The most powerful man in sports

Sean McManus might be 2010’s most powerful person in sports, yet he’s almost completely anonymous.

He’s not the man “planning” Tiger Woods’ comeback or the 21-year-old vying for the NBA’s scoring title or the coach reviving Kentucky basketball, all while blatantly ignoring the NCAA’s rulebook. That’s Mark Steinberg, Kevin Durant and John Calipari, respectively.

(By the way, I loved this line from Charles Pierce’s column on Calipari: “And, if Kentucky wins [the NCAA Tournament] and you picked someone else in your pool, just be patient. Appeals might be pending for a couple of years.” Gotta love college sports.)

McManus, however, is president of CBS News and Sports, which makes him, well, pretty damn powerful right now.

Consider this: A month and a half ago, the network broadcasted Super Bowl XLIV, a wildly entertaining game between the NFL’s most recognizable figure (Peyton Manning) and a city ravaged by Hurricane Katrina (New Orleans). The combination led to a viewership of 106.5 million, the largest TV audience in American history.

Mind you, this was all unfolding while the Tiger Woods saga continued to churn through the 24/7 media — a story from which CBS Sports would eventually benefit because of its sizable golf coverage.

In fact, McManus recently said Woods’ return would be “the biggest media event other than the Obama inauguration in the past 10 or 15 years” — and this was before Woods announced he would return to the Masters, televised by (you guessed it) CBS.

To be fair, both CBS and ESPN, the network televising the first two rounds, benefit from Woods’ return to golf. But can you imagine if he’s in the lead or in contention on Sunday? Fifty million people might watch that telecast (for a point of comparison, an estimated 43 million people saw Woods’ record-setting 1997 Masters victory).

And today, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, CBS’ $6-billion baby, starts with a wide-open field — read: lots of upsets — full of likable characters (Sherron Collins, John Wall and anyone from Baylor) and some of the usual love-to-hate guys (Frank Martin, Calipari and anyone from Duke).

No matter how the tournament turns out, CBS can’t lose.

So let’s review: In a span of two months, one network will have hosted the most-viewed television program in U.S. history, a sure-to-be-entertaining NCAA tournament and the return of the world’s most recognizable sports figure — at one of the most prestigious golf tournament in the world — after he ravaged his personal life with countless affairs and became the ire of every woman in America.

Holy smokes, that’s one helluva trifecta.

It might be the greatest two-month run in the history of television. That’s a load of hyperbole, of course, but it’s hard to find anyone more powerful – or more graced with good fortune -- in the sports world than Sean McManus.

Enjoy it, because it won’t last forever. Just ask Tiger Woods.

Scott Miller, a junior at the University of Iowa and a contributor to the National Football Post, recently won second place in the Hearst Sports Writing Competition. Follow him on Twitter: @stmillr

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