03/13/2009 12:00AM

Packer and Knight hit the Strip


LAS VEGAS - This city has always thrived on star power. Many people think that's what puts the glow in the neon.

Billy Packer and Bobby Knight have been two of college basketball's biggest stars over the past 30 to 40 years: Packer as the voice of the last 34 Final Fours, including the past 27 at CBS, and Knight as the longtime coach of Indiana University and one of the most recognizable and quotable coaches (for better and for worse) of all time.

Packer will be noticeably absent Sunday on CBS when he's not on the air during the bracket selection show (he says it was a mutual decision for him to leave the network last April; others say he was forced out). But that doesn't mean he has gone away. Like so many others before him, he has taken his act to Las Vegas.

On Sunday at 4 p.m., Packer will host a "Survive and Advance" TV show in the lounge behind the Wynn Las Vegas sports book with Knight shortly after the brackets are announced. The show will air on tape-delay at midnight on Fox Sports Net stations nationwide.

Interestingly, Knight, who has been a commentator for ESPN since resigning from Texas Tech last year, is being promoted as being part of ESPN's coverage on Sunday night. We'll see how that gets juggled.

"We're thrilled to have Billy Packer and Coach Knight broadcasting from our hotel," said John Avello, director of race and sports book operations at the Wynn.

"We wanted to give our guests something special, and this is a good fit. They bring a ton of knowledge and they're both great on camera. They'll put on a good show."

Both Packer and Knight have been known to speak their mind and go off script, so it should be highly entertaining as well as informative.

The Wynn is obviously trying to capitalize on their presence. In addition to the tapings being open to the public and free (to draw traffic on Sunday nights when visitors are more often leaving town), Knight and Packer will also be watching the games on big screens Thursday through Sunday in a Wynn ballroom. The Wynn, which was planning to charge $50 to attend those parties for the buffet and drink service, has now decided to open them to the public for free.

After the opening weekend's games are played, Packer and Knight will do another show at 6 p.m. on Sunday, March 22, with "Survive and Advance" airing again at midnight local time on FSN. Another show will be done after the regional finals on Sunday, March 29, and then a Final Four preview show on Friday, April 3, and a championship game preview show on Sunday, April 5.

The announcement of this show has stirred some controversy since it is being taped in a Las Vegas casino that offers wagering on the games (even though that is legal in Nevada). Packer, at a news conference at the Wynn in January that announced the show, made it clear that point spreads and gambling won't be mentioned on the show. Knight, who had spoken in favor of a ban on college sports betting in Nevada when he was a coach, mostly takes the tack now that people will bet no matter what, and that what they do with his opinions is their own business.

The NCAA, with its longstanding stance against wagering on college athletics, can't be too happy with the cozy relationship, but the association hasn't spoken out against it, except for NCAA spokesman Bob Williams making a blanket statement to The Associated Press: "In terms of geographic location, the NCAA doesn't have a position one way or another. However, our position is clear and unchanged on college sports wagering . . . we oppose it in all forms."

You can bet they'll be tuning in.

Vegas March Madness contests

In years past, especially when race and sports handicapping contests were widespread and then during the poker boom, visitors and Las Vegas locals were often surprised at the relative lack of contests during March Madness. However, this year, we have not just one, not just two, but three contests being held during the NCAA men's basketball tournament. As a quick aside (and a free suggestion to any casino marketing people wanting to steal it for next year), I think it would be great to have an opening-weekend contest for those visitors that come in for the first four days but won't otherwise be back the rest of the tournament. These contests are mostly geared toward locals:

Lucky's Bailout Contest - Contestants pay a $10 entry fee (buy three and get a fourth entry free) and pick every NCAA tournament game against the spread. This requires stopping into a Lucky's book each day of the tournament (or the night before each day's games) to put in the selections. Lucky's is guaranteeing a $10,000 prize pool with $5,000 for first place, $2,500 for second, and $1,500 for third. Note: If opening-weekend warriors are interested, there is a $1,000 prize for the leader after the first two rounds.

Station Casinos' Last Man Standing - Fashioned after Stations' football contest, this one costs $25 (buy four and get a fifth entry free) and each entrant picks one game against the spread each day of the tournament. Win and you stay alive; lose and you're eliminated. The prize is guaranteed to be $25,000 to the last man or woman standing (aggregate to multiple winners) with any collected entries in addition to that being added to the pool.

Leroy's Three N Out - Leroy's did this contest over the second half of the football season (shameless plug alert: yours truly was the co-champion) and they've revived it for March Madness. It costs $25 to enter with a limit of five per person. You make one pick against the spread (including totals) each day until you get three wrong. Anyone making it to the end of the tourney without three losses will win part of the pool. See leroys.com for full details.

An earlier version of this article contained an incorrect starting time for the taping of Packer and Knight's "Survive and Advance" TV show at the Wynn Las Vegas on Sunday. The show will be taped beginning at 4 p.m., not 6 p.m.