Money talks. Nobody watches.
Not true, they said at the press conference called yesterday to announce that Georgetown University's basketball team will meet Virginia's Cavaliers at Capital Centre Dec. 11--and that the potentially biggest event of regular-season college basketball in 15 years will be televised on cable, closed-circuit and pay TV.
"The answer is no," said Frank Rienzo, when someone asked the Georgetown athletic director if the decision to skip network television coverage amounted to a "dollars and cents" move--particularly in a town, like Washington, which has relatively little cable penetration and relatively large Hoya appreciation.
"We have been discussing the potential of a home-and-home arrangement with Virginia over an extended period," Rienzo said. "Our entrance into the Big East Conference made it very difficult for us to do that. So, no, I don't believe that's true--I think it's two fine universities with two fine basketball programs having an opportunity to compete."
As cable television continues to make its most obvious gains in the area of sports programming, the Georgetown-Virginia game is probably one of cable's biggest breakthroughs. Ted Turner and friends successfully bid an estimated $500,000 to put on, in prime time, the first meeting of two world-class centers: Patrick Ewing of Georgetown and Ralph Sampson of Virginia. Comparisons to the 1968 Houston-UCLA, Lew Alcindor-Elvin Hayes match-up in the Astrodome were almost as frequent as handshakes yesterday.
"I don't think we outbid anyone. We just offered to a consortium of universities the chance to . . . blaze some trails," said Robert Wussler, president of Turner Broadcasting's Atlanta superstation WTBS-TV-17, which will televise the game for about 21 million subscribers.
Sports Productions Inc. of Dallas will provide closed-circuit coverage and pay-TV arrangements. The companies are aiming for a combined audience of 50 million, Wussler said. A game like this undoubtedly would bring a network television draw of 80 million-plus.
"Now I know how (Georgetown coach) John Thompson felt in recruiting and pursuing Patrick Ewing, and how (Virginia coach) Terry Holland felt in recruiting and pursuing Ralph Sampson," said Sports Productions Inc. President Russ Potts, the former University of Maryland promotion man. He also said SPI hasn't finalized specific pay-TV or closed-circuit agreements yet--although he indicated Washington's Super TV and Marquee subscription services are "good possibilities," as are McDonough Arena and the D.C. Armory as closed-circuit sites.
No television rights were negotiated for the second game of the home-and-home agreement reached by Rienzo and Virginia Athletic Director Dick Schultz, Rienzo said.
CBS reportedly matched Turner's and SPI's bid for the first game and offered to carry it live in prime time--in itself an unprecedented offer--on Jan. 8. But Georgetown and Virginia preferred, for what were described yesterday as scheduling reasons, to play the game Dec. 11 at Capital Centre. Virginia and Georgetown will split evenly the Centre's 18,000 seats among season-ticket holders, Rienzo said.
NBC, whose regular-season NCAA games amount to about a third of the roughly 60 games CBS carries, had a scheduling conflict on Dec. 11, and wanted to carry the game on another date, though not in prime time.
"I think it's fair to say we're disappointed," said Kevin O'Malley, executive producer of college sports at CBS, "because in my view the offer we made was rather extraordinary, not only in dollars but because it would have been the first time a regular-season college basketball game would have been carried in prime time by a major network.
"It isn't very often a regular-season game of this caliber comes along," said O'Malley. "That's also one of the reasons I don't think we're looking at a trend here.
"We just hope to have the second Georgetown-Virginia match--in the NCAA tournament."