When Steve Buckhantz found out that he’d be doing play-by-play for six American University basketball games on Comcast SportsNet this winter, he jumped on his computer and started doing research.
Turned out the first game he’d be calling was a Nov. 16 tilt with Mike Jarvis and Florida Atlantic, a school based in Boca Raton. Buckhantz, the longtime Wizards’ play-by-play man, was scheduled to be in Delray Beach, just a short drive from Boca, when the Owls started their season with an exhibition on Tuesday night.
Which is why Buckhantz is planning to watch that epic FAU-Lynn showdown in person, the better to prepare for his 2011 college basketball debut.
“You should be more informed than anybody else,” he told me. “That’s why I’m taking advantage of the situation to get a feel for Florida Atlantic.”
He’s fired up, you see.
“As soon as I got on my computer and started doing research, I just got invigorated,” Buckhantz said. “I’m working again. That’s what we want to do.”
“We” in this case includes the Wizards’ TV analyst, Phil Chenier, who will be Buckhantz’s partner for four of the six scheduled broadcasts. (John Feinstein will work the Army and Navy games.) And if that duo is excited, so too are the decision-makers at American, who now have more TV dates scheduled than at this point in any previous Eagles season.
While the NBA lockout made it possible to line up Buckhantz and Chenier as broadcasters, the Eagles were already pursuing an expanded package with CSN. The athletic department has partnered with the regional sports network on branding and marketing in recent years, and already does a monthly half-hour CSN show, “Eye on the Eagles.” Lining up a half-dozen televised games, including the team’s marquee matchup with St. Joseph’s and non-conference games with Howard and UMBC, was a natural next step, to boost both recruiting and publicity.
“We feel like we’ve got a good product, and as much as we can put that out there for people to see, there’s plenty of room on our bandwagon,” basketball coach Jeff Jones said. “Getting in front of recruits in this region in this way is certainly a positive; just familiarizing people with American University and with our men’s basketball program.”
And even though the arrangement would have happened regardless of the NBA labor strife, the lack of basketball offers an unusual opening. The Naval Academy, for example, is offering $3 tickets to men’s and women’s games through the end of the calendar year for anyone with a ticket stub or article of clothing bearing a pro basketball logo. And American will be offering televised competitive basketball, on the same station and with the same broadcasters who have long covered the Wizards.
“Obviously there are going be some to be some opportunities there with basketball fans, who we hope to pick up, watching on TV or coming to our games live,” American AD Keith Gill said. “I was talking to our president the other day, and as soon as I mentioned [Buckhantz and Chenier], he totally lit up....I just think this is cool, for lack of a better term.”
The Eagles have never previously had a multi-game deal with a single network, and while it’s only a one-year deal to start, athletics officials hope to extend it into the future. Of course, if you want to enjoy Buckhantz and Chenier at Bender Arena, this might be your best shot.
“I see Phil all the time, but not on the court where we belong,” Buckhantz told me. “As soon as they told me we were gonna be working together, the first thing I thought of was that Nike commercial: Basketball Never Stops. I just thought to myself, we could be doing a youth league game and it wouldn’t matter. To be standing out with him on the court, getting ready for a basketball game, is all we really care about.”
(FYI, Buckhantz is also scheduled to do at least two James Madison games for CSN later in the season, depending on the NBA negotiations.)