King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Sports fans have some power over their TVs. Plus: Can TiVo make it tougher to fill out a Tournament bracket?

By Salon Staff
Published March 16, 2004 8:00PM (EST)

I have cable, not a dish, which always surprises people because I'm a sportswriter. It's like a dereliction of duty that I can only get 17 basketball games in a day instead of 67. Anyway, on Saturday I settled in to watch the second Big 12 semifinal, Kansas vs. Texas, on ESPN2.

I say that as though I hadn't already been settled in all day, but I'm trying to paint a picture here. Work with me.

At game time, ESPN2 switched over to ESPNews, which is ESPN's version of a test pattern, only without all the excitement. The game was blacked out in St. Louis, where King Kaufman's Sports Daily has its world headquarters thanks to massive government subsidies. It was blacked out because a local station had bought the rights to that game in case local fave Missouri was playing in it. But since Mizzou had lost to Kansas in the quarterfinals, that station had no interest in the game and didn't show it. So the St. Louis market just had to do without Kansas-Texas.

Here's why I'm telling you this: A guy I know who works at ESPN told me that if someone had mentioned to the network that that local station wasn't showing the game, ESPN would have lifted the blackout on the spot. But nobody called. My friend says ESPN has ended a handful of unnecessary blackouts in the last year when customers have complained.

The way to go about complaining is to call your cable company. If you get the runaround or the brushoff, demand to speak to someone in the "head end," which is where the satellite equipment lives. Your cable company wants you to keep using its satellite equipment rather than getting your own, so you should get some cooperation.

There will be a lot of potential conflicts and blackouts in the upcoming women's NCAA Tournament, not to mention baseball season, so pay attention. If a game you want to see is being blacked out and you don't think it should be, get on the phone. It's not often in the sports world when the customer actually has some power.

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Bracket knowledge is a dangerous thing, so I'm safe [PERMALINK]

Thanks to my recent tax-deductible purchase of a TiVo player, I am going into the NCAA Tournament with way more knowledge than ever before. For the first time in the history of me, I have seen every team in the Tournament play at least one game this year.

I've seen all five 16 seeds. I've seen Illinois-Chicago and Monmouth, Louisiana-Lafayette and UTEP. I've watched Eastern Washington, Western Michigan, Central Florida and Northern Iowa, not to mention Southern Illinois. I've even seen some of the teams they beat to get this far. I've seen East Tennessee State and Valparaiso enough times to actually form opinions about them.

The problem is, it's all a blur. Which one was Illinois-Chicago again? Floppy-haired sharpshooter kid? No, wait, that's Northern Iowa. Or Liberty. I don't know. If I shared my opinion of Valparaiso with you, call me.

Fortunately for me, I cling to the belief that the less I know, the better I do when making predictions, so my addled memory will help me when I fill out my bracket.

I'll let you in on that process Thursday, as I always do. Reader Eric Samuelsen wrote in to say he's sick of the TV networks hyping their analysts' brackets. "Were supposed to get all psyched," he wrote. "They promo it on 'SportsCenter' all the time: 'Next, see Dick Vitale's brackets.' Like I care about ESPN's office pool. The only good thing about it is that it sounds vaguely dirty. 'Hey man, you wanna see my ... brackets?'"

Rest assured I don't expect anyone to get all psyched about my Tournament picks. I share them only as a public service, to give you all something to ridicule. As usual I'll be forming the Salon Tournament Pool o' Experts using the brackets of various characters in the typing and chattering classes whose picks can be found without too much searching. Last year's winner, Tony Mejia of, is still entitled to his prize of dinner at my house, which he hasn't claimed because I've cleverly never told him about it.

Also in this pool will be my son Buster, the coin-flippinest 1-year-old in America. At his request, I've changed his methodology. "Having me pick every game by coin flip means I'm picking roughly 50 percent upsets, which is far too many," he told me. "I'd like to change it so that when I've picked an upset for one game, the next game can't be an upset unless the coin lands in favor of the lower seed on two flips in a row. That will lower the chances of my picking upsets by some percentage I'll be able to figure out in a dozen years or so after I take algebra, assuming of course that I do better in algebra than you did."

He didn't say that in so many words, but signaled it by throwing noodles on the floor.

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