Olympics, Revamped College Football Highlight '84 TV Sports

Associated Press

Summer Games and Supreme Court.

They pretty much summed up the state of television sports in 1984, a year marked by Howard Cosell-less Monday Night Football; a drop in NFL television ratings; a splendid World Series; and big bucks for Brent Musburger.

Despite the Soviet-led boycott, the XXIII Olympiad in Los Angeles opened and closed with a heck of a party and in between managed moments not likely to be forgotten by television viewers.

The 180 hours of superb coverage promised and delivered by ABC were watched by an estimated 180 million during the 15 days of the Summer Games.

The Supreme Court, on the other hand, may have unwittingly altered our viewing habits--as far as football is concerned--by putting the NCAA out of the TV contract business.

The high court's decision left every school to bargain for itself and made it possible to watch 24 hours worth of college football games on some cable networks.

Working without a time difference and snow cancellations, ABC more than made up for the Sarajevo Winter Games disaster in sunny Southern California.

Among the memorable shots, many of them show through a marvelous gadget called Super Slo Mo:

--Valerie-Brisco Hooks hugging her husband and baby and then being tackled to the ground by her delighted coach after she won the gold medal in the 400 meters.

--Zola Budd glancing over her shoulder in shock as Mary Decker went down in the infield during the 3,000-meter race.

--Gabriela Andersen-Schiess staggering and zig-zagging in agony through the final yards of the 26-mile women's marathon.

--Myrella Moses burying her head in her hands as her husband, Edwin, ran in and won the 400-meter hurdles.

--Olympic wrestler and one-time cancer victim Jeff Blatnick's tears after winning a gold medal.

It all opened with a splendid parade of nations, thousands of balloons and rollicking Americans and closed with a spectacle of dazzling light, dance and sound--a party with space ships, laser lights, breakdancers and fireworks.

One of the biggest moments, though, wasn't shown live in the United States. Carl Lewis' historic fourth gold medal was shown on tape 15 minutes after it happened. ABC was showing us preliminaries of the men's platform diving while Lewis was anchoring the U.S. 400-meter relay team to victory in world record time.

The Winter Games, meanwhile, were a tad bleaker.

Viewers quickly lost interest when the 1984 U.S. hockey team lost its first two games and quickly proved the "Miracle of 1980" wasn't about to be replayed.

A heavy snowfall forced postponed several ski races and interest really didn't pick up until Kitty and Peter Carruthers won the United States' first medal--a silver in pairs figure skating--several days into the competition.

To be sure, there were shiny moments in Yugoslavia. Examples: Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's X-rated, gold-medal winning ice dance to "Bolero" and the U.S. Mahre brothers' 1-2 finish in the slalom on the final day of the Winter Games.

ABC, meanwhile, had to offer some of its sponsors free commercial slots to compensate for the smaller than expected audiences for the Winter Games.

In June, meanwhile, the Supreme Court ruled against the NCAA's exclusive control over televised college football games, and sparked a mini-revolution in the nation's TV-viewing habits.

The historic 7-2 ruling, which freed individual colleges to make their own television deals, meant more games on television, some during prime time.

Justice John Paul Stevens, in his opinion for the court, said the NCAA's exclusive TV arrangement violated a federal antitrust law--the Sherman Act--by limiting the number of games on TV and by forcing the networks to pay a set price that could drop if individual schools negotiated on their own.

"By curtailing output of the number of televised games and blunting the ability of member institutions to respond to consumer preferences, the NCAA has restricted rather than enhanced the place of intercollegiate athletics in the nation's life," Stevens wrote.

And as a result, there was never a college football season like this one.

Everyone was free to cut their own deal. Among the larger conferences, the Big Ten and the Pac 10 signed a deal with CBS. The 65-member College Football Association joined with ABC.

The gravely voice that belongs to Howard Cosell was missing in the broadcast booth this season when ABC kicked off Monday Nigh Football for 1984.

Cosell, who received high marks for his work on Olympic boxing, announced in August that he was retiring from the Monday Night team, ending 14 years as the catalyst and cornerstone of ABC's prime-time football show.

"I am sick of travel," he said. "My wife was not with me at the Olympics. Enough." In another interview, he said, "Pro football has become a stagnant bore."

Don Meredith and Frank Gifford were subsequently joined by O.J. Simpson for the Monday Night broadcast.

Football ratings, meanwhile, sagged and industry experts said it wasn't Cosell-connected. They blamed it on glut. Too much of the game on the tube.

"The answer is pure and simple, there is just too much football presently in the fall with the explosion of college football," said Arthur Watson, president of NBC Sports. "There's oversaturation."

"The fact, is, football is not just a one-season sport but continuous throughout the year. People have found other things to do." The United States Football League, which has a spring schedule, is the reason football is no longer a one-season sport.

Baseball, however, still is and World Series viewers were treated to perhaps the finest televised Fall Classic ever when NBC decided to go with two men in the booth--Joe Garagiola and Vin Scully.

Both are masters of baseball's spoken word, but they knew when to let the game speak for itself. Scully is the long-time Dodger announcer who worked his first Series in 1953; Garagiola, the former major leaguer who covered his first Series in 1964. Both have handled play-by-play assignments, but their knowledge of baseball minutiae made them excellent color commentators. NBC's Super Duper Slo Mo camera allowed viewers to literally see the seams on the ball.

At CBS, Brent Musburger became the highest paid sports broadcaster in history by signing a five-year contract with the network worth $2 million a year.

He'll continue in his role as anchor of the "NFL: Today" wraparound football broadcasts, take over the chief play-by-play responsibility on college basketball, so some pro basketball broadcasting, work on the Masters golf telecast and continue his role on CBS Radio's baseball broadcasts.

"I wanted to remain a part of those events," said Musburger, who admitted he was tempted by the attention ABC Sports showed him.

NBC broadcast TV's first four-hour horse race--the inaugural Breeders' Cup from California. Actually, there was only about 13 minutes of racing in the entire show, but there were some classic moments.

In the last race, aptly called the Classic, Wild Again, Slew o' Gold and Gate Dancer, bumped their way side by side to the finish line. Wild Again was the winner.

Ratings were slightly below what the network had hoped for, but NBC officials said they were pleased.

Viewers in nearly 35% of the country weren't pleased when NBC cut away from a live "Skins Game" telecast last month with Jack Nicklaus about to chip to the green. Nearly $250,000 was riding on that shot. Viewers, instead, saw the NFL pregame show.

NBC said it had contract commitments to the NFL.

"'We had nothing to do with it," the NFL said.

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