Monday, February 2, 2004

Late date for game is courtesy of ESPN


Schedule change has pros, cons for Bearcats, Muskies

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The power of ESPN is far-reaching in the college sports landscape, and this year it exercised its strength over the Crosstown Shootout.

Rather than risk losing a coveted national television audience for Tuesday's game, Cincinnati and Xavier agreed to move the game from December to February this season, changing the dynamics of the game but keeping it on TVs across America.

ESPN, which is televising the game at 7 p.m. on ESPN2, wanted the game moved to February as part of its Rivalry Week because the December schedule was too crowded with football to accommodate a high-profile college basketball game.

"It's tough for me to find a spot in December," ESPN director of programming Burke Magnus said. "If both schools weren't willing (to move it), it would have stayed in December, but I'm not sure it would have stayed on ESPN."

And neither school would want that. Having the game on during the network's Rivalry Week raises the national profile of the game, even if it is at the cost of interrupting the conference season.

"I don't think either school enjoys having it in the middle of the season," Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski said. "But you want to cooperate with TV because it's good for programming."

In order to make the mid-week non-conference game happen, both schools needed assistance from their conference offices to clear their schedules. Each team, however, is playing its third game in seven days, and Xavier is coming off back-to-back road games at George Washington and Dayton. Cincinnati played home games against East Carolina and Charlotte preceding the Shootout.

"We're in a brutal stretch right now," Bobinski said. "You'd like to have it not jam up your schedule like that."

Both teams would be in entirely different positions had the game been played in early December, as it has been the previous four years. Back then, Xavier was still receiving Top 25 votes because of its four returning starters, and Cincinnati hadn't begun playing with its full complement of players. Now, Xavier (10-9, 2-5 A-10) is in last place in the Atlantic 10 West, having lost three straight conference games and five of its last six.

"Taking it out of the league, I don't like where the game is," Xavier coach Thad Matta said, "but you just play it and compete."

Cincinnati, which added Florida transfer James White to the lineup in midseason, has been a top 10 team, with a 15-2 record overall, and 6-2 mark in Conference USA.

"You would have thought this year if it was played earlier in the year it would be a tremendous advantage to Xavier because they had four starters back and we wouldn't have James White," Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said. "I think, generally speaking, veteran teams play better earlier in the year."

White, for one, is glad the game was moved to February, because otherwise he wouldn't be playing. The 6-foot-7 sophomore didn't become eligible for the Bearcats until the Dec. 20 Middle Tennessee State game. He moved into the starting lineup Jan. 10 against DePaul, and is averaging 12.6 points over his last five games.

"That was the goal, to put the game where everybody was eligible to play and everybody would have a chance to play against [Xavier]," White said. "It is an advantage for us. Now, we have the chemistry that we needed, and everybody is playing together."

All about timing

Winner of the Crosstown Shootout by the month in which it is played:

Month Series

leader

Record
November XU 1-0
December XU 5-3
January UC 12-10
February UC 18-5
March UC 12-4
All-time UC 45-25

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E-mail ddow@enquirer.com




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