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Sir Charles usually gets a pass

By MICHAEL HIESTAND USA Today

Charles Barkley’s latest and very serious mistake – an arrest for suspected drunken driving – has drawn derision appropriate for an athlete or credible analyst. CBSsports.com said if he were “almost any other athlete we’d have burned him at the stake by now” and the Charlotte Observer said he’s “hurt his credibility.”

Except TNT’s Barkley is neither an athlete, representing a team or league, nor particularly credible. He’s an entertainer – think Lindsay Lohan, Hugh Grant, Paris Hilton, the “Saturday Night Live” news desk – who began in sports. His supposed plan to run for governor of Alabama would be as meaningful as Howard Stern’s run for New York governor in 1994.

Otherwise, Barkley wouldn’t have survived on-air after saying Dan Rather should have killed Saddam Hussein when he interviewed him. And that Olympic curling “is dusting, any woman can do that.” Or goading animal rights activists by eating a burger on the air – “I don’t care what this cow went through.” Or saying, after a “Desperate Housewives” actress jumped into Terrell Owens’ arms on a “Monday Night Football” skit, he’d like the actress “to jump on me in here one night.” By the time Barkley said the Masters has “always been racist” or, on CNN, that conservatives “are fake Christians,” who really cared? After all, Barkley long ago said he’s “not a role model” – but even that was just a scripted line in a (Nike) TV ad.

Like Don Rickles, Barkley is best seen as a long-running act where he can say things that would be wildly inappropriate for most public figures. But that act also allows Barkley to do things on-air like kiss a donkey’s rear end. Houston’s Tracy McGrady, talking on TNT, has figured it out: “I don’t really listen to Charles about basketball. I listen to Charles if he’s talking about calories in a cupcake.”

It’s the teams, not the bowl

The year’s college bowl TV lesson should sound familiar: Big names sell.

Not names of bowls – team names. ESPN’s highest-rated bowl was the Dec. 27 Champs Sports Bowl. Although the bowl last year had fairly well-known teams – Boston College and Michigan State – this season’s matchup of Wisconsin and Florida State gave the bowl a 41 percent ratings boost over last year.

ESPN’s second-highest bowl rating came from the Dec.27 Emerald Bowl – where California played fabled Miami.

Fox suffered through the lowest BCS game rating in history with its Cincinnati-Virginia Tech Orange Bowl. But getting college grid superstars Ohio State and Texas in the Fiesta more than compensated: The Fiesta’s rating was up 35 percent over last year – and up 41 percent over the bowl game in the time slot last year.

But then, just being in a bowl can draw more attention to a matchup. Buffalo-Connecticut in the Jan. 3 International Bowl drew 2.1 percent of U.S. households with cable/satellite TV. That was up about 31 percent from the bowl’s Rutgers-Ball State game last year. But that 2.1 percent rating is probably more than 100 percent higher than what a Buffalo-Connecticut game might have drawn in the regular season – without the halo effect of bowl status.

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