NCAA Final Four CBS High Ratings

Friday, April 01, 2005

Coach Tom Izzo cut down the net after Michigan State beat Kentucky in double overtime.

March 29, 2005

SPORTS MEDIA AND BUSINESS

The Network Cleans Up in Overtime

By RICHARD SANDOMIR

CBS Sports is paying $420 million for the television, media and marketing rights to the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament this year, a price that might have been validated when three of last weekend’s regional finals ended in overtime.

Sure, there may be other things to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on – a nice used military aircraft or a middle-market hockey team – but if CBS needs proof that its investment has yielded returns, it has the Kentucky-Michigan State, Illinois-Arizona and West Virginia-Louisville games as evidence.

For all the action in the games, the tensest period occurred when time stood still as officials peered, with eyes toward eternity, at a television replay to determine if Kentucky guard Patrick Sparks had uncorked a rim-bouncing 3-pointer to end regulation with the score tied at 75-75 or had merely hit a 2-pointer. From the point when CBS’s Jim Nantz said that the referees were conferring (which stanched his and Billy Packer’s amazement), it took 5 minutes 25 seconds to settle the dispute (more than triple the allotted time for N.F.L. replay reviews).

Rarely have more people been riveted by less happening. Nantz correctly noted that fans in the arena were unable to see replays and were calling friends to learn what was occurring on their television screens. The poor referees seemed to be watching a nine-inch monitor with an antenna; next year, perhaps, the N.C.A.A. can spring for a big-screen plasma set.

I’ve rarely taken more notes to chronicle inaction, as CBS rolled through 14 replays, including enlargements that resembled weather satellite images showing the proximity of Sparks’s feet to the 3-point line. Packer and Nantz’s analysis ranged from, "You can see space between the toe and the line" (Nantz) and "very difficult to tell" (Packer) to "still can’t tell" (Nantz) and the still-inconclusive "you still can’t tell" (Packer).

They suggested that the absence of indisputable evidence of a foot fault made a call reversal doubtful.

Once into the first overtime, with Kentucky leading by 81-80, Packer made the case for at least one more overtime, as he recalled how – after Michigan State beat Kentucky in the 1957 tournament – the Spartans lost in triple overtime to North Carolina, which then beat Kansas in triple overtime to win the championship.

When Michigan State tied the score at 81-81 on Sunday, and the scheduled starting times of "60 Minutes" and "Cold Case" had been obliterated, Nantz said, "This is the first overtime, if you’re prophesizing here." Minutes later, the second overtime began.

The game was the capstone to CBS’s highly rated weekend. It produced a 10.8 overnight Nielsen rating from 5 p.m to 8:15 p.m. Eastern, exceeding the 10.1 for the seminal Kentucky-Duke regional final in 1992 (which was played on a Saturday from 7 p.m. to 9:33 p.m.), and was the highest-rated game in its Sunday time slot since a 12.4 for the U.N.L.V.-Loyola Marymount regional final in 1990.

Illinois’s stunning comeback over Arizona in prime time on Saturday generated a 9.1 overnight rating, the best tournament performance in that time slot since 1993.

During West Virginia’s loss to Louisville on Saturday (which generated a 7.2 rating, up 36 percent from the comparable game last year, and the best in its time slot since 1999), I got Pittsnogle fever. I confess that I pay little attention to this tournament until the number of teams becomes manageable.

The elite eight is a nice number, and let me spend crunch time with Kevin Pittsnogle, the Moutaineers’ tattooed star. He figured in a lot of action, giving the announcers Gus Johnson and Len Elmore many chances to utter his oddly euphonious name.

Johnson sometimes ratchets up his excitement to a pitch at which he lets emotion replace fact, as when he provides a shot call that fails to say whether the ball went into the basket. "Gan-seeeyyy!" he said as West Virginia’s Mike Gansey missed. Johnson may believe that the result is obvious, but he should always make the distinction with the tone of his voice or with the right word.

No one could have mistaken what Dick Enberg meant in the overtime of the Illinois-Arizona game when Illini guard Luther Head stole a pass in overtime and drove for a layup. "Luther Head," he said. "Oh my!" Enberg’s trademark phrase has shades of meaning.

Had Head flopped, the "oh" would have sounded stunned and the "my" would have been mournful, and, at the same time, provided a lesson in humility for Head.

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