Too much violence in America? Blame television. Kids don't read anymore? Blame television. Marriages breaking up at a record pace? Blame television.
When society goes awry, television's a convenient whipping boy. Only this time, TV folks aren't quite willing to take the rap for the sorry state of college athletics.
But with the glut of college basketball and football on the air, with a growing awareness of how the academic process often is perverted in pursuit of athletic gold, with the recent Tulane point-shaving scandal, people in television again must ask: are we responsible?
"We're certainly a part of it, but I don't think we're the catalyst," said Peter Lund, CBS Sports president. "It's always easy to point to television. But the fact of life is that, like other situations, nobody is forcing anybody to do anything. The fact that television's there hasn't corrupted the institutions at all.
"Clearly, there is money out there. But clearly, there have been pressures on coaches and athletic directors for years. Years ago, it was important to fill up your seats, especially in college football, to support other programs. Nowdays, the pressures are also to get on television. There's so much money out there."
Colleges will receive about $120 million in television rights fees this year.
Bill Grimes, ESPN president, strongly believes the fault lies within the ivory towers.
"I don't see any ills that have been created by television," he said. "It's an inability of the complainers to manage their own houses. You don't hear it at a school which has somebody like (Indiana basketball Coach) Bobby Knight.
"Yes, there's a lot more money available at schools. I don't see where that's television's fault. They have to crack down on themselves. Alumni are guilty. The temptations should be controlled better."
Almost certainly, the amount of televised college sports will be reduced. "From a business standpoint," Lund said, "there is too much on the air. I think we are going to see fewer games, certainly this coming season at the syndicated level in college football. There's definitely an awareness on the part of coaches and athletic directors that a continuing escalation of televised games could hurt in the long run."
Eddie Einhorn's TVS network was the forerunner of syndicated televised basketball in the 1970s. By 1975, TVS was delivering NBC a package of regional weekend games. But by the early 1980s, TVS no longer could hang on to its conference contracts as other syndicators jumped in.
"There was an explosion, and they thought the bubble would never burst. It did," said Rich Hussey, director of program planning for NBC Sports. "Syndicators put wild projections on paper based on a beer war -- Budweiser versus Miller -- that didn't happen. We even felt the fallout at NBC. There has to be a cutback on both sides. Colleges have been rudely awakened to what the glut has done."
While the networks whine about oversaturation, Grimes insists such is not the case. ESPN, whose existence largely is made possible through its massive college programming, is not contemplating much of a cutback.
"I don't think the fan at home is complaining," Grimes said. "I think it's only the networks complaining. The public is getting more and watching more. The conferences aren't hurt. We do the Sun Belt Conference. Without ESPN, they wouldn't get national exposure. Without ESPN, lacrosse, soccer, tennis would not have this much video."
ESPN televises 23 NCAA championships and features coverage on nine other title events. In the 1985-86 college basketball season, ESPN will reduce dramatically the amount of taped-delay games it shows, but will continue to bring about 90 live game telecasts.
*On Sunday night, Prime Cable, which serves 38,000 subscribers in northern Prince George's County, pulled the plug on Chicago Cubs games. From the adverse reaction of some of Prime's subscribers, one might have thought Wrigley Field had been converted into an amusement park or Ryne Sandberg had defected to the Soviet Union.
What happened was this: after a long period of negotiation, Prime finally signed on Home Team Sports. Essentially, Prime logically chose HTS -- which does the Orioles, Bullets and Capitals -- over WGN and the Cubs. Prime added HTS to its basic service ($10.95 a month).
"The only way we could fund that without raising our rates is to reallocate our programming costs," said Fred Schmidt, Prime's marketing director. "We made a decision to eliminate one of the superstations. WGN's one of the most expensive services we offered. There are probably more ties to New York (WOR, the Mets) and Atlanta (WTBS, the Braves) in this area and probably more interest for those teams."
Because of copyright royalties that must be paid to superstations, WGN was costly for Prime to broadcast. Prime had the channel capacity to handle HTS in addition to each of the superstations, but economics dictated otherwise. "If copyright tribunal rights are changed and it becomes a more affordable service, we'd certainly add WGN back into the system," Schmidt said.