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The NBA season was scheduled to start last night with a doubleheader on TNT featuring Bulls-Mavericks and Thunder-Lakers, but with the lockout canceling games through at least the end of November, highlight shows were forced to turn to other alternatives. ESPN's Steve Levy began the 11:30pm ET version of "SportsCenter" by saying, “NBA arenas sit empty on what would be opening night.” After introducing himself and broadcast partner Scott Van Pelt, Levy said, “Coming up, we have real NBA highlights, only they’re from last season.” The broadcast led with highlights of the Northern Illinois-Toledo college football game, followed by clips from two NHL games -- Ducks-Capitals and Wild-Red Wings. Coming back from the first commercial break, Van Pelt said, “On a night when we should be watching the NBA tip-off its 2011-12 season, arenas are -- sadly -- dark. But a week from now, hoopheads will have fight songs ringing in their ears and the best gyms from coast-to-coast will begin filling up for the college basketball season. Now if any sport figures are to benefit the most from the absence of the NBA, it’s college basketball, which returns a bunch of players who will be in the league eventually but who stuck around for another year on campus.” About 30 minutes into the broadcast, the show reported on an internal letter from NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter to the players about the union's plans to “stand firm in our resolve to negotiate a fair deal.” Van Pelt: “Notice how all these letters secretly get out, they get leaked. A little bargaining strategy?” Following the report, highlights from last season’s opening night in the NBA were aired because, as Levy noted, “Trying to make the best of a bad situation, people.” Highlights from Heat-Celtics, Rockets-Lakers and Suns-Trail Blazers were shown, with Van Pelt saying, “Again, this happened last year, so if you’re watching this right now and you’re really hammered on your couch, saying, ‘Wait a minute, wow, wow! Wait a minute!’ These highlights are a year old.” Levy: “They feel stale" (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 11/1).
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Last night’s edition of NBA TV’s “GameTime” opened with an outside shot of AmericanAirlines Center in Dallas and an in-arena announcer saying, “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the AmericanAirlines Center and today’s celebration of the 2010-2011 NBA Champions, your Dallas Mavericks!” NBA TV’s Matt Winer said, “Here’s what we would be talking about if not for the labor dispute, including the Mavericks on their home floor against the Bulls. Kevin McHale would have taken over the Rockets in his regular-season debut in Utah against the Jazz. The Thunder and the Lakers would have begun Mike Brown’s tenure as the Lakers head coach. All not happening.” NBA TV’s Brent Barry noted, “What an awesome way to start the show.” Winer replied, “A bit of a downer.” NBA TV’s Steve Smith: “You had me way up here, Matt. Now you’re bringing me back down” (“GameTime,” NBA TV, 11/1).
FILLING THE TV VOID: ESPN’s Hannah Storm today asked viewers, “So what did you watch on TV last night? Well, it wasn’t the Mavericks getting their rings or raising that first banner. There was a ‘Bones’ marathon on in place of the NBA. But with all due respect to Dr. Brennan and company, it wasn’t exactly KD versus Kobe. The harsh reality of the NBA lockout hit home for fans and players alike as opening night, quite simply, did not happen. A huge hole in the sports calendar” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 11/2). ESPN's Jim Rome yesterday said, "The sequel to the best NBA season we have had in years was supposed to kick-off tonight and we’ve got bupkis.” Rome said he would be “switching back-and-forth” between last night’s NHL games. Rome: “But I’m guessing most everybody else will be locked in on freaks hoarding and the C-listers doing the Samba” (“Jim Rome Is Burning,” ESPN2, 11/1).
Former players turned broadcasters in the past “usually stayed above the fray,” but recent hires have “plunged headfirst into the deep end of confrontational analysis,” according to Mike Tanier of the N.Y. TIMES. NFL Giants DE Justin Tuck and RB Brandon Jacobs miss games because of injury, and their former teammate and current ESPN analyst Antonio Pierce "diagnoses them from a radio studio, accusing them of ‘taking it easy.’” Patriots WR Chad Ochocinco complimented QB Tom Brady on Twitter, and ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi, a former Patriots LB, said Ochocinco must “drop the awe factor” and “get with the program.” NFL Network Producer Michael Rosenstein said that nets “wanted former players to be opinionated, but not to be inflammatory for its own sake.” Rosenstein: “The best opinions are the ones based on fact.” Tanier writes in “many cases, though, the context does not soften the criticism.” ESPN analyst and former NFLer Trent Dilfer “changed the subject so he could take a broadside” shot at Eagles QB Michael Vick. Bruschi “questioned Ochocinco’s work ethic and knowledge of the playbook based solely on a benign bit of cyberspace flotsam.” It is “easy to perceive self-interest when an ex-player becomes hypercritical.” Commentators can “earn endorsement deals and improve their public profile by standing out from the crowd.” With dozens of retired players “looking for broadcasting jobs each year, someone unwilling to take a bold position can be easily replaced by someone who will.” The increasing demand for former athletes to “fill the panels of an ever-growing roster of commentary and analysis programs ensures that more players will take to broadcasting and with a strong market incentive to be as controversial as possible” (N.Y. TIMES, 11/2).
