King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Cricket makes the papers in the U.S. Plus: Ron Jaworski to join "Monday Night Football" booth. And: NCAA Tourney TV ratings flat. So?


Salon Staff
March 27, 2007 8:00PM (UTC)

On Friday I found out that the cricket World Cup was taking place in Jamaica. On Saturday I read a piece in the New York Times by Indian author and diplomat Shashi Tharoor lamenting the fact that cricket doesn't suit the "homogenized McWorld" of America.

Tharoor's a big-time writer who was in the running for a while to become secretary-general of the United Nations, so his piece was a high-class version of the old "you don't like my favorite sport, so you must be stoopid" argument. It was "Soccer sucks!" for the NPR crowd.

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Cricket is neither here nor there for me, which does not, in my mind, speak to the content of my character, just as Tharoor's distaste for what he thinks of as the simple-minded sport of baseball doesn't prove that he's a fool.

His scribbling in the Great Gray Lady does that.

But my point is the only reason I heard about the cricket World Cup is because the coach of the Pakistani team, Bob Woolmer, had been murdered in his hotel room after a shocking loss to Ireland, according to Jamaican police. That's the sort of thing that can get a sport some column inches in countries where it's underappreciated, and I applaud the efficiency of cricket in this matter.

This one time? Soccer started a whole war.

It's all horrible, of course. There's been speculation about match-fixing, gambling debts, disgruntled fans. No theory has taken precedence and no arrests have been made.

But the whole thing reminded me of something the great playwright and drama critic George S. Kaufman, who I like to think of as an ancestor even though he wasn't, once said. Or was supposed to have said. He was typing for the very same New York Times in those days, and a press agent asked him, "How do I get my leading lady's name into your newspaper?"

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The reply: "Shoot her."

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Jaworski for Theismann: Good trade [PERMALINK]

The best NFL news of the offseason wasn't when your favorite team snagged that free agent or made that great trade -- your team, not mine -- it was ESPN's announcement that Ron Jaworski would be replacing Joe Theismann in the Monday night booth.

Nothing particularly against Theismann, who was better last year than he'd been in the final, unlistenable years of the Sunday night team with Mike Patrick and Paul McGuire. It's just that Jaworski is about the best football analyst in the business.

He's enthusiastic and fun without being a phony, and he can make the X's and O's come alive, make them interesting and understandable to people who have never been through two-a-days. Everything Theismann does well, Jaworski does better. The things Jaworski does best, Theismann doesn't do at all.

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The tension between Theismann and Tony Kornheiser, who have butted heads over the years, was supposedly a drawback to last year's booth, though I think that was one of its more entertaining aspects, just as I enjoyed the tension between Bill Walton and Tom Tolbert, who reportedly couldn't stand each other, on NBA broadcasts a few years ago.

But whatever. Jaworski and Kornheiser are friends, they've bantered entertainingly in other corners of Kornheiser's media empire and the Polish Rifle is not as tightly wound as Theismann anyway. He'd figure to mesh much better with an oddball partner even if they weren't already pals.

The only downside to this move is that Jaworski's insights will be limited to one game. He'll be missed on ESPN's "NFL Matchup," where he runs through game film with Merril Hoge to preview the entire weekend. But the downside to his hosting "NFL Matchup" is that he didn't spend more time in the booth. Life's complicated like that.

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Tourney ratings flat, which means up [PERMALINK]

This year's NCAA Tournament couldn't be more different than last year's except in one way: TV ratings. Those have been just about the same.

The 2006 Tournament was an upset fandango featuring George Mason and Bradley and overachieving 7-seeds Georgetown and Wichita State in the Sweet 16, Mason making a for-the-ages run to the Final Four.

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This year's been a lot better for the kind of person who roots for Goliath. National marquee programs, including an improved Georgetown, back to its once-customary spot near the top of a bracket, populated most of the Elite 8 and all of the Final Four.

So how can this be? How can TV ratings be flat? Love for plucky underdogs aside, shouldn't the powerhouses that survived the first weekend, with their years of sports audience building, be bigger draws than last year's bunch, with all those strangers? George Who? Bradley? That's in Massachusetts? No wait, Kansas. Hang on.

Well, they are bigger draws. TV ratings as a measure of interest are going the way of the dodo and the offensive interference call. Flat ratings from one year to the next are a win. If you're not losing TV audience, you're winning.

CBS spokesman Alex Riethmiller says the network's March Madness on Demand site has "seen double digit growth with every metric" from last year's Tournament to this year's, "including time spent viewing, which is obviously a key figure."

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"We covered our advertising commitments for the entire tournament in just the first four days of action," Riethmiller says via e-mail. "This was obviously pretty significant considering we more than doubled our ad revenue with MMOD this year."

Imagine how the online product would do if it worked as reliably and easily as your TV does.

This column was unable to get the streaming video to work this year, and I see from various message boards that I wasn't the only one. I could have fiddled around and tried to fix whatever the problem was, maybe succeeded. But I didn't, and I suspect I'm not alone in not being interested in that activity either.

Someday, online viewing will be as mindlessly easy -- sit down, click, enjoy, every single time -- as television viewing. At that point, TV ratings will really become meaningless. In the meantime, they're meaningless enough when staying the same is the same as getting better.

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On pins, also needles, over here [PERMALINK]

Other than the CBS studio guys and some suits somewhere, does anybody care even a little bit about the AT&T Naismith Award? Do the finalists?

Previous column: Non-fab frosh Final Four

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