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Announcers pulling their punches

Billy Packer and Jim Nantz have taken some heat for their tough questioning Sunday of the head of the committee that chose the at-large teams in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

The CBS duo should have been cheered for speaking their minds, something that occurs far too infrequently because the networks have become too close to the sports leagues they cover.

Craig Littlepage, the NCAA selection committee head, took umbrage at CBS' tough questions from one of the NCAA's so-called "partners." But he had the time to correct Packer if and when he misstated past selection policy.

Littlepage was being treated no differently than any politician who appears Sundays on CBS' "Face the Nation," NBC's "Meet the Press" and ABC's "This Week." Politicians have learned that facing tough questions is an opportunity and can even make you look good.

Colin Cowherd, whose ESPN radio show airs on WGR Radio, talked Wednesday morning about the impossibility of avoiding some ESPN partnership because the sports network carries everything, including spelling bees. He spelled out the problem about as well as anyone in broadcasting. When you're in bed with a league, it isn't that easy to speak your mind without reprisal.

This is the first season that WGR, the local sports station, has carried Buffalo Sabres games. The Sabres have had such an incredible season that it has become hard to criticize them for anything. But if things go south in the playoffs, you have to wonder if the fawning WGR hosts will be as tough on the Sabres as they have been on the Bills or if the new "partnership" will result in the pulling of punches.

There were several recent moments when you might have expected basketball announcers to make some strong statements about the futures of coaches and the behavior of coaches.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim's expletive-laced defense of guard Gerry McNamara during the Big East Tournament was played over and over again on ESPN, which carried the tourney. His passion was understandable, even laudable. But I never heard an announcer say what Boeheim eventually said in a postgame interview -- that the school's chancellor and his own wife told him he shouldn't have used profanity and they were right. If Boeheim were coaching at Notre Dame instead of Syracuse, he might have been suspended.

Someone on ESPN should have called Boeheim on his profanity. You wonder if they were more worried about their relationship with the Hall of Fame coach than in doing their jobs.

While we're on the Big East, ESPN's announcers were determined to remind viewers during Notre Dame's first-round loss what a good coach Mike Brey is. Who were they trying to talk to? Irish fans, who couldn't have been too happy about how often Notre Dame looked lost running plays in the final seconds when it lost several games? Or Notre Dame's administration, which had to be pained by all those close losses. Or Brey, who might have some legitimate concern over how long he'll keep his job if he doesn't start diagramming better final plays.

The announcers working Canisius' first-round Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament victory and second-round loss never mentioned the tenuous job status of Canisius coach Mike MacDonald. They did tell viewers what a wonderful guy MacDonald is (and he is) and how difficult his job has been over the last few seasons (and it has been). They may have thought that bringing up MacDonald's job status would jeopardize his job. But not bringing it up didn't help. He was fired anyway. As MacDonald demonstrates annually in Channel 7 appearances during the NCAA Tournament, he could have a career in broadcasting.

The announcers working tight tournament games involving Arizona State and Wyoming both mentioned the uncertain status of their coaches almost apologetically.

The only thing that is certain during March Madness is that every coach will be praised. Heck, during the Atlantic Coast Conference title game, ESPN's Mike Patrick praised Boston College coach Al Skinner for putting in a defensive specialist near the end of a loss to Duke after cameras spotted an assistant talking to him. Maybe it was the assistant who should have been praised.

All the coach worship makes you wish there was one Simon Cowell who would tell viewers: That coaching move was "appalling." Even Packer never goes that far.


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