Shooting from the lip
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
Most interesting deal
Finally, the big networks are getting it. CBS announced it will broadcast four EliteXC — that's a mixed-martial arts organization — events in prime time on Saturdays this year. EliteXC features legendary street fighter Kimbo Slice, who might be the scariest man alive. If CBS has any success at all, expect to see the networks jumping all over the mixed martial arts bandwagon.
There are rumors Fox is talking to the UFC, the most successful and popular MMA organization. And it seems only a matter of time before Showtime gets more heavily involved and HBO joins in.
Speaking of the CBS deal, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti, on ESPN's Around the Horn, said: "CBS, the network of Edward R. Murrow, is putting on mixed martial arts in 2008. It's the undoing of American culture.” Apparently, Mariotti forgot CBS has given us Big Brother and Kid Nation, so the network has already done its part. Whether MMA on network TV is good or bad, this cannot be good news for boxing.
ESPN college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb gave his list of the top five Cinderella teams for the NCAA Tournament. That would be five teams from small conferences that have a chance to get at least as far as the Sweet 16.
3. South Alabama
4. St. Mary's
Good list, but he can't be accused of going out on the limb with Butler, a team that is ranked 14th and made it to the Sweet 16 a year ago before losing by eight to eventual-champion Florida.
Most disturbing deal
Excuse me if I'm not exactly giddy about Bob Knight joining ESPN for March Madness. Knight is a guy who has done nothing but criticize the media and make their jobs impossible to do during his career as a coach. As Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch pointed out, Knight once called the media "one or two steps above prostitution.'' But now their good enough for him?
And, ESPN, what are you doing hiring this guy who, deep down, has contempt for you, too? Did everyone at the World Wide Leader forget how bad Knight treated its own Jeremy Schaap a few years ago?
So we all know that sports leagues, deep down, want certain big-market teams to do well because it simply helps TV ratings and the league's popularity. Let's face it, any league — the NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL — would rather have teams from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago in the big games as opposed to, say, a Kansas City, a Portland or an Edmonton. But, geez, leagues aren't dumb enough to say it. That's why it was so surprising to hear Arena Football League commissioner David Baker say: "We need New York to become a champ. The more stability we have in bigger markets, the more it's going to help us.''
That's true. Still ...
This is not to suggest that the AFL has any funny business going on, but why even open yourself up to questions in the event a controversial call in the playoffs goes New York's way?
Mike Lupica, on ESPN's Sports Reporters: "Isiah Thomas apparently told his injured point guard, Stephon Marbury, not to attend any more Knicks games this season. But think about it. Wouldn't the Knicks be better off if it was the other way around?''
Sports locker rooms are like Las Vegas: What goes on in there, stays in there. So ESPN investigative reporter T.J. Quinn didn't break any new ground on Sunday's Outside the Lines story about how baseball players, executives and staff ignored the signs of steroid use over the past couple of decades. Still, it was a chilling reminder of how this whole mess could've been nipped in the bud years ago.
"Very few people spoke up about what they saw,'' Quinn said in his report. "The Mitchell report exposed a culture of loyalty and secrecy that was practically an incubator for performance-enhancing drugs. Players had every incentive in the world to cheat and no shortage of people who enabled them, sometimes by simply looking the other way.''
Best praise/harshest criticism
During Sunday’s Lakers-Mavs game, ABC NBA analyst (and former coach) Jeff Van Gundy had lofty praise for referee Violet Palmer. Van Gundy mentioned how Palmer was one of two female referees to join the league in 1997.
"The other one wasn't very good,'' Van Gundy said, referring to (but never using the name of) Dee Kantner, who was fired after the 2002 season.
Play-by-play man Mike Breen said: "You're honest in your analysis — 'The other one wasn’t very good?'''
Van Gundy cracked, "She cost me a game in Cleveland once.''
CBS college hoops analyst Seth Davis had some juicy thoughts on Arizona, where longtime coach Lute Olson took the season off to deal with family matters and Kevin O’Neill is serving as interim coach and considered Olson's eventual replacement.
"It has been very dysfunctional between Lute Olson and Kevin O'Neill,'' Davis said. "They basically have no communication. Lute Olson has been in the office almost every day meeting with players, so he's been around. Things have really gone south between the two of them. … My understanding is that Lute Olson wants to come back, and he intends to be the coach at least for next season. So the most likely scenario is that next year Lute Olson will again be the head coach at Arizona. And Kevin O’Neill will not be there, and Arizona will have to find another successor.''
Worst choice of words
ESPN's Michelle Tafoya is a good reporter, but she went a little overboard talking to Lakers coach Phil Jackson during a Sunday Conversation on SportsCenter. She said the Lakers were "hands-down'' favorites to win the NBA title. Tiger Woods is a "hands-down'' favorite to win PGA events. Roger Federer is a "hands-down'' favorite to win tennis tournaments. The Lakers are good, but there are plenty of serious contenders -- the Mavs, the Cavs, the Pistons, the Celtics, the Suns and, oh yeah, the defending champion Spurs. Even Jackson said, "I'm still not sure about the hands-down part.''