Media Circus (cont.)
Posted: Monday March 24, 2008 1:28PM; Updated: Wednesday March 26, 2008 4:17PM
Bill Clinton, who posed with a basketball and an Arkansas warmup jacket on the cover of the March 21, 1994, issue of SI, checked in with James Carville's XM show "60/20 Sports last week to offer his Final Four picks: North Carolina, Memphis, UCLA, and Georgetown.
"My heart's with Georgetown, but my head tells me it's going to be Carolina or Memphis," Clinton said. The former president, calling in from Pennsylvania, did offer a caveat for his bracket: "I haven't followed this season as closely as I normally do. I've been otherwise occupied."
ESPN's promotional campaign for the women's basketball tournament -- featuring some of the game's elite coaches (Geno Auriemma, Andy Landers, Vivian Stringer and Pat Summitt) discussing themes such as competition and pressure -- is off-the-charts terrific.
Great to see Reggie Miller and John Smoltz competing in the Dan Patrick region of the SI.com Seth Davis Hoops Challenge. Both Miller and Smoltz are killing Seth Davis, which is also great to see.
Vitale's sucking up to Bob Knight has officially reached DEFCON 1. During a discussion on the merits of No. 7-seeded Butler, Vitale wandered off into some kind of military tribute for his colleague. "There is no way, Robert Montgomery Knight, that that club [Butler] is a No. 7 seed," said Vitale. "There's no way. I'll call you general but I'm a private. You're a general. Yes, general." Thankfully, Knight followed with a cogent analysis of Butler.
ESPN promotes the women's tournament like a major property, which I appreciate as a fan of the sport. But if the network wants viewers and critics to treat it like a major property, ESPN needs to cover the tournament the way CBS covers the men. That means showing viewers (no matter the region) close finishes.
Those of us watching the women's tournament coverage on Saturday (in the New York market) had to endure a mind-numbing Rutgers blowout of Robert Morris while George Washington and Auburn were playing a tight game. So deadly was the Rutgers blowout that ESPN's cameras caught Sue Donahoe, the NCAA vice president for Division I women's basketball, yawning at her seat. (Update: An ESPN rep, perhaps wearing one of the ESPN-logoed sweaters Knight has showcased over the past two weeks, checked in this afternoon to say that the Rutgers game was a home market-protected game. Fair enough. As a rule, networks stick with such games in its entirety to appease local fans.)
LINK OF THE WEEK
The question of whether ESPN grows the popularity of a sports league is one of the many questions examined in this tremendously well-reported and comprehensive piece by Sports Business Journal staff writer John Ourand. Among the highlights: the revelation of an anti-ESPN PowerPoint presentation that has been making the rounds among leagues and ad buyers the past six months (The concluding statement of the presentation is "ESPN's Cross-Promotion is a paper tiger.") USA Today reporter Michael Hiestand hinted in this piece that Fox, home of the covert ops show 24, was behind the presentation.
THEY SAID IT
"I told 'em, 'I'm not going to wear a coat and tie. If you want me to do this, that's the first condition.' This is sports. It isn't the Supreme Court."
WHAT I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO
ESPN has aggressively reported the tension between the UConn and Tennessee women's basketball programs -- and that has made for some recent tension between ESPN and UConn.
Case in point. Last week UConn was scheduled to be a featured team on ESPN's NCAA selection show. Those arrangements were scrapped, however, after the network's report that the school had committed a secondary violation by setting up then-high school junior Maya Moore with a tour of ESPN. (UConn officials claim ESPN played-up a non-story as retribution for Auriemma not participating in a story on the animus between him and Summitt.)
The Hartford Courant's John Altavilla, Connecticut Post's Rich Elliott, and New Haven Register's Jim Fuller, all enjoyable reads, chronicled with gusto ESPN's attempts to get Auriemma to speak out about Summitt prior to the airing of Sunday's Outside The Lines on the subject. ("It was a joke," said one UConn official of the OTL segment. "There was nothing there.")
It's an interesting game of chicken: Auriemma certainly has the right not to comment on a situation he's previously addressed, and ESPN has a duty to pursue the most compelling story in women's college basketball. Keep in mind that as the television rights holder, ESPN expects (and pays for) a certain amount of unique access. But it's not unfair to describe Auriemma as furious at the network for what he perceives as besmirching Moore.
"We're going to go full speed ahead like everything is the same and hopefully it is," says Dave Miller, a senior coordinating producer for ESPN's women's basketball coverage. "We'll find out as the tournament goes by, but I don't anticipate any problems. I think they will provide us the access we're looking for."
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