ESPN/ABC is in control of most of the bowl schedule. This control includes television broadcasting 35 games out of the total 40 bowl games on television. [The remaining 5 are split between two networks. CBS and CBSSN have 3 games between them. FOX and FS1 have 2 games, so 1 a piece.] ESPN/ABC don’t have enough competition in this “space”, specifically since none of the games on other networks are on or after 1 January 2020. But I think ESPN/ABC are missing an opportunity with this year’s slate of semi-final games.
This year I believe it is just going to be a let down. Not the competition on the field, which I think will be fever-pitched. I mean the coverage of that action. In fact, this is continuing a trend from last year. This started from the announcement of the crews for the 2019 Championship game, more on that later. Not sure who, if anyone, ESPN/ABC consulted to line up this year’s MegaCast slate. I hope it is a different story for the National Championship.
For now, ESPN is going with a changed line up for the semi-finals. The crews were announced on Thursday 15 December 2019. The release is posted here.
The in-game crews on ESPN are not the predictable choices. The crew featuring Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit will call the Fiesta Bowl. While Sean McDonough and Todd Blackledge team up for the Peach Bowl. I would have expected Fowler and Herbstreit, the number one Saturday prime time crew, broadcasting the game with the number one team in the country, LSU. Not so. Instead, they stick with the number one crew on the primetime game. The Fiesta Bowl which is Glendale, Arizona will predictably occur well after the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia.
The other casts are not very interesting, as advertised. In previous years, I relied on the Coaches film room cast the last few years for quality broadcasting that goes beyond a regular in game analysis. Usually they got a good mix of coaches. At least one coach from each participating team’s conference. Two other coaches that are also breaking down the game. A lively football discussion ensues pretty naturally. I haven’t checked the stats but there has to be at least one or more matchups after this. I wonder how they have gone? Any trends?
Also each film room included one ESPN commentator. This employee helped to 1. Control the telestrator, 2. Be the de-facto play-by-play, 3. Spur/direct the conversation in between plays when needed [mostly the coaches just started their analysis without prompting] and 4. Make sure that plays aren’t being missed. In the past, the ESPN commentator that made the most impact on me was Brian Griese who is normally a color commentator for the entire regular season. Too bad this year Griese is occupied working the radio broadcast for the Peach Bowl.
Last year there were two coaches that fit the broadcast’s strengths well. In the Cotton Bowl Classic: No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame matchup; the new coach for the University of North Carolina Mack Brown was part of the team. Mack has a BCS championship as well as a few conference championships to his credit. Along with having finished a few years of ESPN commentary experience. In the late game the Orange Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Oklahoma; one of the coaches in the Coaches room last year from Herm Edwards. Herm has NFL head coaching experience. Last year, he was at the end of his first year with Arizona State as head coach. He also has solid ESPN commentary experience. These two helped to led successful broadcasts.
I acknowledge that lining up quality commentary crews is not an easy task. I am not sure many current coaches would allow themselves and their techniques to be filmed. Those could be analyzed by their opponents as much as any game film. Still the last few years, these broadcasts seem to be well stocked.
Last year, the process was exacerbated by the fact that the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Convention in San Antonio, TX ran from Sunday 6 January 2019 to Wednesday 9 January 2019. Leaving few coaches available for the Monday 7 January 2019 game. The real question is, why would they schedule a convention with an obvious conflict for 2 of the best coaches in the country? Especially when any time before spring practices start would do.
But beyond that; why focus on only the head coaches? Both this year and last? They should not be afraid to mix it up a little bit. Find the best assistant coaches out there. Find assistants of teams that faced the competitors. Coaches that have enough time to play their bowl games and then focus on the broadcast. It is possible.
If not current college coaches, what about former coaches? There should be a group of coaches who are looking for positions; either pro or college. Maybe coaches that are “moonlighting” as commentators until their next coaching opportunity opens up? These coaches could be hired on for the gig that leads them to the next job. Great way to showcase talent.
This year, the semi-finals are being played the same day as the Cotton Bowl and a few days before the Orange, Rose and Sugar. Now, the decision to play the semi-finals on a Saturday is a correct one. Plus they are starting before the NFL playoffs. A bonus, the NFL has moved all their Week 17 finales to the same Sunday, no Thursday or Monday night games. [Sidebar: I wonder how the ratings will be for that?] This leaves these two semi-final games as the marquee events that afternoon and evening. I think that is the right move. Any time you can get a captive audience; take it.
Another broadcasting alternative that I found last year while clicking around was Marcus Spears, Greg McElroy, and Alyssa Lang of Thinking Out Loud on the SEC Network. If you haven’t heard of them, here is a quick article about their beginnings at the SEC Network. at the Semi-Final at the Orange Bowl between Alabama beating Oklahoma then the National Championship of Clemson beating Alabama.
This crew was probably selected for those games because Greg McElroy was the Alabama Quarterback from 2007 to 2010. And McElroy played for Nick Saban, the current Alabama Head Coach. His steady commentary both on the show and during college games on Saturday is inviting. His repartee with Spears is endearing.
The irony is that Marcus Spears played for LSU, the current #1. Spears also played for Nick Saban so that gave the crew an interesting perspective. But still ESPN/ABC could at least be committed to the current SEC Champs as they were the last SEC Champs. Kind of seems like a bias is at work but I digress. Send the Thinking Out Loud crew to the Peach Bowl and on stand by for the National Championship, no matter who wins which game could help get more attention to the SEC network. They should even start to find a crew of former players for the ACC and Big Ten networks too.
Another cool part was the drop ins. Tim Tebow dropped in at the National Championship game. So you had Tim and Greg, 2 men who led teams to National Championships themselves. Gene Chizik also dropped in. He wasn’t as charismatic but still solid. The analysis was so spot on but also casual. Casual enough to debate about the best way to ingest fried potatoes. Focused enough that at one point, they had seen some changes in the defense and pointed it out so even an attentive viewer could take in the slight change. Added some real value to the broadcast.
