Monday, April 29, 2013

An Anniversary, An Apology and More

Sports media reaction has been predictable in the wake of Jason Collins' announcement that he's gay.

The free agent NBA center, who has played for a half dozen teams during his 12 years as a pro, made his coming-out announcement in Sports Illustrated this week. It's the magazine's cover story (LINK) and it ignited a to-be-expected mix of knee-jerk reaction, thoughtful response and, not surprisingly, media-on-media attacks as people shared their opinions.

Reaction on on radio and TV ranged from ignoring the information (an approach championed by satellite radio sports-talk heavyweight Chris Russo) to focused discussion, as should be expected on ESPN's usually excellent "Outside the Lines."

Still, no matter the venue, lines were drawn. And one of the early notable lines was drawn by ESPN the Magazine senior writer Chris Broussard, who left the politically correct approach at the curb when he shared his opinion on the matter. That response can be found in the first of two links below. At the same time, Broussard showed his personal opinions do not impact his reporting during a "SportsCenter" segment, visible in the second of two links below.

Broussard Video -- Opinion on 'OTL' / Reporting on the NBA

There's nothing wrong with what Broussard did in either appearance. Maybe he was too frank on a touchstone topic, but he was doing his job. And where other media members, or members of the public, fail the media and themselves is when they criticize Broussard for having an opinion. He has been open about his opinion on the matter before, and he knows the climate that exists around team sports in the United States.

Many people who cover sports, play sports or watch sports have many divergent opinions on controversial topics. Broussard should not be penalized -- in any way -- for doing his job.

Collins' announcement follows months of buildup (and some legitimate news) for the NFL Draft. In fact, the NFL (and the Collins news this morning) has relegated other potentially important and interesting sports media news to almost irrelevant or overlooked status in the past week or so.

Here's a look at some of what should stand out -- as well as a couple pieces of news sports media types have given a little too much attention.

Act: Anniversary of launch of "Wide World of Sports," April 29
React: Hardly anybody mentioned the anniversary of the first quality sports anthology show, and that's a shame. It was probably a non-starter to begin with, especially because the last episode ended in 1998 and the show probably became irrelevant as much as a decade before that, but "Wide World of Sports" created an approach, launched numerous trend-setting careers and saved a network, ABC. The show was imitated, but never successfully, and it remains a cultural touchstone as well as a piece of American  history -- because it introduced so many people in the United States to their neighbors, both near and far, competing in everything from the offbeat to world-class sports.

Act: "Monday Night Football" play-by-play man Al Michaels remains silent
React: It's been a couple of weeks since Michaels was arrested and charged with in with driving under the influence. Yes, he was barely over the legally intoxicated limit, but it's time for him to apologize. As DUIs go, his case seems mundane (though some would certainly argue there's no such thing). Still, that's the process ... make a mistake, take cover from your network's publicist and eventually apologize. It will not prevent him from doing his job, but it's interesting that it's gone this long without an apology.

Act: Love for ESPN's "Elway to Marino"
React: Another standout film in the "30 for 30" series -- an endeavor that regularly showcases the best of the all-sports network and its partners for the films. In this case, the film (and it's a film, not a documentary) was carried perfectly by agent Marvin Demoff and his meticulous notes. Every piece of archival coverage was appropriate and the interviews hit the mark as well. The commitment to reconstruct the ballroom where the draft was held in 1983 was a nice touch as well.

Act: ESPN names Robert Lipsyte as ombudsman
React: The award-winning writer and author begins an 18-month stint as ESPN's fifth ombudsman in June. He'll offer independent analysis and critiques of ESPN's work. It's a necessary role, and a position sports media types have wanted filled for months. Still, it's a position few beyond the business care about. It's an appropriate and interesting hire, but the question is how many people will notice. Then again, if he points out the gaffe's ESPN makes (especially if it continues with some of its recent problems in the past 18-plus months), Lipsyte should not have a hard time getting attention for his work.

