Friday, February 26, 1999

SPORTS ON TV-RADIO


ESPN's Fowler fastens seat belt for wild week

BY JOHN FAY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Chris Fowler's job description at ESPN is studio host. But that's not exactly how he sees it.

        “When the truck goes off the road,” Fowler said, “I'm the guy who grabs the steering wheel before we hit a tree.”

        Fowler will be hosting “Championship Week” beginning Saturday. ESPN will air 36 basketball games from 25 leagues. There are an additional 25 games on ESPN2.

        In all, 25 of those games will decide conference titles.

        If that wasn't enough confusion, alongside Fowler are Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps, thus the grabbing-the-steering-wheel analogy.

        Vitale and Phelps have a tendency to get a little out of control.

        “It's great fun to do,” said Fowler, who has had the gig since 1989. “There's great basketball to watch. For some schools, it's their one chance to be in the spotlight. And there are bids on the line.

        “From a television standpoint, it's a challenge. You have Dick and Digger, nothing is scripted. We don't use tele-prompters. We just react to what happens.”

        Championship Week is what ESPN does best, better than any network. The energy comes through clearly to the viewer. ESPN has always been great at bouncing from site to site, giving you the best mo ments as they happen.

        “The days the quarterfinals are on, Wednesdays and Thursdays, are great,” Fowler said. “We flip around from game to game. You always have great endings.”

        Xavier-George Washington Saturday at noon kicks off Championship Week. XU-GW is followed by the first championship game of the week — the Trans American Athletic Conference.

        “This year should be great,” Fowler said. “A lot of teams are on the bubble.”

        The week ends with a 90-minute Men's Tournament Selection Special that begins at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 7.

        Fowler will host it with Phelps and Vitale, and presumably be ready to grab the wheel.

        “The great thing about it,” Fowler said, “is I work with people with great enthusiasm. Dick and Digger really love college basketball, and they really have fun with it.”

        A FIRST: Bill “Seg” Dennison had legendary driver Jackie Stewart on his auto racing show on WLW Sunday.

        “Our first Formula One driver,” Dennison said.

        UNMATCHED: The World Match Play Championship has done wonders for mid-week golf. ESPN has been airing it each afternoon at 2 p.m.

        “You get the drama of Sunday afternoon on Wednesday afternoon,” ESPN's Mike Tirico said.

        ABC (Channel 9) will air the final two rounds Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 2 p.m. each day.

        KUDOS TO 9: It was great to see clips of Denver's victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Channel 9's 11 p.m. news the other night. Danny Fortson wrestling with Shaquille O'Neal — now that's good TV.

        John Fay covers TV/radio for The Enquirer. He can be reached at 768-8445.

       



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