CBS’ Mark Wolff experiences what he says could be the future of sports network cooperation

CBS’ coverage of the Louisville-Duke game last Sunday, in the wake of the injury suffered by the Cardinal’s Kevin Ware, was a proud moment for the network’s coordinating producer, Mark Wolff.

Mark Wolff, in his first year as CBS Sports’ coordinating producer for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament  shared between his network and Turner Sports, said from Atlanta on Thursday that the ability of the two companies to work together for the common good could be “a model moving forward” in the sports business world.

“It certain was Earth breaking when it was announced, but two years in, maybe they’re onto something that could be put into place across the board, and could pioneer a whole new way of doing business,” said the UCLA grad out of Taft High in Woodland Hills, preparing for Saturday’s Final Four and Monday’s title game airing on CBS.

The ratings so far bear out the success of the CBS-Turner marriage over the last month – the average viewership of 9.7 million to date is up 11 percent from last year and the greatest it has been since 1994. And this is with the so-called added confusion of up to four channels carrying a game at a time.

Wolff and director Bob Fishman also drew notable praise for how they let the pictures tell the story during the frightening broken-leg injury suffered by Louisville’s Kevin Ware in last Sunday’s win over Duke.

“It lasted nine minutes, but it felt like an eternity,” said Wolff, who compared it to when he produced an 1991 NFL game in Detroit held up by the subsequent paralysis suffered by Lions offensive lineman Mike Utley against the L.A. Rams.

“Everyone’s instincts just took over. We all drew upon our experiences. It was the emotions of the moment that we recognized and stayed with. We were all shocked by what happened, but the constant replays of all the emotions on everyone’s face kept giving us momentum and pulling us all through it.”

More from Wolff on how coverage of this weekend’s Final Four and Monday’s title game from Atlanta could play out:

* On what it takes to create the perfect broadcast: “I don’t know if there is one. In our business, it’s so in the moment. Ask 100 people that question and you’d get 100 different answers. We just hope we have competitive games on the court that are full of excitement and emotion.”

* On how long the “One Shining Moment” montage will be part of the CBS (and Turner) coverage of the championship game: “It’s always been part of the culture and the viewers expect it. It puts a finality on the event and is part of the CBS brand. I still think it capsulizes the event well. Until we find a better alternative, it’ll have a home here for a long time. To take that away will come from someone on a much higher level than me.”

* On the trick to pulling off a Final Four these days: “The job itself isn’t the tournament but but it encompasses much more. It starts in the summer going to each venue, meetings with the NCAA, making subtle changes and mold it the way we like to see it. I’m doing a full slate of NFL games during the regular season (with Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf) and when we’re through, it rolls right into the college basketball regular season, and then the tournament. We have some real quality people here at CBS and Turner to pull this off.”

* As a UCLA grad, his take on the Bruins’ coaching change: “You evaluate guys based on W’s, right? Steve Alford comes with great credentials. Whether he can recruit in Southern California might be an issue, but there’s every indication he could get Southern California kids to go to New Mexico. Given the circumstances of the new building and some players leaving, you could just see it was going to be an uphill battle for Ben Howland. I was close to Ben, and you hate to seem him go.”

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