Originally created 03/13/98

CBS returns to familair path



NEW YORK -- CBS, welcome home.

Fresh off a disastrous Olympics plagued by weather delays and programming blunders, CBS has returned to a more familiar path, the "Road to the Final Four."

Fueled by big upsets and last-second wins, CBS' first day of tournament coverage was something that the day-late Nagano games were not -- spontaneous.

To help viewers get through the opening weekend, executive producer Terry Ewert, in his first tournament at CBS, added a few new wrinkles to the broadcast. The continuous time and score box is in, keeping viewers up to date on the games. The quad screen look at four games at a time was mostly out, eliminating a frustrating device that left viewers unable to watch any game.

Also when CBS took viewers to a live look-in of the other games, it kept the time and score of the main game posted on the top of the screen, so viewers won't be left wondering what is happening in their main game.

The highlight of the opening day was the back-to-back, last-second wins by Richmond and Cincinnati. After BJ McKie's shot at the buzzer missed, sending No. 3 seed South Carolina to its second consecutive first-round upset, CBS juxtaposed Richmond's celebration with McKie collapsed in the lane.

After a quick jump to the studio in the New York, the entire country saw the final seconds of Cincinnati's three-point win against Northern Arizona. Unfortunately only about a quarter of the country saw both finishes live. The rest of the country, watching the Cincinnati game, was at a commercial during Richmond's upset and did not see highlights of the finish until after their game ended.

"Our thought was that the 77 percent of the country watching Cincinnati had dedicated too much time to the game to pull out at the last minute. It would have been a little awkward," Ewert said. "We certainly could have double-boxed it, but then neither audience would have seen the end."

Ewert's use of constant networks, local areas which see a game almost in its entirety, and flex networks, which switch to the best available game, gave CBS more freedom in switching audiences. But the structure proved too rigid at times, when fans in constant areas were left with blowouts while close games were going on.

The biggest losers in that case were people in Baltimore and Washington D.C., who watched the end of North Carolina's 36-point win against Navy before switching to the tight finish between Xavier and Washington and stayed until the end of Maryland's easy win against Utah State instead of going to either Cincinnati's or Richmond's game.

CBS reluctance to switch a home audience comes from a decision last year that switched Kansas from a Jayhawks game to the end of a Princeton-California contest. After that game had a series of timeouts and commercials, irate Kansas viewers complained to the network. Ewert vowed to eliminate that type of decision this year.

While viewers in North Carolina may rather watch a Tar Heels blowout than any other game, fans in the D.C. area aren't nearly as loyal toward Navy and probably would have rather watched the close game.

"Once we commit an area as a constant network, it is very difficult to pull it out of a game," Ewert said.

NEW ROLES: Greg Gumbel made a successful tournament studio debut, smoothly taking viewers from game to game and drawing comments from analyst Clark Kellogg and Dean Smith.

"It's a little more hectic than I though it would be," said Gumbel, the former NFL studio host at NBC and CBS. "In the NFL, everything builds up to one kickoff, then lets up. Then it builds to one halftime. This is constant activity."

While much of Gumbel's job is that of a traffic cop, he also is responsible for helping along Smith, a network rookie. Smith, the former North Carolina coach who still watches film with the team, continues to refer to the Tar Heels as "we" -- a habit Gumbel is trying to break.

After one use of the word we, Gumbel said: "When you say we, do you mean you, me and Clark?"

ANOTHER UCONN CONTROVERSY: When No. 3 Connecticut was bypassed for a top seed in the women's tournament, ESPN analyst Mimi Griffin was not shy with her criticism of the selection committee.

UConn dropped to the No. 2 seed in the East after star Nykesha Sales went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon in the next-to-last regular-season game.

Griffin said that because the Huskies won all four games without Sales, they shouldn't have been penalized.

"They did struggle the first couple of games but if you saw their last two games in the Big East tournament, you could see glimpses of the old Connecticut," she said. "They had done what they needed to do to prove that they still should have been a No. 1 seed."

But even though the committee snubbed Connecticut, Griffin said the Huskies may be better off.

"Being a No. 1 seed may have worked against UConn because they may have been shipped out West with Stanford," she said. "This way they get to compete in front of their own fans."

ESPN and ESPN2 will show 27 women's tournament games, starting Friday with the Connecticut-Fairfield game at 6 p.m. EST (ESPN2) and Arizona-Santa Clara game at midnight (ESPN2).