Jim O’Donnell: Eagle hoops ahead with NCAA men’s baton from Nantz

AS CORONATIONS GO, the NCAA men's basketball ascendancy of Ian Eagle had plenty of circumstance but little pomp Friday.

Out of a midday promo for “Young Sheldon” on CBS, Eagle said, “On the road to the Final Four, we join you live from Brooklyn, New York … ”

And there he was. Alongside Bill Raftery and Grant Hill, Eagle's run as the successor to Jim Nantz as lead voice of the tournament had begun.

The moment was low-key but touched landmark. Nantz announced a little more than a year ago that he would be stepping aside as the tourney's top TV man. He began as No. 1 in 1991, following a bizarre breakup the previous spring between Brent Musburger and Neal Pilson's CBS Sports.

Nantz will retain his spring-forward role as the reverential anchor of The Masters, set to air as usual around the amen azaleas next month.

EAGLE — NOW AGE 55 — has piloted his career well. He graduated from Syracuse in 1990. Shortly after, he went to work as a producer for New York's pioneering WFAN-AM. His first regular on-air assignment was as host of the weekly “Bagels and Baseball.”

By 1998 he was getting his vocal chords more primed handling C-list NFL and NCAA play-by-play assignments for CBS. He has yet to look down.

To say he was born into showbiz is an understatement. His mother — Monica Maris — was a singer of modest renown. His father, Jack Eagle, was a second-string Catskills comic who caught copying-machine magic in 1975.

THAT WAS WHEN Eagle the father was cast as “Brother Dominic” in a series of Clio Award-winning ads for Xerox's breakthrough 9200 copier. (For kids submerged in new-mill electronica, the computerized machine was a big deal back then.) The first national “Monks” spot aired during Super Bowl IX between Terry Bradshaw's Steelers and Bud Grant's Vikings.

“I made more money from that association than I had made in 30 years doing standup,” Eagle told media before his death at age 81 in 2008. “The Xerox monastery was very good to me.”

IAN EAGLE'S OPENING WEEKEND as CBS's fresh No. 1 has been hectic. He, Raftery and Hill worked all four games from the Barclays Center on Friday. They opened with the breakaway OT victory of Chris Collins and Northwestern over Florida Atlantic.

The platinum-A trio will conclude today, all from Brooklyn, with James Madison-Duke (4:15 p.m., CBS) followed by Boo “Baba” Buie and NU vs. imposing Connecticut (6:45 p.m., truTV).

Their planned work schedule will take them through the Final Four. That finishing triple begins with the national semifinals on TBS April 6. The national championship game is April 8. That's when Turner and CBS sharecroppers can only hope the event draws more eyeballs than last season.

THAT CULMINATING GAME — UConn's 76-59 sandblasting of San Diego State — attracted only 14.6M viewers on CBS. It was the least-watched title match ever on live network TV. The Big Dance went live on national television in 1969 (with UCLA-Purdue, Lew Alcindor over Rick Mount, 92-72).

For Eagle, what was once merely ambition is now attainment.

The circumstances will allow him little time for looking down.


Caitlin Clark and her resolute Hawkeyes were 39-point favorites over visiting Holy Cross Saturday afternoon. That's not a point spread — that's a body count. (Vegas wanted Iowa backers to stay away from the NCAA women's first-rounder.) …

Easy to say now — gulp — but the wager of the weekend was North Carolina State (-6½) over Oakland Saturday night. This from an Insouciant who hit a record 19 straight during the 2023 NCAA men's tournament. (A lifetime feat monitored by the organically authoritative Willy B. Hills.) …

Robbie Hummel finally emerged from the shadows of the Big Ten Network to work six NCAA men's tournament games for the CBS/Turner combine this weekend. His tablemates have been Lisa Byington and Steve Smith. They wrap today from the Spokane pod with Alabama-Grand Canyon (6:10 p.m., TBS) and San Diego State-Yale (app. 8:40 p.m., CBS). Engaging Steve Bardo should be up next. …

Kenny McReynolds tips off the basketball Sunday with legendary Kansas air force Lynette Woodard on “Sports Edition” (9:30 a.m., “The U”). Woodard's 3,649 career points remain unacknowledged by the NCAA because the women's game was still under the embryonic auspices of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. (That record gap remains a correctable insult.) …

And Mel Ryan, with a solution for the Bears' uphill quest over a lakefront stadium site: “Why not Bangs Lake? It's a half-hour drive from Halas Hall and there's no Friends of the Parks in Wauconda.”

Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears each week on Sunday and Wednesday. Reach him at All communications may be considered for publication.

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