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Original Issue

This Time He Wasn't Joking

Beano Cook, who's worth a laugh a minute on network row, seriously lobbied CBS higher-ups to go after college football. Result: ABC shares coverage and Beano's on ABC

When Beano Cook, the newest member of ABC's college football announcing team, was the Pitt sports information director, he got a call one day from a woman asking for a copy of the Panthers' football roster. "But lady," Beano replied, "there are 120 guys out for the team right now. You really oughtta wait three weeks, till we make the cuts and are down to 75 or 80 kids. Otherwise, it's really a waste of your time."

The woman, however, was adamant. She needed the roster. Pronto. "But why?" Beano asked, dreading the hours it would take to round up the name of every tackling dummy cluttering up the practice field. "Because," she said, matter of factly, "I want to sleep with everybody on the Pitt football team."

Beano gasped. "Well," he said, clearing his throat, "in alphabetical order, starting at guard...Cook, Beano."

That's Beano, a very funny man and arguably the country's leading authority on college football. To Beano, it's the only game. When Bowie Kuhn announced he was giving the Iranian hostages lifetime passes to major league games, it was Beano who said, "Haven't they suffered enough?" And it was Beano who best summed up Don Shula's abilities: "Don Shula is such a great coach, he could even win in the Big Eight."

While working in CBS's sports publicity department, where he was from 1977 until early this year, Beano occasionally interrupted his stream of one-liners to persuade network higher-ups to bid for the rights to college football, an exclusive preserve of ABC since 1966, as part of a split-network package. Beano unabashedly proposed such a scheme to his friends on the NCAA television committee, and in no time Roone Arledge, president of ABC Sports and News, got wind of Beano's plot. But it never unfolded. In 1977 ABC shelled out $120 million for exclusive TV rights to all regular-season NCAA games from 1978 through 1981. However, when ABC began to discuss a new contract with the NCAA last year, the NCAA made it clear that when Beano had talked, the NCAA had listened—if not acted.

Dollars aside, the NCAA has never exactly been in love with ABC. In 1965 Walter Byers, executive director of the NCAA, awarded ABC exclusive rights to college football and at the same time asked the network to promise it would never televise pro football. When ABC's lawyers advised Arledge against making any such promise, Byers was miffed and then stunned when Arledge announced the creation of Monday Night Football in 1969.

Byers was still fuming later that year when ABC and the NCAA were deep in negotiations for the college football package, blowing up at Arledge at one point. That prompted Arledge to tell Byers, "I've just given you the Man of the Year Congeniality Award. You beat out Charles Manson 3-2." That same year Byers attempted to exclude ABC from college football. He submitted what was considered an outrageous financial proposal to ABC at a meeting in a Chicago hotel room. Byers later flew to New York City, where he offered NBC the same deal in a secret confab in a hangar at J.F.K. Byers' best-laid plans went agley, however, when ABC, which had first refusal rights, agreed to the NCAA's terms.

During the 1981 negotiations Byers' main gripe was that Arledge didn't attend; in fact, Arledge entrusts much of ABC's sports negotiations to Senior Vice-President Jim Spence. During their meetings Byers railed at the ABC representatives. "Sixteen years means nothing!" he screamed, sticking a finger in the face of Charlie Lavery, ABC's vice-president for sports programming. "I've been negotiating contracts since before you guys were in diapers," he snapped at Spence and the ABC attorneys. Indeed, Byers' mood was so hostile that Eddie Crowder, the Colorado athletic director and a longtime member of the NCAA's TV committee, apologized to Spence and other ABC executives.

In any case, this fall ABC will share coverage not only with CBS but also with superstation WTBS, which is based in Atlanta and can be picked up by 80% of the nation's 5,370 cable franchises. For the NCAA and its member schools, the split-network package means more money—$131.75 million from both CBS and ABC over the next four years and $17.6 million from WTBS over the next two years. A national game on CBS or ABC will be worth $550,000 to each school, up from $300,000 in 1981, and a regional appearance will bring more than $300,000, up from $211,500. For appearing on WTBS, a college will receive $175,000. (Schools belonging to conferences must share their take with other members.) The NCAA also increased the number of appearances a school can make in a season from five to six. The bad news, though, is that the NCAA also hiked the number of commercial minutes per telecast from 21 to 26.

For viewers, the split-network package means more games—half again as many as ABC provided last season. ABC and CBS each will air games on Saturday afternoons. Last April, with a schedule in hand and the potential barn burners in mind, the two networks divvied up the Saturdays into "control dates." Each Monday, representatives from CBS, ABC and the NCAA will participate in a conference call. The network holding that week's control date gets first crack at the game it wants, the 12 o'clock or 3:30 E.S.T kickoff time slot, and the choice of going national or regional with its telecast. Then the other network picks, and the process continues until ABC and CBS have made all their selections. When they have finished, WTBS gets to choose from among the leftovers, but with one major restriction: It can show no schools that appeared nationally the previous year and no more than four that were on twice regionally. Get ready to watch a lot of Vanderbilts on WTBS.

For Beano the new TV deal means another job. When CBS got part of the NCAA football package, he suggested to his superiors that he had the name of the perfect person to put in a blazer and co-host the telecasts from the network's headquarters in New York: Cook, Beano. In no uncertain terms, Beano was told, "Sorry, but you're not going to be Beano the Greek." Deeply hurt by CBS's attitude. Beano cleaned out his desk, called his old friend Arledge and now will be, well, Beano the Greek for ABC. Joining him in the studio will be Jack Whitaker, another recent CBS defector, and Jim Lampley.

Just what does splitting college football mean to CBS and ABC? CBS, which last year began airing NCAA basketball, has a chance to become the dominant network in college sports. No network has ever had both sports. On the other hand, losing exclusive rights to college football was a severe blow to ABC. In the past the network always seemed to put all its energies in the fall into Monday Night Football and rely on Keith Jackson's popularity and Frank Broyles' folksy commentary to get through Saturday afternoons. Now, with competition, ABC will have to beef up the studio portion of its college broadcasts. That's Beano's mission. Arledge isn't about to settle for being No. 2. Says one network insider, "The competition will be brutal. If ABC loses the ratings, they'd better put bars on the windows of the 28th floor at the ABC building because there will be mass suicide."

CBS's prime concern will be the logistics of producing college and pro games on the same weekend. On Nov. 6 and 7, for example, CBS could televise a total of 13 pro and college games. CBS owns five production trucks and has three more on hold. Getting from, say, a Saturday game in Fayetteville, Ark. to a Sunday game in Tampa isn't easy.

"ABC already has a leg up on us, just because they've been to all the college towns," says Ray Savignano, director of operations for CBS Sports. "ABC knows the stadiums and how to get in and out of town in game traffic. We know the NFL stadiums. They're set up for broadcasts, and the NFL TV schedule is set ahead of time. Many college stadiums aren't equipped for TV, and we may have to build camera towers and import camera carts and forklifts."

The schools, too, will have to make adjustments. For instance, those in the East and Midwest that host late-afternoon games in stadiums without lights will have to rent mobile high-powered lights on cranes. But even with all the preparation that has gone into the '82 college football season it's quite possible that fans won't know whether they're watching ABC, CBS, WTBS—or even care. Says Kevin O'Malley, CBS's executive producer of college sports, "ABC didn't invent college football, and we're not going to reinvent it. What it comes down to is we're a nation of event watchers. People just want to see the most meaningful game. And, if that week the biggest game is USC vs. Notre Dame, people will watch whoever carries it."

Even Beano.


Beano: madcap maven of NCAA football.


To keep TV games from ending up in the dark, schools can rent mobile lights on cranes.