In the not-so-long-ago days, before the Supreme Court told college football to break it up, judges and hand-held TV football cameras didn't have a whole lot in common.
That was the time when one, then two, then three networks televised NCAA college football. The choices were simple. Either go to a game or get your scores from the Prudential College Scoreboard. How easy.
Now, after the legal decisions and resulting alphabet soup, it's clear the courts and TV cameras do have a relationship. Like dominoes. Cause and effect.
Ric LaCivita produces college football games for CBS. When the Supreme Court ruled last summer to deregulate NCAA control over the televising of college football games, he decided he had to make some changes.
He wanted more cameras on the field during games, a trend CBS has been following since 1982, when the network began televising college football. If there are eight cameras in a stadium, he decided to put four high, four low. Two years ago, only two would have been low.
LaCivita wants to shoot from the ground up, with an eye for background. Fans with painted faces. Pompons, bands. "More intimate," LaCivita says.
He has his reasons.
"If you're a football fan, and you're dialing around on your television, looking for games, you are going to see green, green, green. Cameras shooting from up high, with the field as the background.
"Then, all of a sudden, on one channel you're behind the quarterback, or in the quarterback's face, or in the defensive backfield. You can see the blue and gold, or whatever, of the fans. You may keep the dial on that channel for one extra second, and that's what we want."
It's subliminal, just like in the commercials. They're trying to get you.
"I think we're winning a lot of viewers," LaCivita said. "They may not know why . . . "
The real result of the Supreme Court decision is not necessarily confusion. It's just more football. In Boston last weekend, there were 11 games on television. There will be eight on TV here today.
Competition is forcing the big boys to make some changes, however subtle. ABC is talking about giving more scores. "People don't get enough scores and hot chocolate chip cookies," said Beano Cook, ABC's studio jester.
CBS, meanwhile, is talking about visual effects. These are things they can do that the syndicators, the little guys, just don't have the resources to do. The two networks have twice the staff of the syndicators, more equipment, more money and studios to go back to for updates.
"They have the ability to bring in 10 different games to the studio, to show highlights," said Don McGuire, the coordinating producer for Raycom Sports, which is televising Southwest Conference games this season. "Me? I'm stuck out here in College Station doing a ball game."
Yet, the syndicators do have the games now. On the first big weekend of college football, CBS showed Washington-Michigan, one of the dullest games of the season, a 20-11 Washington victory. ABC came back with Pitt-Oklahoma, which sounded good on paper, but looked just awful on the screen. The Sooners won, 42-10.
And little Jefferson-Pilot, the Atlantic Coast Conference's syndicator, had Navy-North Carolina. No glitz, no fancy studio, just a 33-30 Navy come-from-behind win in the final three minutes.
"The game is the product itself," said Donn Bernstein, ABC's college football media director. Last weekend, ABC showed Missouri's near-miss field goal in a 16-14 loss to Notre Dame. "No camera angle in the world is going to change that," Bernstein said.
ABC doesn't tinker as much as CBS does. LaCivita, who worked at ABC for seven years before joining CBS, says he is going to take chances with his broadcasts. "We're going to differentiate ourselves," he said.
CBS plays a very good underdog. Clearly, announcers Gary Bender and Pat Haden don't have the tradition and name-recognition of ABC's Keith Jackson and Frank Broyles, but they are much more innovative.
An example. Haden had been watching films of Washington quarterback Hugh Millen before the Michigan game, and noticed Millen tipped off his plays with his eyes. When he looked downfield as he called signals, he threw. Haden told LaCivita, who made sure a camera on the field caught Millen's eyes during the game. Sure enough, Haden was right.
The next day, Washington Coach Don James heard about CBS' discovery and called Millen into his office. That little problem was corrected.
There is a risk in using low cameras too often, though. CBS televised Nebraska-UCLA two weeks ago (another gem: Nebraska, 42-3), and, on a Nebraska punt, went to a camera behind the returner. But the punt skimmed off the back of a UCLA blocker, never getting to the return man, and was recovered by Nebraska. The replay came from a high camera and showed all, but the first camera angle didn't pay off.
The fan clearly is the winner in all this, what Bernstein calls "wall-to-wall football." More football, more choices. However, since the networks are not doing regional games, it hurts when a game is a blowout, which most of theirs have been. The network can't switch to another game because it doesn't have another game to switch to. So you're stuck with the game -- or the scores from the studio.
CBS, which is televising Big Ten and Pacific-10 games, and ABC, which is televising College Football Association games, have yet to meet head-to-head on a Saturday. That happens a week from today at 3:30 p.m., when CBS goes with Ohio State-Illinois or Washington-Stanford, and ABC shows Oklahoma-Texas.
The competition is particularly intense that day. The syndicators, of course, will be pumping out their usual fare from around the country.
Meanwhile, NBC will be showing the World Series. Baseball, not football, will win the fans that day. In this case, green backgrounds -- or ivy-covered walls -- will make no difference.