The Maryland high school sports championships are not scheduled to be on television this season.
For the last three years, stations in Annapolis, Owings Mills, Frostburg, Salisbury, Havre de Grace and Oakland have carried the football, boys basketball, wrestling and softball championships as a public television consortium.
"I called them several weeks ago to make the necessary preliminary arrangements for the football telecasts and I was told that they had decided not to broadcast our events this year," said Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association. "That was the first that I'd heard of it. I was told that there just wasn't enough viewer interest.
"Naturally, we're very disappointed and strongly disagree with this decision . . . I knew a lot of people around the state who watched these games. And even though we haven't announced this in our newsletter, I've already started to receive a number of calls from people who're upset with this decison."
"We spent $50,000 on production expenses for those programs," said Mike Styrer, programming director of the Maryland Public Television Corporation, "and there was very little viewer interest. We couldn't continue absorbing that amount of money and we weren't able to locate a sponsor willing to underwrite their production."
"Who're they trying to kid?" asked Del. Bill McCaffrey (D-25th District), who serves on the state's task force on professional sports. "The public television people didn't work very hard at all to make scholastic sports broadcasts work. And I can't believe that there aren't plenty of corporations throughout the state who wouldn't jump at the chance to demonstrate their support for Maryland scholastic sports.
He said he is drafting a bill that he will introduce in the Maryland House of Delegates "that would require scholastic sports broadcasts by Maryland Public Television. Remember the state pays about 50 percent of their bill. We pay for their personnel and facilities costs. Only the programming costs are met by public and corporate contributions.
"I don't want to tell them what to do, but they haven't given scholastic sports a fair shake. Their broadcasters were terrible. They hired a Baltimore disc jockey to do the games and he didn't do any homework on the schools or the players involved. It's no wonder that there may have been low viewer interest with the quality of their broadcats. I even visited them to express my concerns, but they didn't seem interested in improving the quality of the broadcasts."
"The person that he (McCaffrey) was referring to served only on halftime color commentary and as a sideline reporter," said Mike Styrer, programming director for Maryland Public Television. "The play-by-play was handled by people like Jim West, who once was the voice of the Chicago Cubs and now does University of Maryland football radio for WBAL, and Ted Patterson, who does Navy football on radio. The basketball commentary was handled by (former Washington Bullets) Wes Unseld and Mike Riordan."
"They did the best they could on their homework," said Styrer. "We even assigned staff to help gather information, but the schools weren't always responsive and there was little time to prepare because of the nature of the playoffs." re idea of legislation that would mandate broadcasting of state scholastic playoff games.
"I know that some of the public television people think we're going to be trying to run their business," Del. Tim Maloney (D-21st District) said, "but we're not at all. What we're attempting to do is to impress upon them what we see as the considerable value and worth of scholastic sports to the community."
The Virginia scholastic football championships have been telecast for several years on a statewide network. WNVT-TV-56 has shown the games locally.
"I can't believe that Maryland-based corporations like Marriott, Perdue, the Rouse Company, McCormick, U.S. F&G Insurance or one of our larger financial institutions wouldn't be interested," McCaffrey said. "And wouldn't something like this be a natural for Citibank and Chase Manhattan, who're trying to make a name for themselves in the state?
"I just don't think that Maryland Public Television tried very hard to find corporate sponsors. And that's why we're considering this proposed legislation, because a number of legislators and I don't think that our high schools, their teams and their fans are being given a fair deal."
"I would be very skeptical of any legislation that attempted to dictate what should be broadcast," said Styrer. "There are some very serious implications in this proposal. To my knowledge, no state legislator has attempted to dictate programming in the 16-year history of Maryland Public Television."
"I think our development division did a thorough job in trying to find a corporate underwriter. But you have to realize, too, that this wasn't the only program that they were seeking funding for.
"If the legislature were willing to give us the necessary funding or help find a corporate sponsor, then I'd be happy to broadcast these games."