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Original Issue

NCAA football from E to U

"Civilian" viewers grade each telecast

Deep in the heart of the NCAA television committee, it's big trouble if a sneaky network affiliate slips in an extra commercial during a TV time-out. It's a matter of grave concern if those inane interviews—smiling Joe Television questioning harried Coach Schmeltz at half-time—keep Schmeltz from his X's and O's. And heaven help us if the morals of college-age viewers, those pillars of scholarship we see peering through microscopes on prerecorded NCAA half-time promos, are tainted by too many beer advertisements.

To help protect against such outrages, for many years the 19-member TV committee has used a little-known reviewing system in which ordinary folks rate the networks' performance on each football telecast. The grades range from E for excellent right down to U for unsatisfactory (the NCAA doesn't allow Fs). Periodically an NCAA official summarizes the reports and sends the appropriate sections to ABC, CBS and WTBS, Ted Turner's superstation.

The head of this non-Nielsenesque enterprise is Bob Moorman, 58, of Hampton, Va., commissioner of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and a member of the TV committee. Each year he tells his fellow members the kinds of monitors to hire for telecasts in their regions: colleagues and acquaintances, fans and football neophytes, women as well as men. Moorman himself has hired mechanics, home-makers and a nuclear medical technician, not to mention his 25-year-old daughter. Four reviewers are assigned to each national game and two to each regional telecast. The prevailing wage is $30 for critiqueing announcers and camerawork, $40 for keeping track of commercials and promos. Most of the reviews are glowing, with ABC's Keith Jackson and everybody's camerawork receiving the most kudos. But a sampling of the reports reveals that some monitors are a trifle grumpy.

A Durham, N.C. reviewer, watching ABC's Virginia-Navy game in September, cited Bill Flemming's "very capable" play-by-play performance, and then went on to point out that Flemming introduced the defense as the offense, among other conspicuous boo-boos. Monitoring CBS' Air Force-New Mexico game last month, a college student in Colorado despaired over the repeated mention of Pat Haden's Rhodes scholarship. He gave Gary Bender an E for enthusiasm and a stern rebuke for using irritating neologisms. "Yardage-wise," Bender gained nothing that afternoon. One reviewer gave ABC's accomplished sideline reporter, Anne Simon, a fat U during the Michigan-Notre Dame game in September. There seems to be a consensus that WTBS announcers Bob Neal and Tim Foley add little to a telecast. Said one monitor, "An E, but [they're] at the bottom" in comparison with others. "No Keiths, but they're coming."

Upon receiving the reports in Hampton, Moorman dispatches them for analysis to Tom Hansen, the NCAA's television program director, in Shawnee Mission, Kans. When the complaints are severe, Hansen rings up the networks and squawks. In years past, the NCAA has rapped CBS' and ABC's knuckles for running too many beer spots. Nine suds commercials is the limit for each game.

This season the flash point seems to be ABC's sardonic halftime analyst, Beano Cook. In September he said the only way Vanderbilt would make the Sugar Bowl was if "the other nine teams in the [Southeastern] Conference go on probation." Two weeks ago he declared it "a crime" that the "mediocre" Big Ten still receives an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl. "The monitors' reaction to Beano has been mixed," says Moorman, but he's probably being charitable. Says Hansen, "Beano hasn't won many hearts yet."

Do ABC, CBS and WTBS accept the NCAA's recommendations? Moorman and Hansen say yes. However, the following story, related by a network source, suggests the answer may be otherwise. In ABC's season opener on Sept. 6, a sideline cameraman got so close to Clemson Coach Danny Ford that viewers could see the freckles on his face. "Quit encroaching on the bench," chastised the television committee, citing a contract rule that cameramen must remain outside the 30-yard lines. "We've got great lenses," ABC replied. "No way you can prove we were inside the 30." The following Saturday, when ABC carried USC against Florida, who should be strolling the sidelines but Dennis Cryder, the NCAA's director of productions. Observant members of the crowd noticed a 35 mm camera dangling from Cryder's wrist. He would raise it whenever an innocent young cameraman approached the 30-yard line.

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Moorman has hired homemakers, mechanics and his daughter to monitor.