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Sorting The NCAA Tournament Broadcast Teams

“Instead of “ranking” them for a field of 10 so to speak, I’m going to categorize them in terms tournament fans will understand.”

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Ready or not, here we go. The field is set and the NCAA Tournament officially begins today. Obviously, this is not your normal “Big Dance”, the games are all being played in and around Indianapolis. There are strict COVID protocols and the biggest fear for some coaches is not their opponent, but the virus. 

As it’s called “The Road to the Final Four” will come our way on the same platforms we’ve finally gotten used to. Catch games on CBS and the Turner Networks, which include TBS, TNT and TruTV. 

Of course, then there are the broadcasters. In a change from previous tournaments, there will be a total of ten crews, rather than the normal eight. Only four of the crews will work past the first two rounds. I’ve decided to look into each of the broadcast teams. Instead of “ranking” them for a field of 10 so to speak, I’m going to categorize them in terms tournament fans will understand. There are some familiar faces and voices and some that are appearing in roles for the first time, including a groundbreaking debut. 

#1 Seeds 

These are the teams that will be moving on past the first round. Tried and true most have become very familiar to tournament watchers and are fan favorites. 

TEAM: Jim Nantz, play-by-play; Bill Raftery, Grant Hill analysts; Tracy Wolfson, sidelines. 

Nantz is the NCAA Tournament for many viewers. This is his 30th year as the lead announcer for the tournament. Nantz has been at the microphone for many of the tournament’s magic moments the past three decades. He is also the ultimate traffic cop, steering a broadcast back onto the road when conversations erupt between Hill and Raftery. This will be the sixth season of this trio working together alongside Wolfson. Raftery is always energetic. Sometimes that level rises to interesting heights. Personally, I love it when Raftery takes the broadcast to break, talking over a highlight package, using phrases and that high pitched “little kiss” voice. Classic. 

Jim Nantz, a class act and on-air minimalist, leads CBS into tonight's  telecast of the NCAA title game - Sports Broadcast Journal

Hill provides some soft-spoken credibility. There’s no way he can or should try to match Raftery’s level, so Hill is himself, in that kind of shy way he delivers his analysis. It works. Wolfson is locked in as a sideline reporter. She covers multiple sports and seems to get excellent information that is truly relevant to the game and broadcast. There’s a reason that this is the lead team, they work well together and it’s a smooth fun broadcast to watch. 

TEAM: Brian Anderson, play-by-play; Jim Jackson, analyst; Allie LaForce, sidelines.

Anderson is already quite the accomplished baseball announcer, serving as the TV voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 2007. It’s starting to feel like “if it’s a big game” Anderson is on the call. His profile has increased quite a bit with the Turner Networks, especially when it comes to the NBA. Anderson is a likeable, knowledgeable broadcaster that has wide appeal thanks to his style. He’ll work with Jackson during the tournament, someone who Anderson is very familiar with. They worked together for the first-time doing games for the Big Ten Network in 2009.  

There is definitely chemistry here. Jackson isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. At the same time, the man has a great sense of humor and it comes through during a telecast. Especially with someone he’s comfortable with sitting next to him. LaForce is climbing the charts at Turner. She was recently the sideline reporter for the NBA All-Star game and did the on-court interview with the MVP. LaForce is a pro. Her questions are right to the point, not filled with fluff like some others. This team is on the rise.

TEAM: Ian Eagle, play-by-play; Jim Spanarkel, analyst; Jamie Erdahl, sidelines.

Eagle has been a mainstay at CBS since joining the network in 1998. He’s been calling both the NCAA Tournament and NFL for the same amount of time. Eagle has been the network’s “B” game announcer for the NFL and seemingly if Nantz were to move on, he would be in line for the call up. Eagle has worked with a number of analysts in the NBA and CBS pairs him with one of them for the tournament, Spanarkel. Up until this year they were partners on the YES Network’s coverage of the Nets. Spanarkel played at Duke and was the 16th overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft by the 76’ers. Unlike a lot of analysts these days, Spanarkel has no catch phrases, doesn’t shout or try to make himself the star. He is known for just talking basketball and teaching fans about the game. I love the understated way he works with his play-by-play announcers to make the game the main focus.

The third member of the team, Erdahl is the versatile sideline reporter. She’s so prepared for games that even a curveball thrown at her during an SEC Football game couldn’t trip her up. Erdahl had to cover for a couple of minutes while the booth’s audio was inoperable. Covering a football game from that angle is tough, it’s tougher to call play-by-play from for sure. 

Jamie Erdahl is a reporter for CBS Sports | Jamie erdahl, Cheer skirts,  Muscle women

TEAM: Kevin Harlan, play-by-play; Dan Bonner, analyst; Dana Jacobson, sidelines.

