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BASEBALL, BROADCASTING POWERS CLASH OVER SUNDAY NIGHT GAMES

With the extraterrestrial sums of money changing hands in sports television, occasionally it's a relief to sit back and watch the movers and shakers disagree.

Earlier this week, in a rare display of megacorporation machismo, Major League Baseball told ESPN to take a flying leap off the nearest satellite dish at its headquarters in Bristol, Conn.

Since ESPN will carry the entire NFL Sunday night schedule, the cable network wanted to move Sunday night baseball games in September to ESPN2. To many observers, this wasn't a slight. It's not as if ESPN were farming out the baseball games to TV Tahiti. ESPN2 is seen in about 60 million homes, while ESPN is available in about 74 million homes.

Major League Baseball objected, however, because it says its contract calls for the games to be carried on ESPN. MLB spokesman Rich Levin said Thursday the games can be moved only with baseball's permission.

Said Levin: "Given the fact these are our pennant-race games, and (with) the home run chase, we think these are significant games, whereas the football games are beginning-of-the-season games."

One problem with baseball's position is, by rejecting ESPN2 as a carrier and turning the games back to the teams involved, the viewing audiences will be smaller.

"That's not the issue," Levin said. "The issue is, the games are contractually supposed to be on ESPN. They unilaterally took them off."

Predictably, ESPN was puzzled by baseball's resistance to the switch. ESPN's Diane Lamb pointed out that two years ago, ESPN moved a Cleveland-Baltimore playoff game to ESPN2 because the Yankees-Texas game was on ESPN. And two months ago, the "Deuce" carried a baseball game because a Stanley Cup playoff game was on ESPN.

Levin said baseball suggested the September NFL games be aired on ESPN2, but that idea was dismissed.

ESPN's stance on carrying the NFL games from opening night on is understandable: ESPN and partner ABC are paying $9.2 billion over eight years to televise the Sunday and Monday night packages, respectively.

Levin and Lamb said the two organizations are speaking, despite the appearance of a strained relationship.

"Our relationship has always been very good," Levin said. "This is a short-term solution. We hope to continue talking to them and work out a long-term solution."

Said Lamb: "We're still hopeful of working it out. This is not an acceptable resolution."

For Sean McDonough, NFL can wait

Sean McDonough returns as the lead play-by-play voice on CBS college football telecasts. With the NFL back on CBS, McDonough was asked during a conference call earlier this week whether he felt overlooked for NFL duty.

"I have a great job in college football," McDonough said. "When I was told our team would stay together -- (analyst) Terry Donahue, producer Craig Silver, director Bob Fishman, the people behind the scenes -- that made me very excited about staying in college football. I've never had more fun than I've had doing this package. Maybe down the road, I'll be involved in the NFL."

McDonough's father, Will, is a longtime, respected Boston Globe sports writer who served as an NFL reporter for NBC. When NBC lost its NFL package to CBS, Will didn't switch networks.

Sean said his father is happily heading toward retirement.

"The Globe talked him into staying (one more year)," Sean said.

Alluding to the resignation of two Globe news columnists for fabricating columns, Sean McDonough said, "If he's not making stuff up, he probably won't fit in at the Globe."

Sean added: "Other people in this business have told me that he was really the first of the information/newspaper people who made the transition into television. If he had failed, the opportunity might not have come along for the people who have followed him."

No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 11 West Virginia is the CBS season opener on Sept. 5.

Around the dial

CNN's "College Football Preview" debuts today at 11:30 a.m. The show's analyst is Trev Alberts, a 1994 first-round draft choice of the Colts who retired last season due to injuries.

NBC will air the Houston-Charlotte WNBA semifinal today at 4 p.m. Lifetime will air the Cleveland-Phoenix semi tonight at 8.

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