Act: Media awaits announcement of selection committee for College Football Playoff
React: Sorry, it just seems to be much ado about nothing. People in charge will invest hundreds of thousands of dollars informing the committee, transporting the committee, housing the committee and making it's work possible and all they have to do is select the top four teams to participate in the so-called playoff system. (Keep in mind it's nothing more than a plus-one approach, but that's another topic for another day.) Honestly, the only thing a committee could do would be to cause problems. The previously existing BCS formula worked as best it could, and someone will still run those models. About the only thing a committee could do to prove it was working wold be to select a team from outside the polls' top four ... and once they do that there will be all kinds of emotional, and probably appropriate, reaction. Waiting to see who gets named to a group that has, at most, a ceremonial role -- or should have only a ceremonial role -- seems much ado about nothing.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

NFL Draft Offers Proven, Reliable Reality TV

It was the first and it remains the best. In the world of sports, as in the world of reality television, the NFL Draft holds an unrivaled position.

From Thursday through Saturday, with start-to-finish coverage on two networks (ESPN, NFL Network), the draft will attract viewership that dwarfs just about every other sporting event on TV -- except for NFL games themselves.

The draft is a near-perfect, made-for-TV event, with established stars from college football up for grabs, a reliable schedule, with predetermined time periods between selections, and a rooting interest for dozens of different fan bases. It works as something a hard-core fan could watch from beginning to end, and it works as background noise -- providing regular news and easy-to-find entry points for viewers to get information whenever they want.

Both ESPN and NFL Network will provide on-screen tickers of players selected by team as well as by position. With viewers used to on-screen information now more than ever, they'll be able to see who was just picked, who picks next, and who remains as the best available talent, according to the networks' respective experts.

In addition, thanks to cooperation from the broadcast partners and the NFL, viewers even get a play-along, top-down approach to the selection process. Never mind breaking any news, neither ESPN nor the NFL Network plans to have its reporters reveal picks before they're announced by the commissioner during the first round Thursday or the second round Friday.

After that, though, news might come without having to originate from the mouth of a league official first.

Still, most viewers (87 percent, according to a poll by Sports Business Daily) like the approach. It might  be ceding control to the league, but fans appreciate and trust the TV approach that has been crafted and protected by the NFL and its partners in regard to the draft.

They should, too, because the NFL does the draft well.

Great Guide
No one who writes about the draft and what to expect on TV does it as completely, or as well, as Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated. His preview of what to expect, and some strong opinions about who to watch and why, follows.
LINK: Media Circus

Fox Remembers Pat Summerall

Saturday, April 13, 2013

TV Viewer(s) Drive Masters Penalties, Storylines

A vigilant TV viewer pointed out the mistake and prompted what became the most prominent story entering the third round of the Masters.

During the second round Friday, Tiger Woods apparently took advantage of an improper drop on the 15th hole. By signing an improper scorecard after the round, he would typically be disqualified.

Tournament officials said the matter was not that simple.

While those officials immediately reviewed the matter (based on the TV viewer's call) and reached a decision that Woods did not violate the rule, a second caller pointed to Woods' answer during a post-round interview that he had dropped farther back from the original spot on purpose to give himself a better shot -- basically admitting a violation.

When Masters officials were made aware of that, they scheduled a Saturday morning interview with Woods, talked about the situation and levied a two-stroke penalty -- dropping him from three strokes off the lead and tied for fourth to five strokes behind and tied for 17th.

One long-followed, traditional golf rule (Rule 26, which would've prompted the disqualification) was in apparent contrast with another (Rule 33, which prevents after-the-fact penalties) in the situation. Still, with Woods' admission about his mindset in the situation, many golf purists believe he should withdraw because of his intent.

"He unkowingly broke a rule, but he knowingly took and advantage. It casts a dark shadow over the proceedings," Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said. Chamblee said it was not a matter of disqualification but withdrawal, adding that Woods had a chance to do something bigger than his golf game, acting as a leader in the game by pulling himself from competition.

