. Just saying.

And now I hope that Barkley is still around, the one who listened as well as talked, who saw through two-faced behavior and demanded honesty. Because that Barkley will look at himself and know it's time for help.

It was announced Friday by Time Warner Inc.'s TNT network that Barkley will immediately start a leave of absence from the studio show "Inside the NBA," on which his unabashed mouthiness and personality and unfiltered sports and world views are never dull.

This comes nine days after Barkley was arrested by Scottsdale, Ariz., police on suspicion of drunk driving. The police released the results of Barkley's blood-alcohol test Friday. His alcohol level was .149, nearly twice as much as Arizona's legal limit of .08. There's not much room for argument that Barkley had no right driving a car.

What's next for Barkley is unclear. Sources familiar with TNT and Barkley said they were unaware of any plans for Barkley to enter a rehabilitation facility.

There are also no firm plans on who will take Barkley's place with host Ernie Johnson and Barkley's foil, Kenny Smith, though network sources mentioned Chris Webber as a possible fill-in.

Without making moral judgments, TNT should want to see Barkley take steps more serious than staying away from the microphone before letting him rejoin the broadcast. One suspects Barkley would demand the same from a player on a team.

BCS rates high

Ratings for the Fox Sports telecast of Florida's 24-14 victory over Oklahoma on Thursday in the BCS championship game were up 16% from last year's Louisiana State-Ohio State matchup. According to Nielsen, 26,767,000 tuned in.

The second-most-seen game over this seemingly monthlong bowl season? USC and Penn State in the Rose Bowl with 20,603,000, an 8% rise over a year ago.

In fact, according to Nielsen numbers, viewership of four of the five BCS bowl games was up -- substantially in the case of the Fiesta Bowl, in which 17,056,000 saw Texas and Ohio State, a 40% increase over the 2008 game between West Virginia and Oklahoma. The one BCS game that dropped was this year's Orange Bowl matchup of Cincinnati and Virginia Tech, which suffered a 22% drop to 9,319,000. West Virginia and Cincinnati represent the Big East. Good luck to whomever gets that team next year.

How's this good for ESPN? In two years ESPN will take over broadcast rights for the Orange, Fiesta and Sugar bowls, plus the national championship game. ABC, owned by ESPN's parent company, Walt Disney Co., already has the rights to the Rose Bowl.

Oh, and here's why Notre Dame will always be first invited when those at-large bids come out. With Notre Dame playing Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl on ESPN, viewership was up 119% (4,413,000) over last year's East Carolina-Boise State matchup.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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