Friday, January 27, 2012

Link -- BTN Presents A Memorial for Joe

Link to Big Ten Network's coverage of the memorial service for Joe Paterno, presented on All Access by online.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pre-Game Paterno Piece Remains Powerful

One of the best college football game opens ever done by ESPN.

From 2008 game with Ohio State ...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Upon Further Review, the NFL Has A Problem

Just three games remain in the NFL season -- the three most important games of the season -- and of all the potential concerns and problems that exist one tops the list: the league's shoddy, slow instant replay system.

A replay system of some sort has existed since 1986 and its current incarnation relies on coaches to challenge controversial plays for review. In theory, that limits the number of potential interruptions in a game and enables coaches to focus on a couple of key plays in any particular game that need review.

The sport and its fans need more, though.

The challenge system falters because not every play can be reviewed and because the reviews themselves are overly time consuming -- especially when the outcome of many of those plays should be obvious.

Even worse, the disposition of challenges often become made-for-TV moments that lengthen the game because decisions are never shared until a broadcast comes back from commercial. That in itself makes games longer than necessary. It seems that broadcast partners could capably catch viewers up on what happened while they were gone if the NFL could hustle the process along a bit.

In addition, replay challenges, a maximum of two per game, come at a cost. If a coach's challenge proves unsuccessful, his team loses a timeout. And that's just silly, because while trying to enhance the integrity of the game you're also forcing decisions that alter its integrity.

Last week's Giants-Packers game provided only the latest example of the many problems with replay. In that instance, an obvious fumble happened on the field, was challenged and then, amazingly, was reviewed and still ruled as a fumble. Even when the video evidence to the contrary was obvious.

Such examples happen in almost every game almost every week during the season. And the insistence on a replay system that allows the referees on the field to judge their own work provides just another flaw. That conflict of interest, combined with a willingness to determine the intent of players rather than simply judge what the video shows, makes the system ineffective and inefficient.

To improve its approach, the league needs a review system that monitors every play, with all of those plays eligible for review by someone not working on the field. Ironically, the NFL does just that in the final two minutes of the game.

If it's that important for the end of the game, it should be that important for the entire game.

Without such a change -- and with the problems that exist in the system as currently constituted -- replay remains a ticking time bomb that, hopefully, will not embarrass the league any further this weekend or two weeks later in the Super Bowl.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

TV Positioned as Lone Winner in Playoff System

Although Alabama and LSU were generally acknowledged as the top two teams in college football entering the national championship game, the lopsided Crimson Tide victory has ignited another round of reactionary, revisionist history -- and an overdue but misguided call for changes to the Bowl Championship Series.

Most notably, the Tide's 21-0 victory has some championing a playoff series, which would be nice, or the "plus-one model" -- which would be a mistake.

Still, the logic behind this latest call for change fails because it's based on the fact that the most recent championship game was a blowout. Changing the postseason system would not guarantee the elimination of blowouts in the championship game, or anywhere in the playoffs for that matter.

Any change in the BCS -- be it a "plus-one" that matches the top two teams after all the bowls are completed or a small playoff system (perhaps as few as four teams) -- would guarantee just one winner, though: the respective BCS TV partners.

Sure, one team will win the national championship each season but revenue, viewership and all that comes with it will empower, most likely, ESPN, because it would get valuable programming.

Without reshaping the bowl system significantly (which college administrators will not do because they want to keep their holiday-season junkets to bowl sites), a "plus-one" is unnecessary. This season, LSU and Alabama would've been selected 1-2 entering the process, with the ultimate expectation that they would meet for the national championship. As it was, we simply skipped a step, not needing to see Oregon and Stanford lose in the semifinal round, but got a dominant performance from Alabama that made the final product seem less than it was.

An eight-team playoff would work best, and generate even more revenue for the BCS and its TV partners, but that could come at the expense of many bowl games -- as well as the related junkets for academics and tourism dollars for those bowl game locations.

Still, TV partners will be happy with whatever happens because they'll have the games.

While ratings have been down for some bowl games, and the BCS games in particular, the programming still draws better than other options that exist for ESPN. Specifically, BCS ratings were down this year but ESPN still attracted three of the top five shows on cable last week with those games. Also, the BCS championship game attracted the largest audience (24.2 million viewers) in cable TV history. It was behind only last year's BCS championship game (27.3 million viewers).