Still, there was hardly any unanimity on the matter. For every expert or former player who wanted to talk ethics and golf tradition, there was another who pointed to Rule 33, which was implemented just two years ago at least in part to protect players from mistakes later revealed through TV. Conversely, those supporting Woods believed the two-stroke penalty was more than enough.

Beyond the viewers who pointed out the rules violations, there were many others to consider. While CBS Sports officials were not part of the discussions (nor should they have been), the millions who would watch the final two rounds of the Masters certainly had to be a consideration. With Woods, they would have a reason to watch. Without him, they would have a reason to do almost anything else.

Ridley said Woods, the world's No. 1 player, was not given special treatment.

"We felt it might have been prejudicial to Tiger if we had not given him the benefit of the doubt. I can't control what the perception might or might not be. This tournament is about integrity," Ridley said. "If it had been John Smith from wherever, he would have gotten the same ruling -- because it is a good one. I hope it sets good precedent, because I think it was a good decision."

If nothing else, the incident again shows the importance and power of TV viewers. Those two calls, one after Woods shot on the 15th hole and the other after his interview with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi, are typical for golf. Ridley said tournament officials get dozens of calls each year, and that they follow up on every one.

TV also played a role in the other high-profile rules matter during the second round.

Because players have been pushed to play more efficiently in order to keep things moving for TV, that led at least in part to the slow-play violation for the group including 14-year-old Tianlang Guan.

While his playing partners and some others feel bad about the penalty for the youthful player, the rule was applied as it should have been. It exists to help golf build a more TV-friendly profile, though, and that's not a bad thing.

Of course, when a sport -- and especially one big-name player -- attracts a big TV following, the rules and how they apply can sometimes become a matter of debate.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Balance, Facts Lose to Immediacy, Judgment

Forget balance. Never mind context -- even facts. And, perspective? No way.

Too often those things get lost, even by some respected sports journalists, when people feel the need to chime in, jump on or simply react.

The latest examples come in regard to the major NCAA basketball stories of the past week.

First, in the aftermath of the appropriate coverage of Mike Rice's coaching methods and eventual firing at Rutgers, one important sidebar story was lost and a second developed that has blossomed and earned even more attention.

First, the apparent money-grab request by former RU assistant coach Eric Murdock was overlooked. The practice tapes showing Rice's actions first became available to university administrators through Murdock, who threatened to make them public unless he was compensated (apparently asking for as much as $950,000). 

Sure, that was a secondary story to Rice's tactics, but it was almost ignored for more than a week. Even though many sports fans knew the blackmail story was out there, it seemed of little interest to media members more interested in assessing blame or finding someone at fault. It was just as compelling, but there was no tape (no smoking gun) to drive the Murdock story home with a general audience.

Instead, the story of the day, and days, after Rice was rightfully fired was blame. Never mind that it was clear Rice was most at fault.

Fueled by many in the media, athletic director Tim Pernetti lost his job as well -- despite the fact that he had been prevented from taking more serious action against Rice when he wanted because he was hampered by the university's human resource policies and legal limitations.

Worse, media members piled on with incorrect information. Never mind the facts.

That included the following from USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, a trustee at the Northwestern University who invariably has solutions for every institution of higher education in the nation when scandal breaks. On April 4, she wrote:

"There are two men who are responsible for allowing Rice to represent Rutgers four months too long -- two men who failed the students of Rutgers and their families, who failed the taxpayers of New Jersey, who failed that 2007 women's basketball team and who failed Clementi's memory. They are university president Robert Barchi and athletics director Tim Pernetti. Astoundingly, as of Wednesday night, they both still have their jobs. They still are employed by Rutgers and the people of New Jersey."

That sounds great, but it's factually wrong. Pernetti was not hired at RU until April 2009. So there was no way he could "fail" the women's team in 2007. But why should facts stand in the way of a good story?

