Richard Deitsch covers sports media and a myriad of other topics for Sports Illustrated. With his year-end media awards, Tweets, and other writings, Deitsch is one of the most influential and respected writers in the business and a must-read for anyone interested in sports media. With his assignment at the Women’s Final Four in Indianapolis concluded, Richard took the time to answer some of AA’s questions about the NCAA Tournament and sports media in general. In Part I today, Richard talks with AA about his grade for CBS and Turner’s coverage of the NCAA Tourney, Charles Barkley, and whether or not we’ll hear Gus Johnson announce the Final Four anytime soon.
Q: You were just at the NCAA Women’s Final Four – was Texas A&M’s win good for women’s college basketball, or is UConn’s dominance better for the sport?
A: Stars sell, and traditional powers sell. That won’t change, and over the long haul, UConn and Tennessee will draw more eyeballs than the lesser powers. But this year’s tournament was very good for the sport in that viewers were exposed to some new programs in Texas A&M and Notre Dame. ESPN was thrilled with the rating, which was up four percent from the Connecticut-Stanford final of the previous year.
Q: What are your thoughts on the job CBS/Turner did for the NCAA Tournament? What were some hits and misses and what is your overall grade?
A: I thought CBS/Turner did excellent work overall, and the four-network format empowered viewers to control how they wanted to watch the tournament. Yes, truTV is never going to produce water cooler conversation — Charles Barkley slyly called it “The White BET” – but I think viewers eventually figured out where it was on their cable system. For me, the Marv Albert and Steve Kerr pairing was a fantastic addition. There are a handful of announcers whose voice and presence give an event a big-game feel, and Albert is one. Kerr is a thoughtful broadcaster with a terrific sense of humor. I thought Greg Anthony was a real standout, too – a sharp broadcaster not afraid to spar with his colleagues on the set.
What didn’t work? The Gus Johnson-Len Elmore-Reggie Miller trio was far too cacophonous for viewers, and lacked a natural chemistry. There’s a temptation to add star power (i.e. Reggie) to a broadcast because of the notion that it will add more tune-in. CBS/Turner should resist the urge next year. Obviously, Barkley should be nowhere near the Selection Show, and look for a change in that grouping next year. I think CBS/Turner should continue to search for an on-air officiating expert they can use for the longterm. NCAA coordinator of basketball officiating John Adams was a nice start but he’s a little bland for my taste. So often how viewers judge the tournament coverage comes down to the tightness of games, and the Houston Chronicle reported that 17 games were decided by three or fewer points. My grade would be something like an A- or B+.
Q: How did NBA regulars, such as Charles Barkley especially, translate to the college game?
A: Call it a mixed bag. Albert and Kerr were terrific, and Kenny Smith got better as the tournament got deeper (and, thus, less teams to focus on). Barkley is genuinely funny, and adds great tension to any set. But he’s the first to admit that he can’t analyze the college game the way someone like Jay Bilas can. I thought Barkley was at his best riffing on something he saw, and not on whether VCU deserved to make the tournament.
Q: We’ve discussed the lack of fresh faces at the very top of the network positions (Buck, Nantz, Michaels, etc) at AA. Jim Nantz is the top CBS voice for the NFL, March Madness, and the PGA and has been for several years. Buck is Fox’s top guy for NFL & MLB, etc. Why is there so much lack of mobility for the top broadcast positions?
A: There’s not one specific answer. Sports divisions by nature are conservative with talent decisions, and there’s a belief that viewers get accustomed to hearing certain voices (say Al Michaels on the NFL) for certain sports. Plus, the top announcers (and their agents) often have very close personal relationships with the executives running the sports divisions. Finally, there is a really big gap between a good announcer and a so-called top announcer at a network. They are not easy to find.
Q: Jim Nantz and his puns have been a big topic amongst AA readers. Will we ever see networks start listening to fans and have Gus Johnson announce the Final Four for instance?
A: Gus Johnson will never announce the Final Four in the current setup. Nantz and CBS Sports president Sean McManus are very tight, and Nantz is considered the network’s No. 1 sports voice. I understand why the Gus lovers want him there but in the words of Drew Rosenhaus, next question.
Make sure you check out Part II of our interview with Richard tomorrow where he tells us his thoughts on the new MLB season, the Poynter Institute as ESPN Ombudsman, Colin Cowherd, and if he were to start his own network, which five TV sports personalities would he choose? That’s coming up tomorrow in Part II of our Q&A with SI’s Richard Deitsch.