Plus, ESPN is especially adept and spreading the game and related content across a variety of platforms, leveraging something like the Fiesta Bowl post-game show, for example, to some 10 million viewers.

Change will come to the BCS -- hopefully in the form of something more than a worthless "plus-one" -- but the power of TV, and the willingness of people to watch, will remain the same.

Friday, January 6, 2012

NFL Playoffs Feature Six Mostly Solid Teams

Twelve NFL teams remain as the playoffs begin with four games this weekend, and each team has at least some little flaws. The same can be said of the six remaining broadcast teams.

Here's a look at the postseason TV assignments, followed by a one-through-six ranking of the best remaining broadcast crews.
Bengals at Texas (4:30 p.m., NBC) / Tom Hammond-Mike Mayock-Alex Flanagan
Lions @Saints (8 p.m., NBC) / Al Michaels-Chris Collinsworth-Michel Tafoya

Falcons @ Giants (1 p.m., Fox) / Joe Buck-Troy Aikman-Pam Oliver
Steelers @Broncos (4:30 p.m., CBS) / Jim Nantz-Phil Simms

Jan. 14
Falcons/Saints/Giants @ 49ers (4:30 p.m., Fox) / Kenny Albert-Daryl Johnston-Tony Siragusa
Bengals/Broncos/Steelers @ Patriots (8 p.m., Fox) / Nantz-Simms

Jan. 15
Broncos/Texans/Steelers @ Ravens (1 p.m., CBS) / Greg Gumbel-Dan Dierdorf
Falcons/Lions/Giants @ Packers (4:30 p.m., Fox) / Buck-Aikman-Oliver

Jan. 22
AFC (3 p.m., CBS) / Nantz-Simms
NFC (6:30 p.m., Fox) / Buick-Aikman-Oliver

Feb. 5
(6:30 p.m., NBC) / Michaels-Collinsworth-Michele Tafoya

Of the networks' top teams, the "Sunday Night Football" crew from NBC has the fewest assignments. They'll work a wild card game and not again until the Super Bowl.

That's a shame because the group tends to raise its game during the postseason. While Al Michaels can be overbearing at times during the regular season -- offering commentary as opposed to play-by-play (and that line has blurred for many in his seat through the years) -- he does better when the stakes are higher. And Collinsworth almost invariably does games well, bringing some insights and some self-deprecating humor.

For those reasons, they top the six remaining teams -- albeit just barely and complaining about any of these crews basically amounts to nitpicking. Here's the breakdown ...

1. Al Michaels-Chris Collinsworth-Michele Tafoya, NBC
Again, Michaels usually merits a B for his work and that typically increases at this time of year. Collinsworth certainly rains among the top of the color commentators who remain, and Tafoya provides information without everything being about her.

2. Jim Nantz-Phil Simms, CBS
They get the not here, only slightly over the next team, only because they do not have a sideline reporter. Without that to bog them down, the Nantz-Simms tandem has a proven rhythm and does quality work. Again, some might believe they can sense a bias, but they drew the weekend's biggest assignment for a reason.

3. Tom Hammond-Mike Mayock-Alex Flanagan, NBC
Sure, they do not work together regularly, but the opinions and prowess of Mayock make this crew worth of this spot. Hammond is a steady pro. He just does his job, and that's all that matters. Mayock shares a lot of information (sometimes to numbers heavy) in a short amount of time and knows players. Maybe not as strong on Xs and Os and some analysts, but he's good.

4. Joe Buck-Troy Aikman-Pam Oliver, Fox
Buck's one of the best play-by-play men working any sport -- and he's a standout in both baseball and football. Aikman is steady as well. Sometimes, though, it feels as if segments for Oliver are forced on viewers.

5. Greg Gumbel-Dan Dierdorf, CBS
Good tandem, worthy of postseason assignment. They work well together, too. Just a shade behind the others.

6. Kenny Albert-Daryl Johnston-Tony Siragusa, Fox
Have learned to like this group more, especially when Siragusa stays away from humor and shares his football knowledge and opinions. His role on the field is not as a sideline reporter but as a sideline analyst and it works for him, and the threesome, when the focus is football. Another group that might be stronger in the postseason than the regular season.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Regardless of Ratings, Winter Classic Works

Ratings for the Winter Classic dipped a bit this year, but the annual outdoor game remains a winner for the NHL because it looks good on TV and because it gives the sport at least a little mainstream bump in attention.