Our fast-paced media environment just does not lend itself often enough to balance and context. It's a bigger shame when veterans who know better take the somewhat salacious route, and Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Peter King of Sports Illustrated joined that group the past two days.

On ESPN's "The Sports Reporters," Burwell lamented that Louisville was taking advantage of injured standout Kevin Ware by raising money using shirts with his name and number on them to benefit a scholarship fund. It's a fair criticism, using a player for a university's gain, but it needs the context that Ware himself benefits from a scholarship (possibly in part attributable to the success of generations of basketball players before him at Louisville) and that Ware would benefit in coming weeks and months from the university's largesse in the form of free medical care for his gruesome injury. 

It's appropriate to critique the NCAA and university for taking advantage of Ware's situation, but context matters.

On Monday, King joined the trio -- and he should have been flagged for his unbalanced piling on in his weekly "Monday Morning Quarterback" column. He wrote:

Factiod of the Week That May Interest Only Me I
Between them, Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice and athletic director Tim Pernetti are due more than $2 million in contract settlements in the wake of leaving university employment.

There is something twisted about that.

Really? Something twisted? C'mon, King knows better. It's not illegal or twisted, it's called a contract. Of all, people, King who regularly writes about NFL contracts and salary cap numbers should have an appreciation that people in the upper reaches of intercollegiate athletic departments have contracts.

When they get fired, it's not as if they leave their office with only the clothes on their back and a cardboard box filled with office supplies. They get compensated.

Sure, it's might seem unseemly to some, but it's business as usual. Without that context, without making it clear that such exits happen all the time, such as when any major college or university fires a coach with time remaining on their contracts, it's an unfair and twisted way to treat Rutgers, Rice and Pernetti as well.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Final Four Set to Cap Strong Tournament on TV

Ratings and viewership have been up throughout the NCAA Tournament for CBS Sports and its broadcast partners this year -- and the storylines and teams set for the Final Four should help the TV numbers to finish strong.

Action begins at 6:09 p.m. Saturday with Louisville-Wichita State. Forty minutes after the conclusion of that game, it's Michigan-Syracuse.

As the tournament's top seed with a rich tradition, college basketball fans have a reason to watch Louisville as it faces the tournament Cinderella, Wichita State. In addition, the broken leg sustained in a gruesome manner by Louisville's Kevin Ware during the regional final last weekend might add casual viewers to the mix on Saturday evening.

There's no doubt Ware's injury has drawn attention beyond the typical college basketball audience. The unusual nature of the injury and the emotional response have been chronicled everywhere from CNN and ESPN to "Good Morning America" and "The Late Show with David Letterman."

In the second game, Michigan and Syracuse meet for the first time in the tournament. The game features AP Player of the Year Trey Burke for Michigan, along with teammates Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III -- the latest in family lines of college basketball standouts. Of course, Syracuse counters with always measured but at the same time opinionated coach Jim Boeheim and the team's effective 2-3 zone defense.

Both Michigan and Syracuse have big fan bases and rich traditions as well.

Again, it's a recipe for bottom-line success for CBS Sports, and if the on-air talent and behind-the-scenes production teams bring the same focused and measured approach they displayed last week, the broadcasts will be an artistic success as well.

Finally, a PTPer
College basketball TV icon Dick Vitale gets his first NCAA Tournament assignment at the Final Four, working Louisville-Wichita State on the international feed produced by ESPN with play-by-play man Brad Nessler.

He'll be heard (it's always that first for Vitale) in 150 countries -- everywhere but the United States -- and he's excited about the opportunity. He does not plan to change his approach, either. So the catchphrases will abound.

"It's carried me for 34 years," Vitale told USA Today of his style. "I say this humorously, but think about it. Some people think I'm loud, that I talk a lot. But I must be doing something right. I can't go anywhere without people yelling, 'dDo I need a T.O., baby?'"

