- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Dick Vitale didn’t even realize he was on the radio. Billy Packer was more concerned about a Duke player being suspended than about a North Carolina player having his nose splattered across his face. Brent Musberger gave away one of the USC quarterback’s hand signals. Lee Corso was last seen wearing a mascot head.

Anybody for term limits for TV sportscasters?

Some would describe these episodes as senior moments, inasmuch as ESPN’s Vitale, CBS’ Packer and ABC’s Musberger are all 67 and ESPN’s Corso an even riper 70. The bigger question, of course, is: Why do these four fogies continue to be so omnipresent? Haven’t our broadcasting schools — or Ex-Coaches Associations — produced anyone in the last 20 years capable of sitting in these guys’ swivel chairs?

I mean, is there no one else who can tell a funny story?

Or explain the difference between an X and an O?

Or fawn orgasmically over (a.) the latest “it” coach, (b.) the latest “it” player or (c.) the latest “it” student cheering section?

Are personality, expertise and obsequiousness suddenly hard to find in this country?

I bring this up because we’re about to be deluged with Dickie V. and Billy P. — this being NCAA basketball tournament time — and the two of them have certainly had their problems lately. In many chatrooms, they’re Dumb and Dumber, Death and Taxes, Leopold and Loeb, Liver and Onions.

Let’s start with Vitale. While schmoozing with fans at a restaurant recently, he said some things that were picked up by a live cell phone — and transmitted, without his knowledge, to a radio station in Knoxville, Tenn., that was waiting to interview him. Once his words went out over the airwaves, of course, there was no taking them back, though he clumsily tried to.

“It was all in jest,” Vitale insisted when he told the fans that Florida coach Billy Donovan “grabbed me all alone and said the pro scouts are making a mistake” if they take Joakim Noah over Al Horford in the NBA Draft. “We were having a joking conversation. … This is a non-story.”

The bigger issue, according Dickie V., was that he didn’t even know he was on the air. “Come on, now,” he pleaded with the radio show’s hosts, “you want to be professional. … I’m at a restaurant.”

So was Jimmy the Greek.

Packer’s offense a few days later was even more heinous — because he did know he was on the air. After Gerald Henderson’s elbow broke Tyler Hansbrough’s nose in the closing seconds of the Tar Heels’ 86-72 victory over the Blue Devils, Billy leaped to Henderson’s defense (“I don’t think it was a dirty shot at all”) and criticized the officials for “taking too much time” to review the play (while the Carolina crowd pondered vigilantism).

When Henderson was ejected, Packer stepped up his attack on the zebras (“I think this is a poor piece of officiating”) and sounded more worried about the perpetrator than the victim (“This is a tough situation for Duke”). To make matters worse, play-by-play man Jim Nantz deferred way too long to his elder before trying to balance the scales.

“Now you start to wonder about what the situation is going to be for Hansbrough, too,” he said (but not until four minutes had passed). “How serious is that wound to the nose? Is it a broken nose? Is he going to have to maybe come out next week and play with a mask?”

It was Packer who should have been wearing a mask the next week … so nobody would recognize him. Granted, Billy is paid to be provocative, to shoot from the artificial hip, but how could he have been so impervious to the blood pouring from Hansbrough’s nose? He probably thought he was being brave to take a stand like that in the Dean Dome, but one man’s “strong opinion” is another’s hardening of the arteries.

As for Musberger, he stepped into the same sinkhole Vitale did: mistakenly disclosing confidential information. In his case, it was a sign John David Booty flashed to Southern Cal receivers to let them know the blitz was coming — and to expect man-to-man coverage. Booty showed it to Brent the day before the Nebraska game during an intelligence briefing for the TV crew; then Brent, who apparently no longer believes in state secrets, proceeded to spill the beans to his viewers.

“Unconscionable,” an SC spokesman huffed.

“An unfortunate misunderstanding,” the network’s Director of Excuses said.

Fact is, Musberger — after 40 years in the business — should have known better, known where the line is drawn in these matters. And if his memory really is that faulty, then allow me to nominate him for a 2006 Scooter Award. Or is it a Libby Award? One or the other.

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