The Final Four & Baseball Tonight

For sports fans, being able to watch great events such as the Men’s Final Four and the start of the baseball season prove that it can bring people from all walks of life together. And at the same time, reality sets in with the death of Pope John Paul II.

Saturday’s coverage of the Final Four on CBS did have reports from the news division on the death of the Pope and both were understated, hardly over the top.

CBS has covered the Final Four since 1982 and they have this event down pat. From host Greg Gumbel to top announcing team Jim Nantz and Billy Packer to the production crew, nothing was missed, no stat went unturned and the way the event was handled was just right. Packer and Nantz have a good chemistry. Nantz allows Packer to be Packer (which can be dangerous at times), but it allows for a good broadcast. While Packer’s knowledge is well-known, his opinions can be at times, antiquated and dry. On Saturday, I have to give him credit for giving good analysis and not overtaking the broadcast that some analysts have the tendency to do (i.e., Dick Vitale).

The studio team of Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis meshed although Davis still should not be on television. The Final Four Show moved well and there were good features; however, the Lesley Visser one on the 20th Anniversary of the Villanova upset of Georgetown has been done on HBO, ESPN, ESPN Classic, FSN and all in the past week. The Jump Ball segment with Tom Brennan, Lorenzo Romar and one other coach whom I can’t remember right now was too short.

The only things that came up short were the games. Both were blowouts by the middle of the second half, but even so, Michael Hiestand of USA Today reports that the overnight ratings were still up over last year.

ESPN’s coverage of college basketball ends Tuesday with the Women’s National Championship, but the network is now in baseball mode. Prime example was during “Baseball Tonight” which along with College Gameday (college football edition) and NFL Primetime are the network’s most important shows.

Even though BBTN did its first official show before the Red Sox-Yankees game last night, it was already in mid-season form. Host Karl Ravech is one of the best hosts on TV today. He asked the right questions of analysts John Kruk, Harold Reynolds and Peter Gammons. All three analysts worked well off each other and they all got their comments in without stepping on each other. Ravech knew when to interject and even though the show was on location at a very loud Yankee Stadium, Ravech handled everything the right way.

When ESPN doesn’t go too crazy as in SportsCenter or their silly gimmick shows like “Dream Job” or “Beat the Schwab”, it shows that no one can match their style or their substance. Baseball Tonight has the right tone and it just shows the highlights without silly schtick and smart-ass anchors. And with Karl Ravech, you have a host who knows how to keep pace and voice the highlights. The only other host on ESPN who is worth a damn is Chris Fowler who should be paid double his current salary for dealing with Lee Corso and Dick Vitale. I’m not ragging on either analyst, just saying that Fowler sometimes has his hands full and he does his job as traffic cop very well.

But Baseball Tonight is back and I’m looking forward to the way the show handles the highlights and live cut-ins. This is ESPN’s last year of its current regular season contract handling Sunday and Wednesday Night Baseball and thus, Baseball Tonight. Hopefully, Disney/ESPN will keep the contract just so BBTN can continue for many years to come.