TELECAST IS A TALE OF THE TAPE

PETE DOUGHERTY
Section: SPORTS,  Page: CC2

Date: Wednesday, March 20, 2002

At least when they hit TV, the NCAA Wrestling Championships won't be old news. For the season straight year, ESPN2 will provide same-day taped coverage of the championship round, which should end around 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Pepsi Arena. That gives the Lingner Group, an Indianapolis-based production company that is handling the telecast for ESPN2, about three hours to put together a two-hour program for broadcast.


The formula seemed to work last year. The wrestling finals drew a 0.42 Nielsen rating, which translates to about 319,000 homes. That was more than double the audience of two years ago (0.18 rating, 124,000 homes), when the finals were shown on a Thursday afternoon -- five days after the matches.


The relatively short turnaround time is a challenge for the broadcasting crew.


``We try not to make it a hectic couple of hours,'' said Tina Thornton, coordinating producer for the telecast. ``We do our best to put everything down to tape, then from 4:30 to 7:30 scramble a little bit. There's not as much scrambling as you'd think. If we could do it live at some point in time, that would be great, but it is good for us to be able to turn it around and take the best stuff that we have and put it on the air.''


Jeff Blatnick, a Niskayuna native and former Olympic gold medalist, will have a prominent role in the telecast as the color analyst. He will work with Adrian Karsten, best known as a sideline reporter on ESPN's college football.


``We have a two-hour package, and we do it on the fly,'' Blatnick explained. ``We call it live to tape, but if we have a scoreless first period, we already have it pretty much mapped out to throw that out and start the second period.''


The production team will employ five cameras, a relatively low number for a network telecast, but wrestling isn't as difficult to cover visually as a golf tournament or baseball game.


But because wrestling is a continuous-action sport, there are challenges for the production crew.


``It's very difficult to get a replay in,'' Thornton said. ``Let's say you get a takedown. After a takedown, there's probably going to be an escape. You can't get the replay of the takedown in without missing the escape. So what we're going to try to do is double-box the live action and put the replay in the secondary box.


``I wanted this NCAA sport to have the same types of qualities as other sports that we have on our air. In wrestling, it was difficult to keep track of who was winning, so what we've done is put a mini-board in. It seems quite simplistic, but it's really one of the most important parts of watching the telecast.''


The mini-board will give the wrestlers' names and current score, and the time.


Much of the focus will be on Iowa State's 197-pounder, Cael Sanderson, who is attempting to become the first wrestler in NCAA history to finish his career unbeaten.


``This is a big deal,'' Thornton said. ``He's 154-0 right now. We probably won't do a full-fledged feature on him, but `SportsCenter' is going to be there, and they're doing a piece specifically on Cael.''


Because the higher weight classes wrestle last, much of the telecast's momentum will be built toward Sanderson's bout, the next-to-last on the card, assuming he makes the final.


``Even though traditional wrestling fans can appreciate a 3-2 score, it's a lot better watching a 15-11 match because there's lot of action,'' Blatnick said. ``That's what we want to project to the public, that this is what can happen sometimes in wrestling.''


Pete Dougherty's TV/Radio column usually is published Sundays. He can be reached by calling 454-5416 or by e-mail at pdougherty@timesunion.com.