CBS Murders Charles Barkley (Not Literally)
"This is a win on any number of levels, not the least of which is that I would watch Charles Barkley analyzing or opining on any topic. No, seriously, I would watch Charles Barkley convey his thoughts about ANYTHING -- basketball, politics, the economy, Bieber, dermatology, termites, ANYTHING." -- Me, last Friday right here on this very blog
Man, a lot can change in 48 hours.
I will have a more detailed post on the tournament, my selections, and all of the reasons why you should take any selections I (and others in my "talk radio" corner of the universe) make with several grains of salt. I have until at least tomorrow, or depending on whom you talk to, until Thursday morning to do this.
So for now, I will use my space to express my utter disappointment in CBS's bracket unveiling yesterday.
The fact of the matter is the coverage wasn't that bad. The selection committee's rationale for why certain teams got in was bad, but the unveiling on CBS was fairly standard stuff. Other than my Barkley complaint, I only have two issues:
1. A couple times, when unveiling a matchup, Greg Gumbel would indicate the team on the lower line first when the team on the upper line was the only one unveiled on the TV screen. (I know he did this with the Michigan State/UCLA matchup in the Southeast, and one other time as well.) Kind of a confusing drama killer, but not the end of the world.
2. One of the staples of Selection Sunday coverage are the "on the scene" cameras in campus amphitheaters around the country where teams are awaiting their fate. Those cameras are there so we can see the reaction when teams learn of their fate. Jubilation, frustration, anger -- we've seen it all over the years. However, this year there were an inordinate number of cameras in "watch rooms" for teams that were seeded 13 or higher and had automatic bids sewn up -- in other words, the only drama for these teams was finding out to where they were being led to slaughter. Yet, Gumbel kept categorizing these teams as "hoping to see their name." Hoping? Unless the NCAA changed the rules right before the show started, they were going to see their name. They automatically qualified by winning their conference tournament! The only thing sillier than Gumbel acting like there's drama for these teams was these teams jumping up and down celebrating like there was drama. "YEAH BABY!! We're playing SYRACUSE!! OH YEEAAAHHH!!! YEEESSSS!! WOO HOO!!!"
Neither of these were major issues, more like pet peeves. The rest of the show (other than the Barkley Situation) was fine. The problem is that CBS managed to do the impossible during the course of the telecast -- they made Charles Barkley uninteresting and uninsightful, and unfortunately this would cancel out all of the good done in a world-class broadcast, let alone an average Selection Show Sunday.
And even worse, in the process, they made Billy Packer appear to be correct.
It was Packer's contention that Barkley's (and Kenny Smith's) lack of knowledge of the college basketball scene would lessen the quality of the telecast. It was the contention of the rest of the free world that Barkley's lack of familiarity with the college hoops scene would be canceled out one-thousandfold by the fact that Barkley can spin anything into witty, edgy, entertaining banter.
Well, I still contend that's the case, as long as Charles is set up by the producers and the host to do anything except the one thing Packer (correctly) stated Barkley couldn't do -- provide detailed insight on what the teams in the field have done on the court this college basketball season.
Because here's the thing -- despite what he may say publicly, Charles Barkley has barely watched any college basketball this season.
I know this to be true.
How do I know? Well, not because I've sat next to Barkley all season long while he decides what to watch on television. Not because I've been told by anyone behind the scenes that Barkley is woefully unprepared to provide insight on things that have happened this season.
I know because I'm in the media, and I can tell when someone is trying to fake their way through insight. Call it "poser forensics." I can sniff out someone who has enough street cred on a topic to where Joe Q. Public will just blindly believe that person is a thousand times smarter than everyone else, that their "insight" is actual insight and not empty, time-killing rhetoric.
Now, to be clear, Barkley will probably be great once he is providing insight on actual games he is watching later this week. Charles Barkley knows basketball, he just knows nothing about what these 68 teams have accomplished or done this season. And if you don't think Barkley is a college basketball insight poser, watch the video below and ask yourself again afterward:
In the spirit of CBS programming, allow me to go all CSI: March Madness on this video and point out the following instances of "poser forensics":
0:40 Charles talks about all of the college basketball that NBA players (and former NBA players, like him) watch when they're on the road because there are so few NBA games on cable -- of course, it bears mentioning there are NBA games on ESPN or TNT (the network that actually employs Charles) almost every night of the week.
1:15 Charles admits that he hasn't really watched any of these teams (the "poser forensics" equivalent of bringing the actual murder weapon to your own trial) and that he "knows the game of basketball" (which I agree with)
Then at 1:35 Kaylee Hartung, after hearing that Charles doesn't really know anything about these teams, sends him off into the wilderness to expose himself again by asking which of four of the 68 teams he hasn't watched all season are going to the Final Four. The rest is painful:
1:37 "Well, that's a crapshoot" (Huh?)
1:50 Barkley sends us to his Web site because if you get the Final Four right, you can win an iPad 2 (pretty cool), an accomplishment he doesn't think anyone will achieve
2:10 Barkley talks about how wide open the tourney is this year, and that's good for the fans because now the little guy has a chance. "Seldom do the little guys have a chance." I guess I misplaced the memo on the Horizon League champ (last year's Butler team) being one of the "big guys."
Here's where it starts to get uncomfortable -- Hartung asks, "Which of the little guys has a chance?"
Uh oh. Specifics. A decent analyst would have at least two or three quasi-phony answers for this question -- hell, if nothing else, just say Butler and Gonzaga and move on. Those are tried and true answers.
2:25 "The Big East is overrated, the people in New York think they're more powerful than they really are."
Awesome insight there, Chuck. No specific teams or reasons why it's overrated, just the "New York" argument. College basketball's answer to college football's "East Coast bias."
When pressed further and asked about "mid-major teams we should be watching out for," it got special.
2:40 "Utah really got kinda screwed when that kid got put off the team."
And by "Utah" we mean "BYU," and by "that kid" you mean "Brandon Davies."
2:51 A random comment about hating the term "mid major," which is code for "I have no idea who any of the mid majors are." So having established that the term "mid major" has no validity in his world, Charles is free to rattle off the following teams (naming exactly zero reasons why he likes them in the process) -- Arizona, Kentucky and Florida. Thanks for that, Chuck.
3:22 Not wanting to give up on completely exposing the fact that my Aunt Barb has watched more college basketball than Barkley, Hartung presses further and asks for "dark horses" in the tournament. Barkley, clearly thrown off of his game as displayed by (a) his death stare at Hartung for asking him another question for which he has no answer and (b) his missing the perfect chance to make a "racial" joke while calling BYU a "dark horse," decides to give out Purdue (in the running for a number one seed as recently as a week ago) and Temple (without naming one player, of course -- dollars to donuts Barkley thinks John Chaney is still the Owls' coach) before announcing without explanation that there are no dark horses this year.
All righty then.
Finally, Barkley announces that he is going to dial back his criticism because these are college kids, which was the equivalent of Dirk Diggler preparing to make his next adult motion picture by castrating himself. A less critical Charles? For who, for what?
It's March Madness, and it starts tomorrow, but the basketball gods have scored their first upset -- Charles Barkley has been neutered. Say it ain't so.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.