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Retirement Hasn't Quieted Billy Packer

Jan 12, 2011 – 12:00 PM
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CHARLOTTE -- Those old, iconic CBS Sports jackets are long gone from Billy Packer's closet. The premier college basketball television analyst for three decades doesn't own a video or DVD of any of his games, either.

And that Emmy Award Packer won in 1993?

"He's probably using it as a doorstop,'' cracked his son, Charlotte radio personality Mark Packer.

Billy Packer is more likely to display his prized Picasso ceramics or Barbazon art than a faded photograph with some basketball player or coach. He is neither sentimental nor nostalgic about a career he refers to almost dismissively as a "hobby."

Nearly three years after he left CBS following the NCAA championship game between Kansas and Memphis in 2008, having broadcast 34 Final Fours with NBC and CBS and more tipoffs than he would ever care to count, Packer is focused on private business ventures in a life that remains active away from the cameras and lights.

No, he doesn't long to return to broadcasting. Nor does he spend much time watching basketball. At any given moment, his TV is just as likely to be turned to the Food Network as SportsCenter.

"I like the chef battles,'' Packer said as he turned off a cooking show he was watching one day last month.

But Packer still follows the sport that has in many ways defined his life. That has not changed for the former Wake Forest point guard and assistant coach-turned-broadcaster.

"I have a passion for the history and the value of the game and its direction,'' Packer said. "I will say this, not to be in a bragging fashion: I do understand the game. I would not be averse to debate the status of basketball with anybody.''

At 70, Packer is as opinionated as ever, even if he no longer has a microphone to amplify his voice and anger his critics. He has seen enough over the years to know what's wrong with college basketball. And he doesn't mind sharing his views. That hasn't changed, either.

Packer had plenty of thoughts about the state of the game, from the decline of the ACC and North Carolina to the negative effect of one-and-done players and the expansion of the NCAA tournament field. Pick a subject and Packer has an opinion.

As usual, not everyone is going to like what he has to say.

On Duke being the only ACC school in the top 25 polls with no one else even in range: "I've never seen that before. Even though rankings are not -- it's not the Bible -- they are an indicator your league is way off. And it is.

"I just think the guys that are coaching those teams have not done as good a job getting players. You saw the all-ACC preseason team. You didn't say, 'Wow.' How many of those guys are NBA-caliber players?''

Packer spoke highly of North Carolina coach Roy Williams. But Packer doesn't think much of the roster Williams has put together.

"They can get good recruits, but I think that the selection has to be questionable a little bit -- to get so many kids that have minimal basketball IQ's and are not athletically rugged is not a good combination,'' Packer said. "Last year's team, of all North Carolina teams that maybe I have ever seen, lacked basketball IQ and you know when you've got a coach that's cerebral like Roy that runs a sophisticated system, and you're putting a system in for guys with low basketball IQs, you're facing disaster.''

Packer isn't particularly enamored of this year's team, either. He believes too much pressure has been placed on freshman Harrison Barnes who, despite his struggles, should have had the opportunity to bypass college for the NBA anyway. Packer would like to see the one-and-done rule eliminated by the NBA, but with a caveat.

"I'm surprised it didn't end a couple years prior to that given how disgusted he was at times where the college game was going"
-- Mark Packer, on the end of his Father's Career
"I think you should allow the superstar like LeBron James, if he's 15 years old and an NBA team feels that he is ready to play in the NBA and are willing to pay him to do so, he should be able to go to the NBA right out of high school,'' Packer said.

"But I think once that decision has been made, or not made, and that guy decides to enter the college game, he should have to stay in the college game like in baseball -- the NFL for a different reason -- he should have to stay in the college game for three years.''

Along with providing more mature players for the NBA, Packer believes it will help the college game as well.

"It would help the NBA, it would certainly help the kid and it would bring some semblance of order back into the college game.,'' Packer said. "The individual players that make up the all-Americans and the individual teams that play for the national championships aren't even close to what the teams used to be and players used to be. Aren't even close. Because guys leave early to go to the pros.

"The caliber of players are so far removed it's not even funny.''

It was that change in college basketball that perhaps inspired Packer -- in conjunction with CBS -- to walk away after the 2008 championship game.

"I'm surprised it didn't end a couple years prior to that given how disgusted he was at times where the college game was going,'' Mark Packer said.

Despite all of his years at CBS, Billy Packer believes the NCAA made a mistake in signing a new $11 billion, 14-year contract to remain on the network.

"The NCAA went for the money as opposed to what was the right sports thing to do,'' Packer said. "There's no comparison what ESPN can do for the NCAA tournament and what the NCAA eventually got.''

As for expansion, Packer said it was done not only for money, but to avoid targeting historically black colleges for subordination.

"When the NCAA went to 65 teams, it went to 65 teams for one and only one reason: The major power conferences weren't going to give up any more slots in the tournament brackets,'' Packer said. "And they had more conferences than they had slots. So they had the play-in game. Unfortunately, the play-in game became (designated for) the black conferences. The way that they expanded it was so those black conferences don't have to be the only teams in that first round. It's a way to keep them in the tournament and yet not have them singled out.''

Indeed, a team from a historically black college has competed in every play-in game since it was instituted in 2001.

If any of Packer's opinions inspire anger in Chapel Hill, N.C., NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis or CBS studios in New York, Packer isn't likely to care. His blunt style has always attracted critics.

To this day, Packer insists he has never apologized for any of the controversial statements he has made over the years that have offended African Americans, gays and women.

Maybe fans never forgave him for that, or whether he was denigrating mid-major programs and infuriating Tar Heels faithful by declaring early in the 2008 semifinals between Kansas and North Carolina, "this game is over.''

"Some people said you shouldn't have said that. But that's what I saw. In my mind, I would have been delinquent in not saying that. No, I don't regret that at all."
-- Billy Packer, on His declaration a UNC-Kansas Final Four Game was "over"
"Some people said you shouldn't have said that,'' Packer said. "But that's what I saw. In my mind, I would have been delinquent in not saying that. No, I don't regret that at all.''

That style could ultimately cost Packer some of his legacy. Although Dick Vitale is already in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Packer has not been invited to join that exclusive group. (Of course, as longtime coach Jerry Tarkanian pointed out, "Billy never campaigned to get in. Vitale campaigned pretty hard.")

As with the Emmy, which Packer said is probably stuffed in some closet, it doesn't matter to him if he makes it into the Naismith Hall someday. Packer already has been inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and the Wake Forest Sports Hall of Fame.

Others do care, including someone who angered more than a few on his way into the Hall.

"I think Billy can be very comfortable knowing the tremendous role he played in college basketball," said Bobby Knight, who has appeared with Packer in Las Vegas for "Survive and Advance," a live sports talk show during the NCAA tournament. "I think that it's a shame that at this point he has not been inducted."
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