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My how things have changed quickly with the NCAA

Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2011, at 2:34 PM

I want to see a show of hands -- how many of you remember when it wasn't possible to see every game of the NCAA tournament on television?

Be honest, how many of you remember when the first round games were only broadcast regionally -- and not by CBS Sports?

I'm dating myself, much like those of you who remember what I'm about to discuss will, when it comes to remembering television coverage of the NCAA Tournament.

Prior to 1969 the championship game was never televised live. The closest was in 1962 when the staple of Saturday sports shows, ABC's Wide World of Sports, carried the game between defending champion Cincinnati and Ohio State.

The Bearcats defeated the Buckeyes 71-59.

The following year the championship game was televised again, this time by the predecessor to the now-defunct Hughes Sports Network. A compilation of small stations that carried games over a network headed by millionaire recluse Howard Hughes.

It was called the Sports Network Inc., and they held the syndicated rights to the tourney prior to NBC taking over.

Bill Fleming provided the play-by-play during SNI's run of covering the tournament final. His partners included legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson for one year in 1964 and Frank Sims for the final three years of SNI's coverage (1966-68).

During that time the early round games were also broadcast by SNI on a regional basis, thus my first memory of an NCAA Tourney game when Notre Dame was beaten, don't remember the year or the opponent, but just that the Fighting Irish lost.

With that piece of irrelevance aside, NBC picked up the coverage of the National Championship game and the consolation game -- yes fans there was a consolation game for third place until 1982.

The peacock networks original talking heads were legendary broadcasters Curt Gowdy, who did everything from baseball and football to the American Sportsman, and partner Jim Simpson.

Simpson would to play-by-play on the consolation game and Gowdy would carry the title contest.

Former Laker and Cincinnati Royal Tom Hawkins took over the second chair in time for the 1971 title game between UCLA and Villanova at the Astrodome in Houston.

Gowdy and Hawkins continued their collaboration on the telecast until 1975 when a new face entered the color commentary ranks.

Billy Packer joined Gowdy while Simpson returned to the broadcast as a new element to the game when he provided reports from the sideline.

Another new element to the broadcast was also added that year.

Tim Ryan and Al McGuire were assigned the role of studio host and analyst. It had never been done before officially and along with Simpson, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Even though the faces changed, there has been a studio host ever since. It wasn't however, until after CBS took over coverage that a sideline reporter was used consistently.

NBC added UCLA coach John Wooden as the sideline reporter for the 1976 tournament then again for the 1978 through 1981 events.

In 1977 another now-familiar and legendary face, Dick Enberg, filled the role.

Enberg, who during the previous year's telecast had bumped Gowdy to the analyst slot, would take over play-by-play duties in 1978. It was a role he held until the 1982 tournament when CBS took the reigns and handed things over to Gary Bender.

During Enberg's tenure as voice of the finals, he was helped by the duo of Packer and McGuire.

A pair known as much for their disagreements as anything else.

Another name that's no stranger to sports broadcasting joined the ranks in the NBC years.

From 1976 until 1981 Bryant Gumble hosted the studio portion of the telecast.

Gumble, who is known as much for his ego among colleagues as anything else, had a co-host only one time.

In his inaugural year at the studio controls Lee Leonard shared the spotlight.

Leonard had cut his teeth on the networks working with Jack Whitacker on the NFL on CBS studio coverage.

Leonard, a former talk radio host who would later do work on ESPN and CNN, left after one year, leaving Gumble to go it alone until CBS and Brent Musberger took over.

With Bender and Packer in the broadcast position and Musberger at the studio desk, CBS took control of the broadcast.

Musberger took over Bender's seat for the 1985 title game alongside Packer and after Dick Stockton hosted for one year, Jim Nantz slipped into the studio as host.

Nantz lasted until 1991 when Pat O'Brien took over.

That blend of talent continued until the 1998 season when Greg Gumble took the studio chair, a place he's been entrenched in ever since.

Nantz moved to the courtside festivities in 1991 when he replaced the now-fired Musberger alongside Packer. Just for the record McGuire's last turn at the microphone at the Final Four, came with NBC during the 1981 telecast.

Nantz and Packer remained a constant duo on the Final Four telecast until 2009 when the controversial and always boisterous Packer hung up his mike cord and was replaced by former Pacer and Ohio State Buckeye Clark Kellogg.

Now, according to CBS sports, Kellogg and Nantz will be joined by Steve Kerr.

With that bit of history shoved forever into your mind, here are a few little tidbits about the NCAA Final Four coverage on television you might not know.

When CBS televised the selection show in 1982, it was the first time the pairings had been announced live on TV.

The 1980s also brought something else new to the Final Four -- women.

When Lesley Visser was named the sideline reporter for the 1988 broadcast she became the first woman to cover the Final Four.

It's just one of many entries to her resume, entries that include being the only broadcaster -- male or female -- to cover the Final Four, NBA Finals, World Series, Triple Crown, Monday Night Football, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the World Figure Skating Championships and the U.S. Open.

Since Visser broke the ground, she has been succeeded by Michele Tafoya, Andrea Joyce, Bonnie Bernstein, Sam Ryan and Tracy Wolfson.

So there you have it, a taste of the transition from a syndicated, tape delayed broadcast to what it is today, one of the most watched events in sports history.

I hope this helps at least bring a little perspective to things and adds to your memories of the NCAA Final Four.

Rick is a sports writer for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at (812) 847-4487 ext. 20 or by e-mail at rcurl@gcdailyworld.com.


Comments
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Packer should have been canned long before 2009.

-- Posted by EggMan on Wed, Mar 16, 2011, at 2:03 PM


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