With a 2.4 overnight rating, this year's Rangers-Flyers matchup was the lowest in the five-year history of the game. But it's not like the game has ever been a ratings blockbuster.

The inaugural game, Penguins-Sabres in 2008, drew a 2.6 while the high-water mark came in 2009 when the Red Wings-Blackhawks matchup drew a 2.9. Apologists will point to this year's Jan. 2 date and a later start (3 p.m as opposed to the initially scheduled 1 p.m. because of warm weather year) as reasons for the ratings decline. But there's no need to apologize.

There's no way the NHL would've contested the game on New Year's Day (as it had in the past) against a full slate of NFL games. That would've been a certain ratings disaster. And the competition this year on Jan. 2 was not easy, with a variety of college football bowl games, including the venerable Rose Bowl that kicked off before the hockey game ended.

Plus, the game drew a hefty 11.9 overnight rating in Philadelphia and a respectable 4.3, which is huge for hockey, in New York City. In addition, there are so many ways to measure TV success or failure. In terms of viewership, the game was up -- with 3.74 million people watching -- a 2% increase over last year and the fifth most-watched regular season NHL game since 1975.

To its credit, the NHL knows it's a mid-season special event for hockey in general and a TV program at heart. (In fact, the top three most-watched regular season games are all versions of the Winter Classic.)

In terms of the special event, alumni games, college hockey games, public skating sessions and other special events surround the game itself. In terms of TV, that's why the league insists on using fake snow to make the area around the ice look white, even if there has been no snow -- which was the case in Philadelphia this year and Pittsburgh last year.

Still, it's a good event. Several great camera angles provide a sense of the scale of an outdoor game. Plus, the game (as with all NHL games on NBC) offers one of the best play-by-play men in any sport -- Mike Emrick -- and the Winter Classic is better than the All-Star Game in terms of overall mainstream attention for the league.

Because hockey will never be the NFL, NBA or college football, it's somewhat unfair to compare the game's numbers to those other sports. Through five years the Winter Classic seems to be doing what it should for the NHL, and it's hard to imagine what broadcast partner NBC could provide in that window that would draw more viewers against the competition the game annually faces.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Many Standout Radio/TV Efforts in 2011

In January 2011, details of a a spat between a play-by-play talent and a sideline reporter went public and eventually cost ESPN's Ron Franklin his job.

Twelve months later (just days before the calendar year ended) another fracas became public as Fox Sports officiating guru Mike Pereira criticized the work and reactions of ESPN talent and "Monday Night Football" analyst Jon Gruden. Pereira thought Gruden's criticisms of NFL officiating were unfair and unfounded -- and he made sure as many people as possible knew what he thought.

From start to finish, 2011 was eventful and interesting, and those two incidents were just bookend examples of how some sports-media moments became more public. That's a trend that will continue in 2012 in beyond -- especially as leagues and networks embrace social media, giving fans and followers more of an ability to become a part of broadcasts and even shape what happens on radio and TV.

Before this year really gets into gear, though, here are the TalkingTVSports awards for 2011 ...

Best Studio Show: "College GameDay" remains the best because it does the most. From week to week at different locations around the nation, the ESPN college football program sets the stage with timely and topical information. The behind-the-scenes and on-air teams continue to provide a comfortable, familiar and fun program. And even as different talent joins the program (David Pollack was positioned, and responded, as an important newcomer this year), the core analysts (Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard) continue to work well in their roles and with each other. While the streamlined and less cluttered "Football Night in America" has hit its stride on NBC during Sunday nights with NFL coverage, "GameDay" remains just a shade better.

Best Studio Host: Always prepared and steady Chris Fowler of ESPN is the perhaps the main reason "GameDay" succeeds on a daily basis. He shares information, sets up his partners and keeps the show rolling. He's one of the best in sports television, regardless of the sport. And he capably proves that away from "GameDay" with his play-by-play of college games and his work on tennis and other assignments for ESPN.

