The Madness of Bilas

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T1_0316_bilasjwm.jpg's Richard Deitsch checks in every Monday with the latest doings in TV, radio and the Web.

ESPN's Jay Bilas says he does not know the terms that were negotiated for his job-sharing program with CBS but he could not be happier about his over-exposure in March. "I'm exclusive to ESPN but CBS traded some sort of rights for me," he says. "I think it was a ham sandwich and a bag of chips."

For the record CBS gave ESPN better access at the men's Final Four, reduced the restrictions on highlights of the men's tournament, and will actively promote ESPN's coverage of the women's basketball championship game. ESPN also gets the right to put some men's basketball games on ESPN Classic. It's unknown how many cold cuts were thrown in to the deal. This is the fifth year Bilas has worked for both networks; he missed the tournament in 2004 when the two sides could not come to an agreement. The deal goes through the remainder of his current TV contract, which expires in 2010. Bilas will work the first two weeks of the tournament for CBS (he'll do nine games alongside NCAA tournament broadcast rookie Carter Blackburn and Dick Enberg) before shifting back to ESPN for his usual run in the studio. He was in Bristol on Sunday for ESPN's post-bracket review show.

Such esprit-de-corps benefits viewers. (In the same vein, the NFL Network recently added CBS NFL insider Charley Casserly for its NFL draft coverage).

Bilas has long been a cogent and thoughtful voice in the sport. He's not afraid to chastise the game's sacred cows. Most know him as a television basketball analyst but he's also a litigation attorney in Charlotte (he successfully won a case against the company behind the purple dinosaur, Barney). At the moment, he has no active cases but works at his law office when he's home in Charlotte.

"I hear people say you can have it all but I believe you can't," Bilas says. "You have to make choices. If I wanted to carry my litigation to the highest level for me, I could not do all this basketball stuff. I had to make a choice seven years ago and I made the choice." His choice for the tournament? Bilas likes Kansas over UCLA.

Tim MacMahon, Dallas Morning News reporter: Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has long been a powerful voice on how to exploit and monetize content on the Web, and his Blog Maverick is always interesting reading. It's particularly appreciated in this space how accessible Cuban is to the press.

Alas, Cuban recently made a foolhardy decision when he instituted a new policy banning full-time bloggers from the team's locker room. The timing was curious: It came after MacMahon wrote this critical piece on Mavericks coach Avery Johnson. The ban also effects one person: MacMahon, who has been blogging about the Mavericks since 2006. Cuban says he is not singling out MacMahon and that it's an issue of space in the locker room. The Society of Professional Journalists offers a different take here.

Professional sports and college programs have some tough decisions ahead about which bloggers to credential, both from traditional and non-traditional sources. There is no gray area here. MacMahon is employed by the state's biggest paper and has covered the team as a professional journalist for two years. The decision smacks of retribution for a critical piece on Cuban's coach.

"I think that teams No. 14 on down can beat anybody No. 3 on up in that given game. Davidson can play anybody in the United States a legitimate game. Maybe you can make an exception for the No. 1-seeded line, but Davidson played Duke, North Carolina and UCLA and had leads in those games."

-- CBS Sports analyst Billy Packer, on a lower-seeded team that could reward you in your pool. No. 10 Davidson plays No. 7 Gonzaga in Raleigh on Friday.

"They are lending credibility and even some civility and authority to kind of a frontier universe. So you have a chance to call attention to your own responsible ideas and your own responsible ways of framing them, even in a world where there is a lot of irresponsibility."

-- Roy Peter Clark, the senior scholar at the Poynter Institute and the author of Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies, on why a major sports columnist would interview a then anonymous sports blog Plenty of e-mail came in after my piece last week in which the creator and editor behind The Big Lead Web site went public. Clark offers an interesting take on the continuing nexus of mainstream media members and bloggers in sports.

Bob Knight had a good start with ESPN. Sure, he's gruff and his on-air demeanor suggests he'd rather be hunting for dove as opposed to television viewers, but I find myself interested in his takes. (FYI: Knight picked fourth-seeded Pittsburgh to win it all.) He breaks things down in a concise manner. (The Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein sees it differently).

That said, I'll never go back on this: I'm forever irked that ESPN (or any network) would give a man who showed such contempt for media professionals a plum on-air gig alongside broadcasters and behind-the-scenes people who respect the craft...

• ESPN anchor Rece Davis made Knight's transition from coach to MEDIA MEMBER (and that's in caps, Bob) easy for the viewers. Like James Brown, Chris Fowler, John Saunders and Trey Wingo, Davis instinctively understands that part of being a studio host is to deflect attention away from you...

• Wingo will host the second day of ESPN's NFL draft coverage. Previous host Suzy Kolber will have a reporter role. Good move...

• Packer was tough at the beginning of his interview with NCAA Selection Committee chairman Tom O'Connor (who is also the athletic director at George Mason) about the Atlantic Coast Conference getting only four bids despite having the No. 1-rated RPI as a conference. O'Connor said the committee never talked about conference rankings...

• Excellent work by ESPN to get Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg a couple of minutes after the draw was announced. Greenberg (and Knight) argued to expand the tournament...

• Packer gave props to SI and CBS staffer Seth Davis on a conference call after the broadcast: "He has a good handle on what's going on," Packer said. What do I say? The check's in the mail from Seth...

• ESPN's Dick Vitale went on a harangue Sunday night that implored Indiana to hire Knight back as its coach (Vitale also joked that he and Digger Phelps would come as assistants).Knight's response? None. He stared blindly into the camera. It was fabulous and awkward television. Finally, he said, "If we turned off his [Vitale's mike], he has a spare." I'm hoping Vitale advocates Knight for every open basketball job (including the Knicks) from now until the end of the tournament.

Lenny Bruce. Dave Chappelle. Richard Pryor. Chris Rock. All of these people are not as funny as Knight based on the reaction of Phelps during Knight's opening week. Phelps laughed nearly every time Knight opened his mouth, giving this writer the impression that Knight's next gig might be The Comedy Store in Los Angeles. Thankfully, Phelps calmed down by the weekend.

Something to keep an eye on during ESPN's coverage of the women's basketball tournament: What kind of access will UConn coach Geno Auriemma give ESPN on the heels of a report by the network that UConn committed a potential secondary violation by arranging for a tour of ESPN's headquarters for star freshman Maya Moore during an unofficial visit to Connecticut in 2005? Auriemma, who occasionally works as an analyst for ESPN, questioned the network's motives in this Hartford Courant story. Also, how aggressive will ESPN play up the animus between Connecticut and Tennessee during the tournament? If the teams meet in Tampa on April 8, it will be one of the most-anticipated women's basketball games in history.

All eyes will be on CBS' coverage of the NCAA tournament, which tips off with first-round games on Thursday and Friday (Noon-5 p.m., ET and 7 p.m.-12 a.m., ET). The philosophy from CBS officials? Same as always. "Moving from game to game as quickly we can, and showing all the great finishes," says CBS Sports executive producer Tony Petitti.