ESPN's Jay Bilas will work the Michigan-Syracuse game on the international feed.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Day Without Knight Hurts Him More Than ESPN

When ESPN Radio talks in depth again Thursday about the removal of Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice, it will do so without its own in-house bully and someone who might have been able to add interesting insights: Bob Knight.

Still, that's probably a good thing for the show. For Knight, not so much.

According to Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated, Knight cancelled his scheduled appearance on "Mike and Mike" late Wednesday night. ESPN said Knight declined comment on Rice.

Had Knight appeared on the show, the questions asked and his responses would have been interesting. 

After all, Knight crafted a legendary career at Indiana and Texas Tech that included a couple high-profile bullying incidents of his own. His actions never reached the level of those revealed by Rice in the Rutgers practice video earlier this week that eventually led to his firing, but Knight certainly would've had an opinion. And if co-hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic did their jobs well the result would have been appropriate questions and entertaining radio.

Of course, we'll never know what would've happened -- because Knight has brought his bullying approach to his role as an analyst, too. Apparently, he can decide when he will or will not appear on ESPN and ESPN Radio.

At the same time, his absence saves ESPN Radio from the embarrassment of what a radio interview with Greenberg, Golic and Knight could have become. Remember, Knight went most of the 2011-12 season covering college basketball and refusing to say "Kentucky" in regard to the eventual national champion because of his distaste for Wildcats coach John Calipari. So the Hall of Fame coach certainly knows how to control a message -- and had he been given anything close to a free pass of soft questions from the network's morning radio team it would've meant a credibility hit for the network.

While "Mike and Mike" might not regularly rival "Outside the Lines" atop the sports journalism journalistic hierarchy, the radio show regularly goes about its business professionally and well. Not having Knight as initially scheduled hurts a little, but it hurts him more than the show.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Barkley, CBS Bring Calm, Cool to Tournament

Credit Charles Barkley and CBS Sports with appropriate perspective and restraint during their coverage of the latest installment of the NCAA Tournament.

They earned accolades and made news as a result.

Barkley stepped into action first. After analyst Doug Gottlieb put his feet firmly in his mouth when he offered a bad joke about "bringing diversity to the set" and offering a "white man's perspective" when joining the studio team, it could have initiated an onslaught of social media criticism.

OK, it did initiate such a response. Many bloggers, critics and fans responded immediately. Fellow analysts Greg Anthony, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, along with host Greg Gumbel (all of whom are black) either cringed, ignored or initially laughed off Gottlieb's nonsensical self introduction.

Still, people started piling on -- until Barkley stepped into the fray.

Gottlieb's remark came as last Thursday night's action was beginning, and Barkley's strong response came later in the night.

"I know this has nothing to do with the game. I want to say something about Doug Gottlieb," Barkley said. "He made a joke earlier tonight and people are going crazy. All those idiots on Twitter, which I would never ever do. Listen, me, Kenny and Greg Anthony and Greg Gumbel did not take that personally. So all you people at home who've got no life and are talking a bad about Doug Gottlieb, get a life. It's over with. It's no big deal."

Barkley was correct, and his candor saved a lot of headaches.

In the same manner, the weekend's biggest moment -- and clearly a big deal -- was the gruesome injury suffered by Louisville's Kevin Ware. When he came down after trying to block a shot in front of his team's bench, his right leg let loose -- a compound fracture with his leg bending where it should not past the top of his sock line. It was gruesome ... something people did not see again.

To its credit, CBS Sports showed the play twice and that was it. While the broadcast did not go to commercial, staying with coverage for nearly nine minutes, the production team did not sensationalize what had happened. It was a horrific injury, and the reactions of teammates, competitors and coaches was more than enough to tell the story.

In addition, sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson provided timely updates on Ware's status and the situation.
It was an appropriate approach -- measured, professional and well done. That was the case with Barkley's on-air defense of Gottlieb too.

Those two moments provided a highlight of the Sweet 16-to-Final Four weekend of the tournament for CBS Sports and even in a weekend with mostly lopsided games the approach made the coverage a success.