North Carolina-Middle Tennessee State on WNVC-TV-56. My 72-hour basketball buffet starts with former ACC play-by-play broadcaster Jim Thacker on Northern Virginia's tiny television sports machine. But because I live downtown in a basement apartment, the Channel 56 picture is ghastly and ghostly, making the contest look like a 10-on-10 affair.
7:05 p.m. -- At every commercial timeout, Channel 56 pleads with its viewers for contributions. The station's approach is sound and simple: we paid $3,000 for the rights to televise this stuff, so why don't you all pledge $3,000 and we'll be even? I'm tempted, but I generally do not offer money except at gunpoint.
8:15 p.m. -- To combat Channel 56's deteriorating reception, I am forced to stand on the breakfast bar, holding the UHF antenna in one hand while extending my other arm and rotating it in counterclockwise circles. That produces a sharp, clear picture, affected only when I answer the phone.
11:30 p.m. -- Washington- Kentucky on CBS. Midway through the first half, I fall asleep. I have Utopian basketball dreams, fantasizing a day in the near future in which NCAA tournaments are played without Pacific-10 teams.
Friday, 2:30 p.m. -- Maryland-Miami (Ohio) on Channel 20. Frank Herzog sounds network-bound with a marvelously understated play-by-play; analyst Joe Dean sounds battle-bound with an emotional call to arms from the opening moments. Dean uses the word stufferino more during the course of the telecast than most families do during the course of several lifetimes.
7 p.m. -- Michigan-Fairleigh Dickinson on Channel 56. Faced with a decade of guilt over watching public television while callously ignoring its financial needs, I finally dig deep into my wallet and call in a pledge of $5.
8:55 p.m. -- Flushed with excitement over FDU's near- upset, I call the station again and pledge an additional $25, plus my firstborn child.
11:30 p.m. -- Alabama- Arizona on CBS. Taking what I believe to be an important moral stand, I refuse to watch another tournament game involving a Pac-10 team.
Saturday, 6 a.m. -- With cable almost upon us -- D.C. ought to be hooked up in our children's lifetime -- we soon will know the pleasures of around-the-clock sports programming. Until then, I must call a friend in Northern Virginia, who kindly leaves his telephone receiver next to the TV so that I can listen to six hours of taped coverage on ESPN.
Noon -- Georgetown-Temple on CBS with Frank Glieber and James Brown. How did Brown get so smart, so suave, so slick and so smooth so suddenly? Is a Harvard education really that valuable? (I attended Maryland only because Harvard returned my application with the words "address unknown" on the envelope.)
1 p.m. -- CBS' Brent Musburger, as studio host, begins a series of halftime features on teams distinct only in their overwhelming superficiality. They amount to 90-second video postcards with little insight and lots of rock music. CBS usually does better.
2 p.m. -- Notre Dame-North Carolina on CBS with Gary Bender, who can make a TV timeout sound dramatic, and Doug Collins, a keen observer of the obvious.
4:05 p.m. -- After Loyola (Ill.) upsets SMU, Coach Gene Sullivan tells James Brown that it's "the first time I've been interviewed by somebody I recruited."
4:25 p.m. -- During its highlights updates, CBS repeatedly attempts to elevate a minor scuffle between Georgetown and Temple players into a significant event. The incident did not deserve attention, but because it was the Hoyas, the network capitalizes on the team's roughhouse reputation.
4:30 p.m. -- St. John's- Arkansas on CBS. Dick Stockton and Billy Packer ably handle the game. Packer occupies more air time than most analysts, yet, game in and game out, his comments are sharp and pointed. He might be wrong occasionally -- he insists, for instance, that the South would have won the war if Dean Smith were around then -- but he's always thinking along with the coaches.
Sunday, noon -- Villanova- Michigan with Bender and Collins again. Bender makes far too many errors on play-by-play. And in the opening minutes, Collins tells us, "Rebounding's so important in the game of basketball."
2:30 p.m. -- Maryland-Navy. Bender and Collins again. At the 9:45 mark of the first half, I go without sound until intermission. At halftime, I fill out my tax returns for the first time since 1979 while Musburger gives a trite report on the escape from the ghetto by Syracuse's Pearl Washington.
4:30 p.m. -- Georgia Tech-Syracuse on CBS. Despite an 11-year hiatus from basketball play-by-play, Pat Summerall succeeds because he trusts his instincts to let the game carry itself.
6 p.m. -- CBS shows the final 12 minutes of Boston College-Duke. Despite missteps along the road to Lexington, CBS proves again that it handles the games themselves as well as anybody.