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ESPN takes Dick Vitale off UNC-Duke basketball this week

Perhaps nobody enjoys Duke-North Carolina more than Dickie V., who, sadly, won’t be at the next game.
Perhaps nobody enjoys Duke-North Carolina more than Dickie V., who, sadly, won’t be at the next game.
Published Feb. 16, 2015

tom jones' two cents

Tampa Bay Times sports columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

Most disappointing news

When you think of the Duke-North Carolina basketball game on television, who is the first person you think of? Dick Vitale, right?

Since joining ESPN in 1979, Vitale has called every single Duke-North Carolina game the network has aired. More than any other college game or rivalry, Vitale is known for Duke-North Carolina.

But not this week. The streak is coming to an end.

Vitale has not been assigned Wednesday's Duke-North Carolina game. He used to be the lone analyst on the game, but over the past few years, Vitale has called the game with play-by-play announcer Dan Shulman and analyst Jay Bilas. Wednesday the game will be handled by just Shulman and Bilas.

Vitale wouldn't comment on it, but he surely must be devastated by not being able to call the game for which he is best known.

ESPN isn't forcing Vitale out of the network. He signed an extension through the 2016-17 season, and ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said Sunday that Vitale remains an integral part of the network's basketball coverage. However, this reminds me a little of what happened to Brent Musburger.

Though he still seemed to be very much on top of his game, Musburger was taken off ESPN/ABC's No. 1 college football announcing team and farmed out to the SEC Network last season. The move said less about Musburger than it did about ESPN's desire to give Chris Fowler a more prominent role by having him call the top college game each week.

Same here. This can't be about Vitale, because like him or not, he is the same announcer with the same enthusiasm he has always had. His game has not slipped in the least. This seems like more of a desire to raise Bilas' profile even higher.

Still, you would think ESPN could accomplish that without taking Vitale off Duke-North Carolina.

Best show

The best thing I saws on television over the weekend — sports or otherwise —was a repeat of a 2012 ESPN documentary called Skate on Film. It was a tight 30-minute documentary about the history of skateboarding videos featuring some of the legends of the sport, including Ty Evans, Tony Hawk and Pat Duffy.

What you might not know is that in the early days of skateboarding, the stars weren't those who won competitions, but those who made videos featuring themselves in urban settings doing incredible tricks. The videos started as sort of homemade pirate videos, and they eventually became more slickly produced.

But all the videos did the same thing. They gave the skaters street credibility with other skaters. And in some cases, those skaters were more respected and more popular for their videos than anything they did in competitions, something that might even be true to this day despite the explosion of the X Games and other televised competitions.

What a fascinating story told deftly in Skate on Film.

Strongest comment

Many folks out there, particularly those from the Chicago area, are criticizing Little League Baseball for stripping the 2014 U.S. title from Chicago's Jackie Robinson West team for using players outside its district. True, you feel bad for the kids, who had nothing to do with who was put on the team. A bunch of arrogant, irresponsible adults are to blame. The kids are being punished, too, but Little League had no choice.

The topic came up during ESPN's Sports Reporters on Sunday morning.

"The kids will be fine, and nobody can take those memories away from them,'' New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica said. "But (Little League) would have done those kids a profound disservice if (it) let them think the rules in sports, especially at the youth level, are some kind of buffet table or that we could look the other way because of a really good story.''

Best list

New York Post columnist Joel Sherman came out with a cool list: the 50 most fascinating people in baseball. Only one Ray made it. Care to guess who?

Surprisingly, it wasn't Evan Longoria.

No, it was new Rays manager Kevin Cash (top right), who came in at No. 47. Meantime, a couple of former Rays made the list. Cubs skipper Joe Maddon (middle) was No. 5, and former Rays ace David Price (bottom), now with the Tigers, was listed at No. 36.

New commissioner Rob Manfred topped the list, which also included in the top four Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, Mets ace Matt Harvey and Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton.

Biggest surprise

This came out of nowhere: Fox and Telemundo were awarded the U.S. broadcast rights to soccer's 2026 World Cup without having to compete against bids from other networks. No one, including other networks such as ESPN, even knew the rights were being sold. Fox and Telemundo already had the rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The 2026 rights, however, are a bigger deal because of speculation that the World Cup will be held in the United States.

Best ratings

The NFL Network re-aired Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 3 (two days after it was played) and drew 234,000 viewers. As Sports Business Daily points out, that was more than NBCSN drew for the Wild-Blackhawks NHL game, which had 207,000 viewers. However, it was less than the NBA TV game between the Heat and Pistons, which had 323,000 viewers, and not even close to the 576,000 viewers who watched a college basketball game between West Virginia and Oklahoma on ESPN.

Best news

College basketball fans, you gotta love this: Bill Raftery (right) has been named to call the Final Four by CBS. Greg Anthony was CBS's lead college analyst, but he was suspended for the rest of the season when he was arrested for solicitation of a prostitute this year. (The charges against Anthony will be dropped if he completes a community-service program.)

What wonderful news that Raftery, a really good guy and great broadcaster, finally gets his shot at calling a Final Four on television at age 71. Raftery has been working mostly for Fox this season, and give Fox some praise for allowing Raftery to move over to CBS for the Final Four.

There has been no word on Anthony's future, but the hope here is that CBS gives Anthony a second chance next season if he completes his legal obligations.

Three things that popped into my head

1. Jeff Gordon announces he is retiring from full-time racing after this year, and then he goes out Sunday and wins the pole for the Daytona 500? Well, isn't that convenient.

2. I love the work of NBA analyst Charles Barkley, but I find it harder and harder to defend him when he curses on live television, as he did last week when ripping into the Kings' DeMarcus Cousins. Come on, Chuck, you're a smart guy who is paid to talk. Get your points across without cursing. Everyone on TV manages to do that.

3. Best phrase in sports comes to fruition this week: pitchers and catchers report.