March Madness is a sprawling beast of a broadcast property. In the early weeks, the NCAA basketball tournament is the TV equivalent of whack-a-mole as programmers try to find the hot game and pound it. A host broadcaster can get stuck on a turkey and have to shift in mid-stream, aggravating people who have become invested in the contest.
Or, you can run yourself into a time crunch by trying to juggle March Madness and curling tournaments simultaneously on just two channels. At some point, one of the balls hits the floor. So we were treated on Thursday to TSN anchor Kate Beirness, looking like her puppy had died, telling viewers watching the Wisconsin and Syracuse thriller on TSN that they'd have to catch the ending of the game on CBS (TSN2 wasn't available – it had Louisville and Michigan State). TSN's main channel was headed to coverage of the women's world curling championship.
Problem is, curling and NCAA hoops fans are almost mutually exclusive. So Twitter and social media blew up with college basketball fans hot about bailing on a close game. There were references to the legendary Heidi game (where NBC bailed on an NFL game in 1968 for the movie Heidi, only to have the Oakland Raiders score twice in the final two minutes to beat the New York Jets). Why would TSN try to squeeze a game into a two-hour slot when it was never going to end that soon?
TSN explains it thusly, "The coverage of the Syracuse-Wisconsin game on TSN was intended to be bonus coverage until curling began at 9 p.m. ET. Throughout the Syracuse-Wisconsin broadcast we directed viewers to watch the conclusion of the game on CBS. … The strategy was to avoid having the same basketball game on TSN and CBS while curling fans were left with no coverage of the women's world curling championship."
Fair enough. But what of those whose available CBS channel (like Detroit's) was carrying MSU/ Louisville? Outta' luck presumably. The customer is always right (or so they say), and plenty of them were miffed last Thursday. You can run 25 hours of coverage in two days, but make just one controversial call...
They say never bring a knife to a gun fight. To that you can now add, don't bring an opera singer to a hockey game. Saturday, the Ottawa Senators had operatic star (and reality show host) Measha Brueggergosman perform the national anthems. The Divine Ms. B took the scenic route, turning the anthems into The Ring Cycle ( Hockey Night in Canada helpfully timed them at 4 minutes 30 seconds compared to 2:20 in Toronto for John McDermott's brisker versions).
The resulting time gap between Toronto and Ottawa games was such you could watch Coach's Corner twice if you had a mind to. Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby and many of the other Penguins and Sens could be seen snickering as Brueggergosman leisurely wound her way through "rocket's red glare" and "all thy son's command." Hockey Night also smirked over the booming performance.
Clearly the Sens misread the crowd (or were trying to match the NDP convention in length). Don't blame the singer, however. As a great artist, Brueggergosman should interpret the anthems as she sees appropriate. Better yet, can we simply do away with the anthems altogether and maybe just play Stompin' Tom or Tom Cochrane? We don't see anthems on televised NFL, major-league baseball or NBA games till the postseason. Why the hockey obsession?
Final thought: Having worked for the Canadian Opera Company, Usual Suspects would rather go to a party filled with opera folk than one with dour hockey types. Opera people always act like they enjoy their job – as Brueggergosman did on Saturday. Hockey people could learn a lesson.
Apparently, Hockey Night in Canada didn't absorb that recent message from Canadian teams that felt ignored by its coverage. It took Hockey Night 20 minutes on its half-hour pregame show Saturday to mention the decisive Flames and Dallas Stars game, which had ended two hours earlier and pretty much scuttled the Flames' postseason hopes. Before the Flames' highlights, we were treated to a review of NHL games from Friday, Alex Radulov's return to the Nashville Predators, the Philadelphia Flyers' chances, the Winnipeg Jets' road woes and more. Really? Calgary was news and Hockey Night buried it.
Speaking of news calls, good to hear in a week that included the Duncan Keith suspension, Radulov's comeback, Crosby back in play and the Penguins soaring that Don Cherry's lead was … drum roll please … Nazem Kadri. Yup. Appears if the Toronto Maple Leafs had had the young sniper in their lineup all season they might be in the postseason. Who knew?