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Usual Suspects

Masters begins shaking off dinosaur reputation Add to ...

The best sports spoof on April Fools Day might have been the banishment of Irish golfers Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy from the 2011 Masters for tweeting pictures of the sacred Augusta National clubhouse and grounds. As opposed to many other April 1 stunts, the prank was plausible based on the suits who run The Masters as tightly as Bligh ran the Bounty. The two golfers briefly played along on their Twitter accounts (McDowell: "Looks like i may be taking the week off next week Tweeps. No Masters for me. It was worth it though") until enough rubes had bit on the hoax.

But there are increasing signs that the men in the green jackets are vaulting into the 21st century world of tweet & stream. This week's tournament will display the typical truncated live TV coverage on ESPN/CBS/TSN/Global with a 3.5 measly hours of coverage on Thursday and Friday (3- 6:30 P.M. ET). The weekend's coverage is slightly augmented, with a Saturday live from 3:30 to 7 P.M. ET. and Sunday going from 2 till 7 P.M. ET. (There will be extensive radio coverage on SIRIUS Satellite's golf channel.)

But it's in the multiple wireless platforms that Augusta has shaken off its dinosaur reputation. Once again, fans with portable devices can choose between streaming Amen Corner, a favourite threesome or the sequence of holes 15 and 16. Again this year, TSN will have free Masters apps for those cribbing at work or school. Weekend coverage is also getting the 3D treatment, making those azaleas and dogwoods pop on-screen. Shaw is doing four days of 3D coverage while Bell TV is providing four hours on Sunday.

Of course, a cynic might point out that those wily fellers in Georgia realize that the restricted TV hours force fans to streaming platforms that increase the value of their media package. But Usual Suspects hasn't a cynical bone in our body.

Faded Maple Leaf: TSN has Cory Woron, Jim Nelford and Bob Weeks on site again in Augusta, but it's thin gruel for Canadian golfers with only the struggling Mike Weir in the field. Considering Weir's recent play, simply making the cut will be an accomplishment for the 2003 winner. Maybe root for Bubba Watson - his wife is from Canada.

Turf War: It's hard to figure out who's being more obtuse in the media feud between the New York Islanders and blogger Chris Botta, their former publicist. As reported Monday, the Isles ongoing refusal to allow Botta access to their rink or practice arena-- and the NHL's failure to make them adhere to the league's own media accessibility policies-- has led the New York-area members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association to boycott voting on the annual player awards. (Columbus has since joined, too.)

Properly so. But the rest if the PHWA is not following suit with the Isles, Rangers, Blue Jackets and Devils media, preferring to conduct a vote among the reporters on the 26 remaining clubs. PWHA exec Terry Frei of the Denver Post sent out a press release insisting the vote will be proper but that the NHL has to promptly enforce its own media policies, now being flouted by the Isles. It's hard to see why a localized protest unsupported by the rest of the PHWA should cause an unrepentant NHL any stress. But Frei is firm. "I'll stand behind the statement 100 per cent, but it was intended to be a summarization of the consensus view on the Sunday conference call of chapter chairs. I recognize the validity of the points your raised, although I don't agree with them."

More germane is the propriety of the media's role in the voting. Deciding on the winners and losers of the NHL's awards puts the media in the position of creating, rather than reporting news. Ditto voting for the Hall Of Fame. It's a vestige of a different time when clubs openly paid writers and no one thought the worse. While it's considered an honour to decide the fate of these cherished awards, it blurs the line between participant and observer.

The conflict puts the media on both sides of the Isles' heavy-handed treatment of Botta. Clearly some media members value the voting privilege more than forcing the league to make access universal for their brethren. The NHL coaches, players, executives and hand holders should be responsible for the voting, not the media.

UPDATE: Helene Ellliot of the L.A. Times points out to us, "Many news organizations prohibit their writers from voting precisely for the reason you mentioned. The Los Angeles Times doesn't allow writers to vote for awards in any major sport. I believe the NY Times has the same policy, as do other newspapers."

La Premiere Etoile: Footnote to media voting from our pal Adrian Dater of the Denver Post: The Phoenix Coyotes broadcasting team gave all three stars to the Coyotes in their recent game against Colorado. The rub: the Coyotes lost the game 4-3. But they didn't have their feelings hurt, and that's the most important thing.

No Foul No Bad Blood: Interesting dimension to CBS' coverage of the NCAA was the light hand of producers when it came to showing controversial referees' foul decisions. Some might suggest CBS was mindful of keeping the sports bureaucrats happy after the NCAA took a media pounding the week before over the "amateur" status of players in a multi-billion dollar enterprise.

After a handful of widely publicized gaffes by referees earlier in the tournament, there were precious few replays of crucial foul calls from the zebras in the Final Four at Houston. CBS did show instances of three-point shots where players may have stepped on the line and several scrambles for loose balls, but otherwise it stayed predominantly in real time with the gosh-golly story line.

While Monday's anticlimactic final (unless you support UConn) had few pivotal moments, there were key moments in Saturday's semifinals that fans missed if they didn't have PVR function. Granted, the network was cognizant of not interrupting live action to show a replay, but a few examples of the penalty-call standard being applied (or not applied) in the early going might have been instructive.

Does Frank Caliendo Know: Concussion awareness is pervasive these days in sports - including in the latest version of the EA Madden NFL 12. Now, players removed from the game for possible concussions will be kept off the "virtual" field, just as now happens in most NFL contests. In addition, the producers of the game have removed helmet-to-helmet hits and shots on defenceless players from the video game.

Fans will also hear EA's game analyst Cris Collinsworth, a proponent of concussion awareness on NBC, opining on the audio track. "This is a league that we've always celebrated the biggest hits and the bone-jarring blows, but you can't hide from the evidence any more." (Made even more jarring with recent news of a 55-year-old life span for CFL players.)

Madden 12 executive producer Phil Frazier told Alan Schwarz of the New York Times, "We've got our writers working on lines that we'll record in April. When the injury happens, they'll say they don't really know what it is, which is the way most injuries are. But a few plays later, when they learn from the sideline that the player got a concussion, they'll say something like, 'Because of the seriousness of concussions, you know, that player will not be returning to the game."

As Schwarz points out, it's long way from the days when EA had hockey players spilling vast quantities of blood on the ice after hits in the hockey version-- immortalized in the 1996 movie Swingers. Madden 11 sold an estimated five million copies (90 million since the first Madden edition), meaning the new safety slant will receive plenty of eyeballs.

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