Broadcast pairing between Barkley, Vitale needs to happen
Charles Barkley admits he struggles daily with how long he should stay in broadcasting. It's a subject he addressed with SI.com last November, and it remains heavy on his mind today. "l love my job, but my dilemma is I'm not sure how much longer I should do the same job," Barkley told SI.com earlier this week. "The thing is, this is my second job. I don't look at this as my job. It's my second job. So I love my job, love the people I work with, but how long should you do something? That is my dilemma. I struggle with that every day but going out and doing games has been awesome."
Professionally, Barkley says he's been rejuvenated this year after leaving Turner's Atlanta studio to work as an courtside analyst on NBA games alongside Kevin Harlan. The NCAA tournament deal between Turner and CBS has also given him renewed zeal. Earlier this week, Barkley repeated something that he told this column last November: He really wants to work a game with Dick Vitale. "I told these guys one of my goals is to do a game with Dick Vitale," Barkley said. "I would love to do a game with Dick Vitale because I think he has been great for college basketball. It'd be good for the game."
Vitale wants the pairing to happen just as badly. While giving a motivational speech in Atlanta last year, Vitale ran into Barkley and the two talked again about working together on a broadcast. "I would do an NBA game with him, a college game, whatever anybody wants me to do," Vitale told SI.com on Friday morning. "In fact, during the year I called my immediate boss at ESPN [Jay Levy, ESPN's senior coordinating producer for college basketball] and I said to him, 'Why don't we get Charles one of these games I'm doing in the Big Ten with Indiana or Michigan? Or maybe get him for the Duke game against Miami?' He said we're all for it, but his people [at Turner] have a hold on it."
"Both of us have a love for the game and it would be a lot of fun," Vitale continued. "You never know what will come out of his mouth and I like to think my energy and enthusiasm would jump out with Charles. The one thing about Charles? I will tell you this: Whenever he sees me, he drops to the ground and kisses my feet. He says I am his hero. Why? Because he said he knew that when he got out of the NBA, if I could make a great living doing what I was doing, then he could, too. He was right about that. Both of us have been stealing money for years having fun doing what we do. It would be a fun telecast filled with a lot of energy and enthusiasm."
CBS and Turner Sports should make this happen -- and the onus is now on them. "Fans would love it and we would like to do it," said ESPN spokesperson Mike Soltys. "The ball is in Turner's court.
So ESPN wants this to happen. Barkley wants this to happen. Vitale wants this to happen. And most viewers would want it to happen.
Yet, as of now, Turner Sports and CBS are against the idea. Why?
In regard to the possibility of Vitale appearing on Turner's airwaves for an NBA game, a Turner Sports spokesperson told SI.com on Friday: "Dick Vitale is certainly someone we all respect. Turner Sports is fortunate to have a deep bench of basketball analysts and we haven't had any serious conversations about it."
On the subject of Vitale appearing on an NCAA tournament game, CBS and Turner issued a joint corporate statement. "As we said in December, nothing has changed," a CBS Sports spokesperson said. "There have been no discussions and we're very pleased with our CBS/TNT announcer lineup."
This is corporate silliness. What's the downside here? That you are promoting Vitale on your airwaves? (Really, is there any college basketball fan still unaware of Vitale at this point?) What CBS and Turner executives strangely seem to miss is the multi-layered benefit they'd get from the pairing.
First, it's free publicity for the property and a potential ratings bump -- announcers don't tend to impact ratings but this pairing might actually do it -- for the game assigned to Barkley and Vitale. Second, viewers would see CBS and Turner Sports as creative, outside-the-box thinkers. The idea makes one of the company's most important talents (Barkley) very happy. And finally, as any first-year public relations student can vouch, CBS/Turner would create viewer goodwill from the tandem. Assigning Barkley and Vitale to an NBA or NCAA tournament game has zero impact on a long-term package. Yet in the short run, it delivers a can't-miss broadcast.
"Our approach is we want them to do one game with us (assume a college hoop game) and one thing with them (an NBA game or studio)," said the ESPN spokesperson.
For now, Barkley and Vitale will wait for executives to wise up and pair them together. Their relationship goes back to Barkley's days at Auburn, when then-Auburn coach Sonny Smith asked Vitale to speak with a college student about some of his lax habits. "I got into his face," said Vitale. "I said, 'Charles, I am telling you now. You have a future to make, major, major dollars at the next level and what you are doing now, you are letting it slide by. You need to grow up and it's time to get mature and use what the man upstairs gave you. You can be special.' Years later, in The Sporting News, Charles told an interviewer, "I will never forget Dickie V talking to me on the court about my future'. He's a warm, caring guy. He's a beautiful guy, man. Beautiful, beautiful people."
When CBS had the tournament solo, it often asked if it could use Vitale on its coverage. ESPN declined those offers, but it has wisely evolved from that position. If CBS is still upset, get over it. It's time.
Here's an idea that perhaps makes too much sense: Assign Vitale and Barkley to one of the First Four games in Dayton. That game immediately becomes a must-watch event for everybody, and isn't that the point, CBS/Turner?