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Behind the Broadcast: ESPN displayed its influence with exposé on Rutgers basketball

Saturday, April 6, 2013
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It has been easy to take shots at ESPN over the last several years.

From its lack of NHL coverage to its overhandling of stories about Tim Tebow and the Los Angeles Lakers’ woes to having to listen to Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith blow hot air on “First Take,” ESPN seems to be focused more on sensationalism and entertainment than providing meaningful news to its viewers.

But then there are days like Tuesday that remind you how powerful and influential ESPN can be in a good way.

“Outside the Lines” helped bring attention to a nasty situation involving the Rutgers men’s basketball program and coach Mike Rice. Video provided to “OTL” showed Rice throwing basketballs at his players. He would also curse at them and yell homophobic words. Rutgers suspended Rice three games and fined him $50,000 in December, when it learned of this.

But it really didn’t become public knowledge until “OTL” showed the tape on Tuesday. One of the guest on the program was Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti.

Jeremy Schaap, who was anchoring Tuesday’s show in place of regular show Bob Ley, grilled Pernetti, who seemed more def­iant than apologetic. Schaap, who, when asked questions, referred to Pernetti as “Mr. Pernetti” instead of calling him Tim, wasn’t going to give Pernetti an easy way out.

One memorable question Schapp posed was, “Why such leniency?”

“People can speculate on it,” Pernetti said. “I was the one knee-deep in all the details in the investig­ation, and there was a first offense. And also, I think you’re cutting short the consequences that were delivered in this case. There was a three-game suspension. There was a total removal from the program for that total of three weeks. There was also a not-for-pay situation, so the financial penalty was a lot more than $50,000. It also required practice monitoring, mandatory sens­itivity training and counseling and a var­iety of things that don’t end when the season ends.”

Well, the nation’s response to that is something you can’t print.

It didn’t take long for Rutgers to take action. Early Wednesday morning, Pernetti reversed course and fired Rice. There was no way Rutgers could keep Rice after viewers saw the videos. Pernettti then resigned as AD on Friday.

To me, this reminded me of Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Al Campanis, when asked by Ted Koppel on ABC’s “Nightline” in a 1987 interview on why there weren’t any African-American managers in Major League Baseball, said that they “lacked the necessities” to manage. A couple of days later, Campanis was fired.

This is the kind of journalism that makes ESPN stand out. Along with its remarkable “30-for-30” film series, ESPN can set the standard for sports journalism.

Now, if it can cut out all the other crap it shows, then ESPN would be worth watching all the time.

RIGHT CALL

CBS got it right last Sunday when it stopped showing replays of the gruesome broken right leg suffered by Louisville’s Kevin Ware in the first half of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament game against Duke.

There was no reason to keep showing the play over and over again. The reactions of the players, coaches and fans was more than enough.

“If people want to go watch the footage for whatever reason, they have a right to do so,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said during a conference call Monday. “I just didn’t think we had any oblig­ation to be the facilitator of putting that footage back on the screen. We documented it, we described it and we showed it, and I think that was enough.”

Having seen something similar to Ware’s injury, I don’t need to see the footage ever again.

In a Nov. 9, 2007, ECAC Hockey game at Dartmouth, Union’s Luke Cain was ridden into the boards on a clean check. He lay on his back, and play was stopped. For a few seconds, no one knew what was wrong with Cain.

But then everyone saw his right foot was bent at a 90-degree angle. To this day, it was the most sickening thing I have ever seen in a game that I have covered. So, I don’t want to watch Ware’s injury at all.

NCAA TOURNAMENT

The men’s Final Four tips off at 6:09 tonight with the first semifinal between Louisville and Wichita State. The second semifinal, between Michigan and Syracuse, is scheduled to start at 8:49 p.m.

CBS6 (WRGB) and CBS6 HD will have the TV coverage. WGY-AM (810) and WGY-FM (103.1) will have the Syracuse play-by-play call. WOFX-AM (980) will carry both semifinals from Dial Global.

Monday’s final is slated for 9 p.m. on CBS6, CBS6 HD, WOFX and, if Syracuse wins, WGY-AM and WGY-FM.

On the women’s side, the Final Four semifinals are Sunday on ESPN and ESPN HD. The first semifinal pits Louisville against California at 6:30 p.m., and Notre Dame takes on UConn at 8:30 p.m. in Game 2.

The championship game is Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN, ESPN HD and WOFX.

ISAACS DIES

Stan Isaacs, who was one of the pioneers of the sports broadcast media column, died Wednesday. He was 83.

Isaacs started his column for Newsday in 1978. The only other newspaper covering the sports broadcast media at the time was The Boston Globe.

 
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