(Quick idea: As the signs in many arenas suggest, maybe Vitale ought to run for President. Heck, he has fewer problems than the Democratic front-runners, he can adapt some of his proposed NCAA reforms to the economy and—this is the most important part—he'll actually be on TV less than he is now.)
"Freeze it!" When Vitale attacks a replay these days, that's what he shrieks to the guys in the production truck so that the action can be stopped for us. "Freeze it!" The right message, the wrong target.
Many claim that Vitale is to college basketball what John Madden is to pro football. But whereas Madden entertains without intruding upon the game, Vitale intrudes without entertaining. Vitale is a huckster. We're trying to watch the game; he's trying to sell The Game. He's the leading contributor to the coaches' cult in college basketball, constantly touting them for job openings. He litters telecasts with superlative after superlative; if he had his own weekly top 20, there'd be 50 schools in it.
(I attempted to tape four of his games recently. When I went to play the tapes, my VCR rejected them and released this statement: " Bart Conner and Bob Trumpy and Fred Edelstein were one thing, but Dicky V's a whole other thing. NO MORE VITALE. Understood? Now, go rent a Hitchcock film, for crying out loud.")
To Vitale all games are created equal: Each is a two-hour sound bite. Even when there's a timeout, you can hear him over the commercials. It's a one-note act, played again and again.
Make no mistake—some people do cherish the act. He apparently is popular on college campuses, further proof of the startling nationwide decline in the quality of higher education. For instance, at Duke, which fancies itself the Oxford of the tobacco belt, Vitale is usually greeted on campus as Richard the Lionhearted might have been welcomed in Nottingham after the Crusades.
(Literary bonus—here is an excerpt from Vitale's 1988 book, terrifyingly titled Vitale: "I took a long soak in my exquisite Holiday Inn bathtub. I'm a tub man, if you haven't figured that out. Forget those quick showers, baby!" And here is an excerpt from his 1991 book, chillingly called Time Out, Baby!: "I have to be honest, I just can't believe this insanity going on with Saddam Hussein. Absolutely wacko. The all-time wacko.")
The worst may be yet to come. Vitale is learning new skills. In the waning minutes of Indiana's recent 106-65 victory over Purdue on ESPN, Vitale actually began to sing. He warbled, "I left my heart in San Francis...."
Freeze it! And hold it right there, for a good while.