Orange Watch: The history of Syracuse basketball TV broadcasts

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim gives instructions from the sideline. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

Item: Last month, we wrote about the history of Syracuse football TV broadcasts dating back to the 1950s. This week we take a look at SU basketball and the program’s televised history, which like football, was a completely different culture from the 1950s through the 1970s. In fact, the season in which Syracuse went to its first Final Four in 1975, the only televised games were in the NCAA Tournament. Once the advent of cable and satellite television came about in the 1970s-80s, followed by individual conference networks and now direct-to-consumer streaming, today’s options mean virtually every ‘Cuse hoop game, including pre-season exhibitions, are presented live on some channel somewhere.

College basketball’s televised history dates back to the post-World War II era (there was a doubleheader at Madison Square Garden televised experimentally in 1940). In 1949-50, CBS began scheduling six college hoop games which featured Navy as the home team, followed by the NIT shown in a couple of select markets on ABC.

Regular season games in the 1950s were contracted directly between the network and home universities, before the days of NCAA intervention, and were basically limited to one game (sometimes two games) per week.

Conference regional network coverage, including the ACC’s, would commence in 1958. The NIT was the early tournament of choice to be televised by the networks over the NCAA Tournament, until both were broadcast sporadically on a year-to-year basis beginning in 1954. The NCAA Tournament would not be televised nationally until 1963.

Syracuse basketball made its televised debut on January 6, 1951 facing St. John’s at Madison Square Garden, dropping a 63-53 decision against the 11th ranked Redmen. The announcers on the long defunct DuMont Network were Curt Gowdy and Don Dunphy.

The 9:45 p.m. ET tipoff was a forebear of late starting times for TV doubleheaders featuring Syracuse in the second game at the Garden, as last season’s Jimmy V Classic matchup versus Villanova at MSG didn’t begin until 10:00 p.m. ET.

The first Orangemen game to be televised on campus occurred December 19, 1953 against Yale at Archbold Gym, an 81-67 victory in the fifth game of the season. Syracuse native, team captain, and leading scorer Mel Besdin netted 26 points in front of an ABC audience on a Saturday afternoon (2:30 p.m. ET) broadcast.

» Related: A history of Syracuse Football TV broadcasts

Later that season (February 6, 1954), Syracuse’s game at Army was also shown on ABC with Bob Finnegan serving as the play-by-play broadcaster. SU dropped the game 77-71 on route to finishing 10-9.

Syracuse’s first post-season game to be televised was an 82-76 opening round defeat to Michigan in the 1971 NIT at Madison Square Garden on CBS, with Don Criqui and Pat Summerall the announcers. Back then, CBS broadcast one opening round game, then the NIT championship the following weekend, competing with NBC who had acquired the NCAA Tournament rights in 1969.

The first time the Orange played a televised game in the NCAA Tournament was 1973. SU’s first-round win (83-82) against Furman at The Palestra in Philadelphia was not broadcast by NBC or TVS, its early syndication partner, but it’s regional semifinal defeat (91-75) to Maryland in Charlotte was televised on TVS. SU would also defeat Penn (69-68) in the long defunct regional consolation game which was not televised.

The following year (1974), Syracuse’s bitter first-round NCAA overtime loss to Oral Roberts in Denton, Tex. was televised on TVS with announcers Steve Zabriskie and Frank Hudson on the call, that defeat was a prelude to the out of-nowhere glorious Final Four run the next season.

Syracuse’s tense 1975 NCAA first-round overtime win (87-83) over LaSalle at The Palestra was not televised, but its dramatic 78-76 win over North Carolina in the regional semifinals at Providence was shown on TVS with Marv Albert and Bucky Waters calling the huge upset.

The also dramatic regional final win (95-87 in OT) over Kansas State was on NBC with Jim Simpson and Tom Hawkins the announcers, followed by the Final Four a week later in San Diego on NBC with Curt Gowdy and Billy Packer handling the coverage of the 95-79 loss against Kentucky in the national semifinals, and for Packer it was his Final Four debut. SU’s 96-88 overtime loss to Louisville in the discontinued third-place game was not broadcast.

The ’Cuse finally got a regular season game televised in Roy Danforth’s final season on January 3, 1976, a regional NBC broadcast at West Virginia with Albert and Waters on the call, but SU was not pleasing to the eye in a 97-75 defeat.

In Jim Boeheim’s first season (1976-77), his first nationally broadcast game was the memorable 93-88 NCAA first-round overtime win over Tennessee in Baton Rouge, La., the Bouie and Louie Show (SU’s Roosevelt Bouie and Louis Orr) outlasting the Vols Bernie & Ernie Show (UT’s Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld). An enthusiastic Dick Enberg and Packer called the game for NBC.

Once the Big East got underway in conjunction with the birth of ESPN beginning with the 1979-80 season, Syracuse basketball began to be televised on a regular basis, eventually leading to the move to the ACC in 2013, and the debut of the ACC Network (and ACC Network Extra) in August 2019.

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.