It is time to answer some key questions concerning college basketball on TV.
Is the Empire Sports Network carrying more or fewer local games than last year?
The regional sports network is producing just four local college games, down one from a year ago. St. Bonaventure, Canisius and Niagara each make two appearances, the University at Buffalo one.
Empire General Manager Bob Koshinski said the loss of one game resulted from scheduling and had nothing to do with the ouster of former Adelphia owner John Rigas, known as a big fan of Bona and college basketball.
Bona and Niagara, a matchup that would have been attractive to Empire, are not playing each other. And the UB-Canisius game Dec. 14 conflicts with a Buffalo Sabres game on Empire.
The few chances for exposure the teams receive from Empire are vital because they don't get much attention on Fox Sports Net or the ESPNs, which carry an extensive schedule of games that probably cuts attendance at the local Division I games.
What happened to analyst Jim Satalin?
Empire's games will be announced by Fan-TV co-host Jim Brinson and former Niagara coach Jack Armstrong. Satalin, the former St. Bona coach, is now the supervisor of officials for the Atlantic 10 Conference. He told Empire that would make announcing any games (and complaining about bad calls) a conflict of interest.
The Big 4 battle between Canisius and Niagara kicks off the schedule at 4 p.m. next Saturday. UB hosts Niagara on Dec. 11, Canisius hosts Bona on Dec. 19 and Bona hosts the Saint Joseph's Hawks and Dave Mallon of East Aurora on Jan. 8. And that's it for Empire's own productions.
Empire also offers an extensive schedule of national men's and women's games that don't conflict with its Sabres schedule. Once again, the national schedule includes many Sunday games involving ACC contests, starting with a doubleheader Jan. 5. Empire's national schedule also includes five games involving Arizona, which is ranked No. 1 in several preseason polls. Duke and Xavier make five appearances, UCLA four. There are no Syracuse games on the schedule, but the Big East team has several games on ESPN, ESPN2, CBS and ABC.
Will Channel 4 carry every CBS game?
Yes, except one women's game. CBS kicks off its schedule with Duke-UCLA next Saturday and has five doubleheaders and two tripleheaders over 15 weeks. Syracuse's two appearances are at Miami on Jan. 26 and at Michigan State on Feb. 23. Pittsburgh, which features former Turner/Carroll star Julius Page, hosts Connecticut on March 2 and visits Villanova on March 9. And Cincinnati, which features Turner/Carroll standout Leonard Stokes, hosts Louisville on Feb. 22.
Why is ABC still carrying college hoops?
ABC, which has a very busy winter sports season now that it carries the NHL and the NBA, is the parent of basketball-mad ESPN. It isn't true that it carries a small NCAA schedule to inflict Dick Vitale on the entire nation. It only seems that way.
On Feb. 9, Channel 7 will have to choose between regional games involving Turner/Carroll alumni. Pitt visits Notre Dame at the same time Cincinnati hosts Oklahoma State. Since Pitt is playing Notre Dame, it looks like the most desirable game. The Syracuse at Georgetown game March 1 will not be pre-empted on that Variety Club Telethon weekend.
How does any network make money on televised hoops?
For some questions, there just aren't any answers.
Send Channel 2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore to the penalty box for reporting Wednesday that Mark Hamister's successful bid to buy the Sabres included the rights to the Empire Sports Network.
"Absolutely wrong," Koshinski said. "As it stands now, we are not in his bid to the NHL. I have been told by (Adelphia's) Erkie Kailbourne that we are not part of the sale."
I received a few e-mails defending CBS announcer Beasley Reece, whom I criticized for suggesting that the Chicago Bears were playing a first-place schedule. Reece's defenders noted that although there isn't a first-place schedule anymore, two opponents were determined by last year's standings and he was almost right. But parity is such a fact of life in the NFL these days that just because a team finished first last year doesn't mean it will be a tougher opponent than a team that finished last. The Bears play in a lousy division and are 2-8 because of their injuries, not their schedule.
While it is refreshing to see that local media members are reluctant to blame the officials for the Bills' 17-16 loss to Kansas City for fear of being labeled homers, what's wrong with stating the obvious? When the Bills weren't killing themselves, the officials were doing it to them. In calling the game, CBS' Phil Simms clearly thought a key pass interference call against Chris Watson, a key holding call on Peerless Price and a noncall for an illegal chuck by a Chief against Eric Moulds were all questionable. And no one is going to call Simms a Buffalo homer.
This ESPN poll has to really hurt Bills fans who trek to Miami annually for the Dolphins game and can't wait for the Dec. 1 matchup in Buffalo. According to a SportsCenter list of the Top 10 NFL rivalries, the Bills-Dolphins don't rate. The Dolphins-Jets ranked No. 3. And the No. 1 rivalry? The Packers and Bears. Bills fans obviously need a Florida recount.