Court of Public Opinion
Last Saturday afternoon, 30 minutes before Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat, NBC telecaster Marv Albert walked onto the court at Miami Arena accompanied by a security guard. The network was nervous about how the public would react to Albert, 53, who three days earlier had been indicted on charges of assaulting and forcibly sodomizing a 41-year-old woman in an Arlington, Va., hotel room on Feb. 12.
Albert, who has been a mainstay at the network since 1977, was eager to keep working and had proclaimed his innocence to NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol. He also declared his innocence publicly, at a May 22 press conference in New York. In a criticism that was more spin than substance, he charged that the Arlington police inquiry had deprived him of due process because he had not been asked to provide his version of events. In fact, targets of investigations often are not interviewed, especially when the police feel they have a strong case. What's remarkable—and laudable—is that investigators conducted a three-month probe of a celebrity and obtained an indictment without any leaks to the press.
While no advertisers withdrew after NBC's announcement that Albert would continue to work the playoffs, many media pundits excoriated the decision, citing the distraction Albert's presence would create and the discomfort viewers might feel welcoming a possible felon into their homes. Fans at the arena, however, didn't react much to Albert's presence, aside from uttering a few catcalls.
The publics apparent reluctance to condemn Albert can be attributed in part to his spritely persona, exhibited during scores of appearances on David Letterman's show, and to his previously scandal-free 34 years as a broadcaster. It may also be a reaction to the media's mistreatment of Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin after he was falsely accused of rape last December. "There was a rush to judgment with Irvin," says television consultant Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports. "He protested his innocence, and, sure enough, it was a fabricated situation. Imagine if they had taken [Albert] off the game because of the accusation, and it turned out there was no truth to it."
View from the Hill
Senior writer Tim Layden testified on May 22 at a hearing called by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust to examine the college football bowl alliance. His report:
As always on Capitol Hill, the proceedings were marked by partisanship. The first panel of witnesses included four senators from Kentucky, Utah and Wyoming, home states of four Division I-A football teams in the WAC and Conference USA, two leagues badly hurt by their exclusion from the bowl alliance. The alliance awards lucrative automatic bids to the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls to the champions of the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences and, under certain conditions, independent Notre Dame. Last December, Brigham Young, which won the WAC title and finished the regular season ranked No. 5 on the strength of its 13-1 record, was passed over in favor of No. 7 Penn State (10-2) and No. 6 Nebraska (10-2) for the alliance's two at-large spots. That snub prompted the hearing.
Though the proceedings are unlikely to lead to any serious reform, the Senate is to be commended for at least subjecting the NCAA and the alliance to scrutiny. Taking one of the hotter grillings was NCAA executive director Cedric Dempsey. Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio), the subcommittee chairman, pressed Dempsey on Dempsey s written list of "potential negative effects" of a Division I-A playoff system, including "disruption of student-athletes' academic calendars, lengthening the season, [and] increased pressures to win."
DeWine confronted Dempsey with the obvious rejoinder: Divisions I-AA, II and III have playoffs, why not Division I-A? Flustered, Dempsey suggested that there was "increased intensity at the I-A level," at which point Louisville coach Ron Cooper, who has coached at lower levels, nearly jumped from his seat. In testifying later, Cooper called Dempsey's statement "embarrassing."