Dick Vitale shut out of March Madness this year

The Voice of March Madness is pretty much stuck in the house like the rest of us.

Dick Vitale, now 80, who has been affiliated with ESPN for 41 years, was shut out of his commentary on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament this year. The championship game would have been in Atlanta on Monday night.

No games because of COVID-19, the coronavirus. Only ESPN or NCAA classics, blasts from the past, rewinding television history instead of making new memories.

Other broadcasters come and go, but no one is more closely identified with college basketball or probably any other sport than Vitale.

Vitale was home in Florida during the nationwide shutdown that included calling off every live sporting event in the country.

Talking from home, he said he had probably participated in 15 radio shows over the previous week, so he was having his say about the season, even if the season ended abruptly, with no satisfying resolution.

There will be one gigantic blank spot on the list of NCAA champions when historians look back to the year 2020. Major League Baseball has twice coped with seasons ending with no World Series.

In neither case, a national catastrophe such as this one could not be blamed. It was the sport’s own fault. The first World Series took place in 1903, but there were no games in 1904 because New York Giants manager John McGraw did not want to play upstart American Leaguers. There was no 1994 World Series because of a players’ strike.

People were not dying from a pandemic.

“Scary times,” Vitale said. “We can get through it.”

Rather than spending so much time seen on ESPN in March and early April, as has become as much a rite of spring as blooming flowers, Vitale was watching ESPN, some of the older classic games, expressing a particular fondness for an Indiana-Kentucky contest.

“I’m just staying home following the guidelines,” Vitale said.

He does walk an hour a day to stay fit.

“It helps to build up your immune system,” Vitale said. “You’ve got to do something to keep your mind sharp.”

And he said he and his wife, Lorraine, (married since 1971) take car rides.

“Trying to kill time,” Vitale said.

Vitale has outlasted generations of broadcasters, coaches and players. It is an occasion when he comes to your campus for a game.

There are many Vitale trademark phrases introduced into the lexicon of college hoops. “Awesome, baby” may gush forth when he is impressed. “Diaper Dandy” is uttered about an impressive freshman. Or “He’s a PTPer,” as in a prime time player.

Although Vitale can always work a self-deprecating anecdote into a telecast referring to his days as a college coach, younger fans may not realize he did coach high-level ball as an assistant coach with Rutgers, as head coach at Detroit Mercy and as coach of the Detroit Pistons. Vitale knows his way around a clipboard.

No one brings more enthusiasm to college basketball than Vitale. He is a singular individual and personality, not possessing the blow-dried hair of a network news anchor since he is bald and is not a product of cultivated, trained announcer school.

The reason to love Dick Vitale on air is because he is sincere and everyone knows he cares about what he is watching. There are viewers Vitale rubs wrong, but he has always been such an upbeat salesman for the game he has been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and College Basketball Hall of Fame.

For all he has done promoting college basketball, mostly by energetic talking, Vitale’s commitment to the V Foundation for Cancer Research is more impressive. The effort was established in connection with the late Jim Valvano’s public and courageous battle against cancer in the early 1990s.

Vitale has been a relentless backer and fundraiser with 100% of the money obtained going to pediatric cancer research. Due to the virus, he shifted the 15th annual Dick Vitale Gala dinner to Sept. 4 this year from May 8.

The goal is to raise $5 million, Vitale said. No money is spent on overhead, and sales of Dick Vitale memorabilia go to the cancer fund, too.

“I don’t want five cents,” he said.

It may be that Dick Vitale’s voice is louder in favor of this cause than it ever was at a basketball game.