AMERICA'S CUP UPDATE : NOTEBOOK : ESPN is Hoping to Have Koch Vs. Conner in Finals

For the sake of the show and the trophy, ESPN wishes Dennis Conner a long and successful life in this America's Cup.

Conner currently is fighting for survival against Bill Koch's America 3 powerhouse, which hopes to place two boats in the defender finals in April.

"If it's a Koch vs. Conner final, I think the Cup will stay (in San Diego)," said Gary Jobson, one of ESPN's two expert commentators for the live, almost daily coverage that started last weekend. "If it's a Koch vs. Koch final, I think the Cup will go."

And so, probably, will a lot of the viewers.

"I think it's fair to say we'd like to see both Bill and Dennis in the defender finals," Jobson said.

ESPN and the host broadcast for the world feed have placed cameras and microphones on the six remaining boats, including the challengers' final four. Despite high levels of secrecy and paranoia, some have opened their arms and doors to the electronic media. One in particular--America 3--has been more restrictive than the others, according to ESPN personnel.

Executive producer Jed Drake said, "The level of cooperation has ranged from very good, as with the French, to definitely less than that. (Conner's) Stars & Stripes has been fine . . . the Italians, and New Zealand and Japan have been coming around.

"Let's see, whom does that leave?"

Jobson hired most of Koch's crew and was an alternate helmsman/tactician until parting company over Koch's reluctance to select a No. 1 crew.

"Bill Koch has been nervous when I come around," Jobson said, "but because I was part of the America 3 camp I've pretty much left them alone. Bill Koch and I have agreed to leave each other alone."

Peter Isler, ESPN's other expert commentator, used to be Conner's navigator so has no problems with access to that camp.

"Dennis has been very open," Isler said. "I was on board with him an hour after he broke his mast that day . . . in his compound while they took it apart.

"America 3 has been very careful about where the cameras are (on the boat), and the accessibility has been considerably less when we come calling with our ESPN blazers on."

Jobson said that when he's on the air "I'm always aiming at the non-sailor. I hope (the Cup teams) realize that this is a one-shot opportunity to make sailing special."

In that sense, Drake said, "All syndicates should run their operations like the French do."

Most of the skippers--Conner in particular--have had no objections to being wired for sound while racing. Again, America 3 has been more difficult, and Nippon Challenge's Chris Dickson has flatly refused to have a microphone within hearing range of the afterguard's tactical talk.

"It would be like having a microphone in the huddle of a football team," Dickson said.

But Jobson, who also has done considerable Cup racing, said there is no way an opponent could gain from tactical plans going out over the air since it's illegal to receive communication of any kind once the race starts.

Drake said, "Some days they'll go out with the microphone all wired up, and then they'll come in with it all wired up--but we won't hear anything in between."

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