With apologies to the Super Bowl, the World Series and all the other big sporting events out there, the NCAA basketball tournament has to be the single greatest event in TV sports.
(Well, calling it a single event isn't exactly accurate — after all, there are 63 games altogether.)
Why? Because you can sit down in front of the set, watch two teams you don't care much about — sometimes two teams you don't know anything about — and find yourself caught up in thrill of it all. Especially when underdogs are winning, as has happened so frequently this year.
I personally witnessed quite a few BYU and Utah fans getting excited about Utah State's first-round victory and Southern Utah's near-victory. How often does that happen?
And there's something about the sheer emotion of the college players winning and losing that professional sports just can't match. Oh, we all know that big-time college sports is, in many ways, a business. But the players can't possibly be good enough actors to fake the tears of joy or tears of happiness.
TV's effect on athletics often seems to be more bad than good. But the fact that the NCAA tournament is so available to so many people is one of the best things TV has done.
RATINGS FALL: All that said, how do we explain the fact that, nationally, the first four days of the NCAA tournament was a ratings bust of sorts? Oh, the numbers weren't bad, but they were down 9 percent from last year (which was, by the way, the lowest-rated ever).
Apparently, it's just part of the trend that has seen ratings of pretty much every major sporting event drop because, with more and more choices on more and more channels, the audience is more and more fractionalized.
ON THE OTHER HAND: The NCAAs did have a part in some good sports TV ratings news — they took the XFL down yet another peg.
NBC pulled its lowest ratings to date this past Saturday, a miserable 2.1 that was the lowest-rated sports event in prime time in the history of network television.
NOT INTERESTED: Isn't it interesting that television, which seems perpetually interested in ex-coaches as analysts, completely bypassed the biggest name in college ex-coaches this year — former Indiana coach/crazy man Bobby Knight is nowhere to be seen during the NCAAs.
(Well, he's on an Internet site, but that's it.)
Reportedly, Knight couldn't interest either CBS or ESPN in his services. Which, given the fact that TV so loves controversy, is all the more amazing.
Texas Tech may want Knight. TV doesn't.
ABBREVIATION CONFUSION: Kudos to CBS for keeping fans updated on the action of all the games via their graphics — with one quibble. It would help if the abbreviations were a bit less obscure sometimes.
Like GAST. What the heck is GAST? Hmmm, whoever GAST is, it's playing MD, which must be Maryland so . . . GAST must be Georgia State!
But what about SJU? Hmmm, is it St. John's? Is it San Jose — nah, that would be SJS or SJSU for San Jose State. Turns out it was St. Joseph's, but how, exactly, that could be distinguished from St. John's is hard to say.
For that matter, there must have been viewers out there wondering what the heck SUU was.
TOLD YOU SO: As predicted here so fearlessly last week, some local college basketball fans were unhappy with what CBS showed of their teams last week.
The howls in Logan were so loud you could hear them in Salt Lake City when the network cut away, albeit briefly, during the last minute of the Aggies' amazing overtime upset of Ohio State on Thursday. (It was, however, just to give an update on a game that was still in doubt, whereas USU had put OSU away by that point.)
We couldn't hear howls, but there did seem to be a lot of moans coming from both BYU fans on Thursday and USU fans on Saturday — CBS was showing entirely too much of the Cougars getting thumped by Cincinnati and the Aggies getting thrashed by UCLA.
Gee, couldn't the network have given us a few more mercy cut-aways?
QUOTABLE: CBS Sports President Sean McManus, in the New York Daily News: "The one thing we know is, whatever move we make is going to get someone angry. When you take someone away from a game — even if it's a 40-point blowout — some people watching are going to be upset, even if you take them to a more competitive game."