Back in June, SEC officials and coaches said they wanted broadcast partners to add officiating experts. In August, SEC Network did just that with the hire of Matt Austin, and now CBS is following suit. Existing rules analyst Gene Steratore (who has been working for them on NFL and NCAA basketball broadcasts; he’s seen at top during this year’s Final Four) will now join the weekly SEC on CBS broadcasts.
Here’s more on that from a CBS release:
CBS Sports has expanded the role for rules analyst Gene Steratore by adding the former football and basketball referee to coverage of the SEC ON CBS. Steratore, who joined CBS last year, will continue as rules analyst for both THE NFL ON CBS and college basketball, including the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. The announcement was made today by Sean McManus, Chairman, CBS Sports.
“Gene had an impressive first season. Expanding his role to include the SEC ON CBS felt like a natural progression,” said McManus. “His knowledge and expertise of the rules, combined with his ability to quickly interpret and explain calls in a concise manner, will allow him to adjust to the nuances and differences of the college game and provide our viewers with a better understanding of the rules.”
While that release doesn’t mention anything about the conference pushing for this, this comes only months after SEC officials and coaches publicly (in comments to Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated) called for broadcasts to have rules analysts and said they were in talks with broadcast partners about that. Some key quotes from Dellenger’s piece:
Nick Saban often finds himself watching an NFL game, seeing a flag thrown and wondering why, like the rest of us. Seconds later, when a retired official appears on the TV broadcast, he gets his answer. He wants the same for the SEC. “Half the people don’t even know the rule. With the difference between college and the NFL, I’m not certain of what the rule is,” says Saban, entering his 13th season as Alabama head coach. “If we could find the right person to do that, an expert who nobody thought had bias, who could explain these things while they happen, I think it would go a long way in at least starting the chain of communication. That’s something I recommended.”
…“We’ve got to do something differently,” says Herb Vincent, an associate commissioner helping spearhead this movement. “We can’t keep doing what we’ve always done.” This goes beyond releasing more statements in response to controversial calls. Vincent and the league office are in discussions with networks about the possibility of having refs in the booth to provide real-time analysis and explanations on fouls, as NFL broadcasts use. This could come “sooner rather than later,” Vincent says.
Well, it did in fact come sooner rather than later. And while the optics of a broadcast change being made after a league lobbies for that change aren’t necessarily great overall, this one doesn’t feel that controversial, and feels like something that may actually enhance the broadcast. Rules analysts in general have been a solid addition to broadcasts, and Steratore in particular has impressed so far with his work on CBS’ NFL and NCAA coverage. And many college football broadcasts could probably benefit from rules analysts explaining what the officials are looking at and why calls were made the way they were.
The chief downside to adding a rules analyst would seem to be cost, and that cost isn’t insignificant, especially considering that there’s a limited pool of people with long and impressive officiating careers who can also meet the specific demands of a rules analyst role on TV. Not all past officials have worked out well on TV, and there’s no point in adding a rules analyst if that’s only going to bring your broadcast more criticism. But in this case, CBS already has someone who’s done well on TV so far, and if he’s available to work Saturdays as well, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of downside. And this move presumably makes the SEC happy with them, which is important considering that those rights are coming up in a few years (the SEC on CBS deal runs through 2023).
At any rate, it’s certainly interesting to see CBS add Steratore to their SEC on CBS broadcasts, and to see them do so just months after the conference publicly talked about getting officiating analysts on broadcasts. But even if the idea here came from the conference rather than the broadcaster, it’s not a bad one. A good rules analyst on a broadcast feels like a win for viewers, regardless of what prompted them being there.