As I’ve discussed here before, it takes a village to put on a great television broadcast. It requires great production and direction, the right technical aspects, and of course the broadcast booth. Television is a different animal when it comes to the dynamic of play-by-play and color commentating.
The analyst is supposed to be the star on TV. There are so many opportunities to inject interesting, pointed commentary, during the action and a replay. The best play-by-play announcers across the country realize that their partner is the one with the expertise and knowledge of the sport he/she is calling. So, the best thing anyone can do is let the analyst do his/her job.
Not everyone is capable of leaving the field of play and entering the broadcast booth. It takes a special former athlete to make the conversion. The timing in the booth is much different than it is on the field. The preparation is vastly different. The ability to convey a thought in an intelligent and concise manner seems like it would be easy, but it is not. There are a few though, that have managed to make it look easy and they are among the best of the best in their sport.
I’ve compiled a list of the best analysts in each of the 4 major sports, plus college football and basketball. The criteria is based on a national broadcast. These folks are quite often seen even if they aren’t with the “top broadcast team” on that network. Here we go.
NFL – Tony Romo
This one may have seemed obvious to some, but it did cause a little debate in my mind. I really have enjoyed Tony Romo. I wasn’t sure when he first got into the broadcast arena, but he’s proven more than capable. The fact that he’s so fresh off the field, he still has the quarterback mentality and can still read defenses while on the air. How many times have you watched and seen him predict what is going to happen? Many, right? And many times he’s right.
Romo’s personality compliments the broadcast. He’s not so giddy that it’s annoying, but he really sounds like he’s enjoying this phase of his life. I can almost picture him elbowing Jim Nantz in the booth during games when he’s right about a situation, or when he offers a humorous moment. He and Nantz go well together, with the play-by-play man offering the straight scoop on what’s going on and the analyst telling us how, what, when and why something happened. I can understand why Romo was such a commodity when his CBS deal was up. Good job by the folks at CBS to retain this star in the analyst chair.
NBA – Doris Burke
I had to differentiate this one to just regular “game callers”, because otherwise it would have been a shared award between the Inside the NBA crew of Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley.
Burke is not such an obvious choice to the casual NBA fan, but listen to a broadcast and tell me that I’m off base. No, she didn’t play in the NBA, but she did play at a high level in college. Burke was a point guard at Providence and held assist records there, so she knows the game. You can tell that during any broadcast.
Those that work with her know how knowledgeable she is. Burke has credibility with the players in the league as well, after serving as an in-game sideline reporter for many years. She’s interview the top players of a game and the questions were extremely professional. As a play-by-play announcer for ESPN as well, Burke knows the timing and flow of the broadcast. She self-edits and tries not to get too technical when explaining situations on the court.
Burke also admits to leaning a bit on co-analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who’s pretty darn good at this as well. She said in a November 2019 piece for Deadspin, she relies on Van Gundy to let her know when she misses the mark. She called him “a truth-teller” and referred to him basically as her in-game coach.
MLB – John Smoltz
Smoltz gets what it is to be a top flight analyst. He was always known for his baseball “smarts” and it translates to the broadcast booth. I like his personality in meshing with whomever he’s working with. Mainly it’s Joe Buck and the two play off each other very well. Baseball is supposed to be fun and Smoltz sounds like he’s really enjoying himself every time he’s in the booth.
The thing about Smoltz that maybe separates him from some of the others is his credentials. The man succeeded on the baseball field, not only personally but for his team as well. This gives him some pretty serious cache when it comes to his commentary. Yes, he was a pitcher, but he understands all facets of what is going on in the game.
I really appreciate his candor. Smoltz isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. He also thinks through the games he’s covering and will make points about what might happen on a certain pitch if it’s thrown, BEFORE it’s actually headed to the plate. Those accounts are invaluable to a serious baseball fan watching the game he’s doing.
NHL – Eddie Olczyk
This one was pretty easy. Olczyk is head and shoulders above all others in the NHL. He’s ahead of the play most of the time. Olczyk is a master at seeing things that not many others do from his broadcast position. While we’re watching the action, he’s on his intercom telling the producer to grab the ISO camera for a replay. Olczyk makes it pretty easy for the casual hockey fan to understand the game a little bit better by following along with him.
Olczyk works mainly with Doc Emrick on the NBC and NBCSN telecasts of the NHL. The two have a great rapport. Olczyk has a terrific personality and never takes himself too seriously. It’s endearing because he doesn’t come off as a hockey robot, the analysis comes out with an easy-going tone.
He has serious credentials as a former player and coach in the league.
NCAA Football – Joel Klatt
The former Colorado quarterback has risen quickly up the ranks at Fox Sports. He’s been paired with Gus Johnson since 2015. The two now combine to call the Big Noon Saturday broadcast on the network. Klatt knows his football and has a very relatable style. He doesn’t talk down to the casual fan.
Klatt is in a rare position to be working with a play-by-play announcer that is relied upon to be the personality of the booth. All Klatt has to do is focus on the field and telling the audience what he sees. He doesn’t add a lot of fanfare in his analysis, it’s not needed with Johnson in the booth.
Klatt has a good grip on the entire scope of the college game. He can talk intelligently about all aspects surrounding the game. He has a unique ability to relay the information in a very natural way. Seems like his early work as a studio host has served him well, having to prepare for all eventualities and learning how to work alongside other personalities.
NCAA Basketball – Jay Bilas
Bilas has a tremendous understanding of the ins and outs of the game of basketball. That understanding along with his ability to describe what’s happening on the floor are still the best in the business. While he played the game at a high level, the explanations he gives are simple and easily understood. If you’re looking for a guy to tell you why certain strategies work and some don’t from game to game, he’s your guy. He is a steady force in the game of college basketball analysis.
If you’re looking for a flamboyant, loud and sometimes overbearing color commentator, well Bilas is not your guy. He doesn’t use humor or exuberance to make his points because he doesn’t have to. Bilas can leave that to Vitale.
Bilas provides excellent and insightful commentary on issues regarding college basketball, both on and off the court. I know it’s a pretty big college basketball game when Bilas is on the call.
I just can’t wait until these folks are doing what they do best, analyzing actual games.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.
Who Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion Best?
Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.
The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.
In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?
We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?
Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:
Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN
ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.
The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.
Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.
Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.
“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”
Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.
“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?
“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”
Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.
Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.
The NFL Today – CBS
CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.
Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.
The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.
Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.
Fox NFL Sunday
The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.
Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.
Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.
Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.
Football Night in America – NBC
Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.
But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.
Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?
When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.
But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”
“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”
Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers
Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area
Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.
For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.
As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.
I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.
At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.
From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”
But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.
But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.
However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.
One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.
Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.
There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.
Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.
At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.
There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.
Jason Ence resides in Louisville, KY and is fully invested in the sports betting space. Additionally, he covers Premier League and Serie A soccer, college football, and college basketball for ESPN Louisville 680 including serving as the station’s University of Kentucky correspondent, and co-host of the UK football and basketball post-game shows. He can be found on Twitter @JasonUK17 and reached by email at email@example.com.