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RATING THE NATIONAL PASTIME
To judge by the reaction of TV viewers and non-viewers, not even the World Series could undo the damage inflicted on baseball by the strike and adoption of the split-season format. The Nielsen ratings for the first two games between the Yankees and Dodgers, who are based in the two biggest TV markets in the country, were 29.9 and 28.2. That's down sharply from 33.5 and 34.4 for the first two games of the '80 Series between the Phillies and Royals, located in the fourth and 27th biggest TV markets. For the third game, only the three-city "overnight" ratings were immediately available, but the story was the same, e.g., a 17.4 rating in Chicago vs. 23.3 there in 1980.
Granted, last year's Series was telecast by NBC and this year's by ABC, but the ratings decline can't be blamed on Howard Cosell's presence in ABC's booth, tempting though that explanation might be. When the Expos beat the Phillies on Oct. 11 in the final game of the National League East playoffs, far more Phillie fans watched on the team's regular-season outlet, WPHL, than on the local NBC station; the Nielsen figures were 19.6 to 11.9. By contrast, more New Yorkers watched the Yankees' win over the Brewers that day for the American League East title on ABC, Cosell's network, than on the Yankees' station, WPIX. The local ABC outlet drubbed WPIX 21.4 to 9.4.
As CBS publicist Beano Cook, an unabashed Cosell booster but a disinterested observer of the NBC-ABC baseball rivalry, says, "The two biggest liars in the world are the people who tell you they don't watch Dallas or listen to Howard Cosell." Cook also says, "The fallout from the baseball strike has resulted in the kind of World Series ratings that make sponsors reach for the Excedrin."
NEW YEAR'S SCENARIO?
The 11-year-old Fiesta Bowl, which has been played at Christmastime, is now scheduled for Jan. 1, thereby becoming the only New Year's Day bowl without a conference tie-in. The Orange, Sugar and Cotton bowls automatically award a berth to the champions of the Big Eight, Southeastern and Southwest conferences, respectively, while the Rose Bowl matches the champions of the Big Ten and Pac-10. The Fiesta alone will be free to invite any two teams it chooses.
Which raises some interesting possibilities. In most years tie-ins with the powerhouse conferences mean that at least a couple of teams with shots at the national championship—a Michigan, say, or an Alabama or Oklahoma—routinely turn up in the Rose, Orange, Sugar or Cotton bowls. But this season the national championship picture is dominated, at least for now, by schools like first-ranked (in SI's Top 20) Penn State and second-ranked Pittsburgh, both independents, and fourth-ranked Clemson, a member of the only major conference, the ACC, without an automatic berth in any bowl. Unless these teams stumble, they figure to be on the shopping lists of the major bowl committees—all except the Rose's—that pick at least one "wildcard" team. But because the Fiesta invites two wild-card teams, it would be the only bowl that could hope to match Penn State against Clemson—to take one of several such examples—for the national championship.
Could the upstart bowl in Tempe, Ariz. possibly hope to land such a plum? It's still a long shot, but Fiesta Bowl Executive Director Bruce Skinner says, "We're in a good situation." At any rate, organizers of the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton bowls have reason to be apprehensive. Washington State currently has the inside track to the Pac-10 title and teams like Iowa State and Minnesota are in the thick of the Big Eight and Big Ten (page 80) races, and none of them looms at the moment as a strong candidate for the national championship. Yet they could wind up in major bowls, which may just find themselves stuck with less attractive matchups than usual.
IN A SPIN OVER THE WARRIORS
POSTAGE LONG OVERDUE