Best Play-by-Play Team: Oh, it was good while it lasted. The three-man NBA booth of Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy on ESPN/ABC was entertaining and fun, without being overly deferential to the people they were covering and, best of all, without being juvenile. Breen's play-by-play skills and the trio's familiarity with each other enabled them to make games enjoyable. They knew each other well enough, and the game well enough, to pack a broadcast from start to finish with information and a little bit of fun and perspective. With Jackson having left the broadcast booth to coach the Golden State Warriors this season, things will most certainly change, if only because Van Gundy has said he enjoyed the three-man setup more than a typical two-man approach -- and despite the fact that the comfort level between Breen and Van Gundy often enables Van Gundy to really shine more than some would expect.

Best Play-by-Play Talent: Joe Buck, and it's not even all that close. He's the No. 1 play-by-play man for Fox Sports on baseball and the NFL. And despite battling some vocal issues this past year, the network stuck with him (as it should have). Plus, along with his regularly standout duties, Buck even offered a spur-of-the-moment homage to his late father Jack Buck during the World Series. This video shares the calls of the father and son.

Best Color Commentator: Versatile Mike Mayock of the NFL Network and NBC Sports gets the nod here. He emerged this year on NFL Network games, and even in the small sample of games that airs on the league-owned network he proved his knowledge of the sport and ability to share good information in a manner that serves viewers without being self-serving at all. In the past few years he's elevated himself on the strength of his NFL Draft expertise and then thrived whenever another door opened.

Best Sideline Reporter: None. It's one of the most visible and easily criticized positions on sports television. It's also one of the least appreciated. Still, no viewer tunes in because of the sideline reporter and none really distinguished themselves beyond those two or three halftime questions before a coach heads to the locker room.

Best Expert/Insider: Even in the ever-talking crowd of NFL experts, Peter King delivers on a regular basis. He does so most prominently with his Sports Illustrated Monday Morning Quarterback and during "Football Night in America" on NBC. At the same time, he calls in to other national programs (ESPN Radio) and invariably comes informed and prepared. That's what people want from people in his position.

Newcomer(s) of the Year: Neither is necessary first-year new, but both Chris Webber and Trent Dilfer emerged for ESPN in 2011. Neither wants to be a former jock just talking. They work at broadcasting and it shows. Plus, as relative newcomers they're on air all the time (even holidays it seems) and they seem to treat all the work they get as an opportunity. Best of all, it's an opportunity for listeners/viewers as well. Both Webber and Dilfer come with opinions about the NBA and NFL, respectively, they they also come clearly prepared.

Where Have You Gone Award: OK, we know where they went ... Ron Franklin was forced out and Craig James decided to run for elected office. And baseball season progressed without Joe Morgan having a major role nationally as well. In all three cases, the respective sports were probably better for their departures. That said, I missed Franklin's voice on college football, will never understand how ESPN could keep James in such a prominent role and often gave Morgan a pass just because he and Jon Miller had some good moments together.

Next on the Horizon Award: He's been a UFC/MMA favorite (for some to appreciate and others to criticize) for years but there's little doubt Mike Goldberg -- the lead play-by-play man for UFC -- will get more major opportunities in 2012 than any other on-air sports type. With Fox Sports moving farther into its relationship with UFC, including events such as "UFC on Fox 2" later this month, more mainstream fans will be potentially exposed to Goldberg than ever before. Also, UFC added Jon Anik, previously of ESPN's "MMA Live," to handled events on FX and other channels as part of the deal.

Best Innovation: It's not so much innovative as important, but the NFL deals with broadcast partners CBS, Fox and NBC are without parallel. The agreements -- worth about $3.1 billion through 2022 (they kick in after the 2013 season) -- enable the NFL's broadcast partners to stream games, create some additional support/studio programming and set the stage for labor piece in the most popular sport in the United States.

TV Moment of the Year: Given an almost off-hand opportunity, Bob Costas delivered a standard-setting performance during a phone interview with former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on "Rock Center" in November. Costas was set to conduct an on-air interview with Sandusky's lawyer, Joseph Amendola, regarding the charges of sexual assault and misconduct against the retired coach. Instead, the lawyer also asked if Costas would like to talk to Sandusky by phone. Without missing a beat, Costas switched gears and directed his well-prepared questions to Sandusky himself. The result was a compelling and troubling interaction. Still, it was quality journalism.