WALKING A FINE LINE: In Newark, Conor Orr writes this new generation of analysts has “arrived in what seems like the most contentious media environment ever between former players-turned-analysts and current NFL players.” A “subtle line in the sand becomes more finite with each appearance as players-turned-analysts embrace a new opportunity as a non-biased entity while still being mindful of the football life they left behind.” ESPN analyst and former Jets OT Damien Woody said, “There’s definitely a fine line you’re walking. You try not to throw people under the bus because you don’t want to burn bridges, but at the same time, you want to be critical because that’s what the people want to hear” (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 11/2).
NBC Sports announced plans to produce 16 college hockey games next year on NBC Sports Network, the channel currently known as Versus. This marks the first time the channel has carried college hockey games. The channel kicks off its coverage Dec. 31 at 7:00pm ET with a Boston Univ.-Notre Dame game. Starting Jan. 6, the channel will show games every Friday night during primetime. Coverage also will include four games from the Hockey East Tournament starting March 9, including a quarterfinals match-up, both semifinals and the final.
MATCHUPDATE MATCHUP12/31 Boston Univ.-Notre Dame2/17 Dartmouth-Yale1/6 Dartmouth-RPI2/24 Boston Univ.-Vermont1/13 Minnesota Duluth-Nebraska Omaha2/24 North Dakota-Denver1/20 Michigan-Notre Dame3/2 Denver-Nebraksa Omaha1/27 Yale-Harvard3/9 Hockey East Quarterfinal2/3 Cornell-RPI3/16 Hockey East semifinal2/10 Boston College-Vermont3/17 Hockey East final2/10 Minnesota-Denver
In Minneapolis, Joe Christensen cited a source as saying that the Twins "have notified Ryan Lefebvre that he won't be replacing John Gordon as the team's radio play-by-play voice." Sources had indicated that Lefebvre was the "favorite to land the job," which he interviewed for last month. Triple-A Int'l League Rochester Red Wings radio voice Josh Whetzel "also has been told that he's out of the running." Other known candidates include current Twins pre- and postgame studio host Kris Atteberry and Brewers broadcaster Cory Provus, but it is "unclear which person the Twins plan to hire" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 11/1).
SUCCESSFUL TRANSITION: In Boston, Chad Finn notes the October Arbitron numbers, covering the period of Sept. 15-Oct. 12, marked WEEI-AM's "first full month of simulcasting on 93.7 FM." WEEI "finished third overall in the October monthly with a 7.5 share among men 25-54, up from a 4.6 (9th) in September." The Sports Hub WBZ-FM "was first (9.9, up from 8.2 last month), with WZLX second (8.4)." The Sports Hub "continued to produce outstanding ratings; its programming finished first in morning drive, middays, and afternoon drive among men 25-54 as well as among men 18-49 and 18-34." But WEEI "was first in the 7 p.m.-midnight window, while the Sports Hub was 10th." And WEEI's ratings "improved significantly from September across the board among men 25-54." Finn writes it is fair to say the outlook is "still excellent for The Sports Hub, while the decision to move to FM is already showing signs of being a tremendously effective one for WEEI" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/2).
MAJOR CUTS: In London, Jonathan Liew reported BBC Sport "has been ordered to trim 15 per cent from its budget, around [US$1.1B], and already the cuts have begun to singe." Liew wrote in hindsight, the BBC’s "decision to purchase exclusive rights to Formula One, made in early 2008, a few months before the start of the economic crisis, looks like hubristic folly of the most counterproductive kind" (London TELEGRAPH, 10/31).
INCREASED EXPOSURE: YAHOO SPORTS' Kevin Iole noted the promotion the UFC "was getting Sunday during Fox’s NFL broadcasts is yet another example of why the deal" with Fox is so important. Iole added, "Expect the UFC to have a huge growth spurt in the second half of 2012 after a couple of events have appeared on Fox" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/1).