armchairquarterblog

MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on March 28, 2011 at 9:19 pm

It’s going to be a miserable Monday in Madison, Wisconsin, where I’ve been traveling since January to teach a sports journalism class at my alma mater. Never mind the sub-freezing temperatures in the forecast early in the week. I’m talking about a far bigger chill—the Wisconsin basketball team’s one-for-17 second half shooting stretch Thursday night–that ended the Badgers’ hopes of advancing to the Final Four.

When you lose a rooting interest in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it becomes March Melancholy on campus for a few depressing days, especially when it comes at the hands of an underdog mid-major like Butler, even if it did advance to the national title game a year ago.

And so, if I seem a little crabby about some of the television coverage in this space, maybe you’ll understand why. But first the good news.

How awesome has it been to have every single game in the first two rounds of the tournament available at the click of a remote, at least if you’ve paid your cable bill on time. The NCAA’s new $11 billion television contract with CBS that added TNT, TBS and TrueTV to the mix has been a hoop junkie’s godsend, though I must admit watching promos for the TrueTV series “Extreme Pawn Stars” was a tad jarring.

Instead of relying on graphic updates for whatever game you happened to be watching (by the way, virtually unreadable for those of us without a mega-screen and HDTV), you’ve got your basketball destiny literally in your own hand. Commercial break in the Wisconsin-Butler game on TBS? No problem. Click over to Duke-Arizona for a quick fix, then back to the Badgers, painful as it might have been.

Here’s more good news. No Dick Vitale on any of those four networks.

And now the bad. Let’s start with Charles Barkley, definitely a whale out of water doing college hoops. I usually love Sir Charles in the NBA studio, but I often had the sense over the last two weeks that he was simply not quite as prepared for this assignment as he should have been. Because he’s on the NBA beat week in and week out, he knows the league and its players as well as anyone in the business. But dropping him into the college game, he more than occasionally sounded like a freshman trying to get through a doctorate oral.

Still, he did have his moments. In the opening round, he ripped into the Tennessee athletic director for not supporting embattled Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl. And his teasing of guest studio host Rick Pitino about the Big East losing nine of its 11 tournament teams before the Sweet Sixteen was vintage stuff. Trouble is, there just wasn’t enough of it.

As usual, on all the networks, there were way too many commercial breaks. I know someone has to pay for that $11 billion rights fee, but do we have to leave the arena for every stoppage of play, especially in the final minutes of very tight games? I suppose so, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it, unless one of the ads is the two John Thompsons talking about being comfortable in their own Dove-slathered skins.

And let me count the clichés from every broadcaster with a microphone. Please Tom Izzo, the Michigan State coach and a guest studio host on TBS, don’t tell me that Butler vs. Wisconsin “is going to be a war,” especially when the real thing is being waged in Afghanistan and Libya.

Does anyone on the planet actually talk like Bill Raftery, whose kiss-off-the-glass comments are often incomprehensible. And when did “knock down” become mandatory on virtually every shot. Can’t they mix it up a bit with “make a shot,” “hit a shot,” “connect on a shot?” Knock it off, along with swagger. Are you kidding me — the rock (ball), Florida by a penny (point) and scholar-athlete, of which there aren’t many judging by the pathetic graduation rates of more than a few of these teams.

And Reggie Miller, did you really use the word “verticality?” Thursday night to describe a player’s jumping ability? Can’t seem to locate that one in the dictionary, either. March Madness, indeed.

New Hire: ESPN just announced that Bill Parcells has been signed up to host a pre-NFL draft special, surely a prelude to him rejoining the Worldwide Leader if they play football in the fall (and they will, trust me).

What a revolting development that is, if only because Parcells has spent most of the last few years ducking the media in his role as team president of the Miami Dolphins. You could count on one hand the number of interviews Parcells granted to South Florida reporters, print and broadcast, not to mention ESPN itself, despite the fact that he was running the franchise. His surly demeanor toward many of the people who covered him at other NFL stops along the way also should not be forgotten.

So here’s another career anti-media guy being fed by the hand he used to bite, joining a long list of broadcasters with the same DNA. Bill Walton, Sterling Sharpe, Bob Knight also went on to lucrative broadcasting careers, even after they either ran away from or insulted many of the same people they now call “colleagues.” Shame on ESPN, which has demonstrated far too often that it has none.

Nice Touch: HBO has asked Nick Charles to call the opening fight in its Boxing After Dark series on Saturday (9:45 pm), a lovely gesture for a man who has been battling a virulent form of bladder cancer the last few years.

Charles, a sports anchor at Channel 4 in Washington before George Michael arrived on the scene, was the long-time voice of boxing at Showtime as well as one of the original sports anchors for the then fledgling CNN. He recently was the subject of a moving column by Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnaski, a must read. Rick Bernstein, HBO’s executive producer for boxing, read the piece on a train ride to New York. He then decided to offer Charles, who once handled boxing on HBO pay-per-view events, the opportunity to call what likely will be his final fight.

We’re excited to be in a position to afford Nick this opportunity,” Bernstein told Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports this week. “This is a guy we’ve had a long relationship with and, obviously, it means a lot to Nick. It was a no-brainer, honestly.”

Charles also was quoted in Iole’s story.

First of all, I want to do justice to HBO and do a great broadcast because HBO has set such a high standard and people who tune in expect nothing less,” he said. “But I also want people to know that just because you may get cancer, it doesn’t mean you stop fighting or stop living. I am a fighter and I’m going to keep fighting until I can’t fight anymore. That’s just the way that I am.”

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