Fri, Jul 30, 2004 - Page 22 News List

Nessler back with Vitale; ABC fights for Rose Bowl

TV COVERAGE ESPN'S Brad Nessler will shift to covering college hoops with fireball Dick Vitale as the network begins a new Saturday night program

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Brad Nessler's run as the lead NBA announcer for ESPN and the backup to Al Michaels at ABC Sports is over. He will be the lead voice of a new series of Saturday night college basketball games that starts in January on ESPN and that will reunite him with his former broadcast partner Dick Vitale.

"Brad did the NBA for two years, and he really got into a groove last season, but his passion is working with Dick," said Mark Shapiro, an executive vice president at ESPN. "And we're making Saturday night college basketball a priority."

ESPN is also creating a Saturday night basketball version of "College GameDay," its long-running football program. Chris Fowler, the host of "College GameDay," will also be the host of the college basketball version, which will be carried from 11am to noon Eastern, then from 7pm to 8pm before the marquee game to be called by Nessler, and for an hour afterward.

Nessler had a shaky first season as ABC's No. 1 NBA announcer; the league opposed his hiring and lobbied for Marv Albert, then for Michaels, who last season called some regular-season and playoff games and all of the finals. Mike Breen is a leading candidate to replace Nessler.

ESPN and justice

The Justice Department's antitrust investigation into ESPN's practices in acquiring college football and basketball programming is moving along quietly, with several Division I-A conferences saying that they have been contacted but offering no details about the precise subject of the inquiry.

Kevin Weiberg, the Big 12 commissioner, has talked to the Justice Department, as has Mike Tranghese, commissioner of the Big East, officials of the conferences said. The Mid-American Conference has been contacted and is waiting to talk to a Justice Department lawyer, said Rick Chryst, the MAC commissioner.

"In light of the mediation we're involved in with ESPN, it's inappropriate to go further," said John Paquette, a Big East spokesman. A mediator will decide how much ESPN can reduce its rights payments to the Big East because of the defection of Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

ESPN has not acknowledged being the target of the investigation, but a network executive, Mark Shapiro, said: "College football is a charter property for us. We will endeavor to continually expand that relationship to the ends of the earth."

ABC's ROSE BOWL

ABC and Rose Bowl officials have given themselves an exclusive window to negotiate a renewal of their deal until Friday. They could extend the period again, but if they do not, college football's best-known bowl game could move to another network.

The Rose moved from NBC to ABC in 1989, and forms one quarter of the Bowl Championship Series, as do the Fiesta, Sugar and Orange Bowls. Negotiations on ABC's renewal of the BCS are supposed to begin in September.

At issue is how much more ABC will pay to keep the Rose beyond 2006, when the current contract expires. ABC paid about US$25 million for this year's game, while the Tournament of Roses Association wants considerably more.

"In any good business, there are always two points of view about the value of a certain property," said Mark Shapiro, who is a member of ESPN and ABC's college football programming group and is familiar with the Rose Bowl talks.

"We have an idea about what the market will bear."

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