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Online sports: Vitale's site has little of everything, needs more

By GREG AUMAN
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 16, 2001

It's a dangerous combination to consider: a personality like Dick Vitale, who can give opinions like Michael Jordan puts up shots, and a bottomless forum like the Internet, where there's no limit to what he can say.

Scroll through the archive at dickvitaleonline.com and you'll find there is no offseason for a man who correctly bills himself as college basketball's "top analyst and ambassador" but can offer up impassioned thoughts on just about everything.

"Not just about everything," corrects Howie Schwab, a coordinating producer at ESPN who handles Vitale's online commentary. "It's everything. I think the medium is perfect for him. He can literally call up and say, "I have a thought about Alex Rodriguez' or "I want to say something about Cris Carter mouthing off.' Dick is not afraid to open his heart, spill his guts and speak his mind about anything."

This summer, that has meant Vitale on Phil Mickelson, Vitale on how five-set tennis matches can drag on in the early rounds of the U.S. Open, even Vitale on the joys of becoming a first-time grandfather. Schwab keeps a tape recorder near his phone, which can ring five times a day with calls from his friend.

"It's not even work, it's so much fun," Vitale said this week. "This has given me an opportunity, even during nonbasketball season. ... If I didn't have the Web site, I couldn't share all of that. I have people come up to me now and say, "Dick, we didn't know you were such a sports junkie!' "

Today, with a nod to Saturday's Florida-Florida State football showdown, Vitale offers his take on the country's best coaching combos: the Gators' Billy Donovan and Steve Spurrier top the list, with Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson and Bob Stoops also meriting praise.

And with basketball season just under way, Vitale's site also has a helpful "V Speak" glossary for deciphering his accolades -- his All-Volkswagen players "aren't superstars but are dependable" and players on his All-Alcatraz list are due for breakout seasons. The site also has an "Is Dickie V headed your way?" schedule, which shows him making the first of two stops at the Sun Dome on Dec. 8 to broadcast a Florida-South Florida game.

If there's one area where the site can improve, it's in its use of multimedia: When Vitale gets going, he's meant to be seen and heard and not merely read. His rants and ramblings defy the conventional methods of conveying excitement -- WRITING IN ALL CAPS! WITH MULTIPLE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!! -- so parent site ESPN.com should break out more audio and video clips of the network's most recognizable voice. A prominent link is smartly titled "V-Bytes," but the latest offering previews the NBA draft ... last spring.

The site seems most like Vitale in running a banner ad that links to the V Foundation for Cancer Research (jimmyv.org), named for Vitale's late friend, former N.C. State basketball coach Jim Valvano. Vitale remains on the foundation's board of directors and donates a portion of his site's proceeds to the charity.

Dickvitaleonline.com has become "a very important part of my professional career," Vitale said, noting it's also a family operation. Its merchandising side is run by Tandem Enterprises, founded by his daughter, Sherri, who scours basketball sites daily to print out news that has slipped under his radar.

TID-BYTES: Baseball's free-agent frenzy starts Tuesday, and MLB.com has a comprehensive page of who's available, who's most-coveted and which teams are in position to make a splash. Tampa native Tino Martinez is among the site's Sweet Sixteen atop this year's crop. ... Those lovable scalping-law loopholers are busy on eBay.com this week. An official Gators cap was bidding at $630 Thursday -- a cap, that is, containing seven tickets for Saturday's Florida-FSU game in Gainesville. The site has voided many auctions flagrantly attempting to circumvent state scalping laws. How much for a 'Noles bumper sticker on the 50-yard line?

-- If you have a question or comment about the Internet or a site to suggest, e-mail staff writer Greg Auman at auman@sptimes.com.

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