After a little research, the Thinking Out Loud MegaCast is a replacement/ successor for the Finebaum film room that the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum ran multiple times. 2014 Iron Bowl, 2016-18 Playoffs featured Finebaum’s film room. Including Greg McElroy as a member of both. I never saw a Finebaum’s version but I am not really a fan of Paul Finebaum. Than again, I wasn’t a fan of Thinking Out Loud before “tripping over” their broadcast on SEC Network but I am now. It was like watching with really well informed friends. It was relaxed. I enjoyed the atmosphere as well as the insight. I think their personalities shine just like in this promo for the show.
The other cast I enjoyed in the past was the Homer Cast. Basically an alum from each participating school would roam the sidelines. They would comment on the game. The fun of the cast came from trading barbs in the name of school pride. It was fun to hear two high achieving athletes taking verbal jabs. Got a little heated but I think all of them ended in a handshake. Not sure what happened to that cast or concept but it had some entertaining comments.
This was a stark contrast to the Coaches Film Room replacement; the Monday Night Football (MNF) crew of Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, Booger McFarland adding in Todd McShay. I tried to listen to this broadcast a few times throughout the game including at halftime. UGH!?! That is about the best scientific analysis I can give. As this article details, the coaches were not available. But the MNF crew is not a clear replacement for the expertise that coaches who faced these opponents bring. Personally, their “charisma” does not appeal to me either. Speculation about the announced crew occurred prior to the game. And derision occurred afterwards. The magic ESPN VP for production Lee Fitting was hoping we, the viewing public, to see was missed. By a long shot. Hopefully that “bright idea” does not surface again.
Now if they want something new and fresh; I have a suggestion. What about the Hooligan Cast? The speculation in this article was the coaches film room would be behind a paywall. I assume they are talking about avenues like ESPN+ where they have revived NFL Primetime with Chris “Boomer” Berman and Tom Jackson. My concept for the Hooligan Cast would be three broadcasters who can drink and swear during the broadcast. ESPN+ is streaming so I assume they could do both, drink and swear, free of network censors and sensitivity.
This might sound like I am kidding but assure you I am not. This isn’t a radical concept. Borrowing the name from soccer hooligans are well known and recognized for their extremely high level of fandom. They put the fanatic in fan or something like that. In some countries, including Italy, they are known as Ultras so Ultra Cast works for me too. But does anyone doubt the dedication of soccer fans who literally die for their fandom.
As a true college football hooligan/ultra, I am dedicated to college football over all things other sports. Well maybe pro football? I am a lifelong follower of Penn State football. I have added my support to my alma mater as well Army-West Point football. Even outside those 2 teams, I watch a lot of college football. Mostly on Saturdays but I enjoy Thursday and Friday night games as well. Enough to affect relationships, for real.
So the thought of being able to have a spirited discussion about football with some co-workers sounds like fun. I would want it to be a chill environment. Where it would seem natural to have a beer. Plus having a beer or liquor sponsor wouldn’t hurt. One of my favorite things that Todd Blackledge does is visiting a local eatery prior to their broadcasts; so I would enjoy having something like that. The GameDay crew has stolen that with the wrinkle that they get the food delivered. I would prefer a little of both, if possible. Creating
A place where talking football would be fan-tastic! Definitely interactive with comments from social media adding to the commentary. I think it is a fun concept. Only can be done officially. I have seen many good ideas on YouTube shutdown for violating rules. Digital Millennium Copyright Act is the easiest way to get a YouTube creator shut down. I have seen it happen commentary like movie reviews with clips involved and live broadcasts like political debates. So Hooligan/Ultra cast would be for not without both the video and audio components.
Unfortunately, the National Championship won’t have a coaches film room either. The game is (for some reason) on 13 January 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. The AFCA convention is 12 -14 January 2020. I reiterate; why? What can’t wait about this convention to hope that you get the two of the best coaches who will definitely miss this? Why?!?!?
I would like to see some better options for the MegaCast. I was looking forward to some fun. But it looks like they are going with options that are boring and stale for the semi-finals. They have 16 days in between the semis and the national championship. I know that the teams will use that time to rest up their players. ESPN/ABC needs to use that time to find some coaches or players or someone who can liven up the broadcast.
And if anyone of influence sees this and wants me, I will make myself available. I will find the time off to get ready for the Hooligan/Ultra cast. Provide a new experience for the true fans out there, like me.
Good luck to all the players who are going to suit up on Saturday. This is the first year I think all four teams have enough quality players and coaching to really have some good games and a shot at the title. I like LSU vs Oklahoma matchup could be a high scoring shootout. Defense is going to be the key for the winner, I suspect. Clemson and Ohio State both have a lot to prove. The undefeated (possibly undervalued) reigning champ vs the team who has been kept out the last 2 years despite being Big Ten champ (third time in a row the Big Ten champ was excluded).
The talent level on the field is high. So many top athletes are going to be on all 4 squads. 2 of the 4 QBs will likely go #1 in the NFL; I can see Joe Burrow this year to the Bengals, Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields next year will both be available to go number 1 overall. Jalen Hurts will hopefully get an NFL QB shot like what is working for Lamar Jackson. And we are going to see so many good athletes on the field starting with the other Heisman finalist Chase Young who may go #2 in 2020 to the Washington Redskins. Another great defender Isaiah Simmons from Clemson. Offensive skills brimming out of each team. Stingy defenses that will make them work for it. I am hoping for 2 quality games.
So I reiterate; good luck to everyone. Two more games to victory and team glory. Saturday, close to 7 hours of quality sports competition with questionable commentary.