There’s really nothing Harlan can’t call. His unbridled enthusiasm, his humor and passion for play-by-play always come through. Harlan is just a likeable guy behind the mic, he’ll crack a joke here and there, but never at the expense of the action. He always seems to be having a great time bringing you the game. He is accurate and descriptive with that authoritative voice. That combination makes Harlan an easy listen. Harlan will be paired with Bonner, the former Virginia player, who will be working his 35th NCAA Tournament. Bonner has worked with Harlan and Gus Johnson the most in his tournament career, meaning two high energy, live for the moment and make it count guys. Bonner rises to the occasion every time. He’s had some famous calls along the way and doesn’t ever seem intimidated by the guys that are working along side him. Bonner matches the passion with his play-by-play guy and you can tell how much he enjoys the tournament and the game of basketball. The guys at the table will be joined by Jacobson on the sidelines. She’s a familiar face on the broadcasts and one that never shies away from asking a tough question, to anyone. Jacobson is a pro, always composed even when a coach may shoot a glare at her for asking something he didn’t want to answer. She spent about a decade at ESPN before she joined CBS, so she is certainly seasoned. 

Conference Tournament Champions 

These crews gained the “automatic” bid to the tournament. Some of the old guard is represented as is some of the “newer” talent that’s on the cusp of breaking through to a top seed in the tournament.

TEAM: Andrew Catalon, play-by-play; Steve Lappas, analyst; AJ Ross, sidelines. 

Catalon has been around CBS for just over a decade, popping up on NFL coverage, Golf and of course the NCAA Tournament. Catalon has become a fixture during the tournament calling games with Lappas. He has a very excitable delivery; the engine always seems revved and ready to go. It’s an intense style, but it doesn’t go over the top and matches the intensity of a lot of the college basketball games he’s calling.

The former Villanova coach Lappas is a great compliment to Catalon. Lappas is always high energy, bringing that “coach” perspective to the broadcast. If you watch coaches on the sideline you’ll know that perspective as “always into the game”. That’s Lappas and what makes him a good partner for Catalon. This team is becoming more popular with the fans as the tournaments go on. They’ll be joined on the sideline by Ross. She is a relative newcomer having joined CBS and CBS Sports Network in 2018. Ross has risen quickly, working the sidelines for NFL and NCAA Football/Basketball for the network. She has a confidence about her, along with a smooth delivery a great combination to have. Ross looks very comfortable on camera and seems like a perfect person to join this broadcast team. 

TEAM: Spero Dedes, play-by-play; Brendan Haywood, analyst; Lauren Shehadi, sidelines.

Dedes has had a ton of success at a relatively young age. He’s already been the radio voice of the Lakers and the New York Knicks. Dedes joined CBS in time for the 2010 NCAA Tournament and has been on the call ever since. Dedes also handles NFL games for the network. His voice is unique, but still cuts through and resonates with the viewer. It’s more of a relaxed style than some of the others mentioned in this column, but that is not a bad thing. You want a variety of voices when viewing a long tournament like this. Dedes is knowledgeable and works well with whomever he’s paired with.

Speaking of which, it’s Haywood that will be working alongside. Haywood, the 7-footer, is full of personality. What you see is what you get from him as a broadcaster as well. He has great information, mixed with some sarcasm and laughter. Haywood brings it home like a fan. The third member of this team is Shehadi. The veteran of MLB Network was scheduled to make her first appearance on an NCAA Tournament broadcast last year, but of course it was cancelled. Shehadi has energy and a personality to go along with it. She’s covered the dugouts during the baseball playoffs, so this should be old hat for her. Shehadi is always smiling, seems like she really enjoys what she’s doing. 

Brendan Haywood on UNC's Coaching, NCAA Chances

TEAM: Brad Nessler, play-by-play; Steve Lavin, analyst; Evan Washburn, sidelines. 

Nessler is the ultimate pro when it comes to play-by-play. Not flashy, not over the top, just solid. Whether he’s doing CBS’ coverage of the SEC in football or here on a big stage with the NCAA Tournament. Smooth and always under control is Nessler. You always know you’re getting a good broadcast when he is on the call. Lavin has plenty of experience as an analyst, with time at ESPN, Fox, The Pac-12 Network and during the tournament for CBS. Lavin always seems prepared and has a good way of conveying complicated things in an easy-to-understand manner. He dips into his coaching experience to make points that he either had success with as a coach or failed at. He’s a plus on a telecast.

Washburn completes this broadcast. The rising sideline star at CBS has worked with the number one football broadcast on NFL Sundays. He also got a chance to work the Super Bowl. Washburn is a former Lacrosse player at Delaware and he really understands the athlete and his/her mindset. The information he gives out is well prepared and interesting. You can tell he does his homework. 

Primed for the upset 

You know what they say when you fill out a bracket. There are certain 12’s that deserve a better seed and play like it. Especially in those 12/5 matchups where in this list, there are three locks to move on in the tourney and get by a #5.

TEAM: Carter Blackburn, play-by-play; Debbie Antonelli, analyst.

Blackburn got his first taste of the NCAA Tournament in 2008, calling action in the West Region at the age of 31. He’s gotten a lot of work through the CBS Sports Network as well. He provides a little youthful exuberance on the mic. Blackburn has some catchy calls, but without getting too far into the weeds where he loses some in the audience. Definitely a guy the network thinks highly of and could be rising as these tournaments roll on.

Antonelli teams up with Blackburn again this season. The two have done some solid work together. Antonelli is well seasoned, having been with CBS Sports Network since its inception in 2003. In 2017 she was named a game analyst for the Men’s NCAA Tournament, making her the first female analyst to call men’s tournament games in 21 years. Antonelli has a ton of experience in the game, she’s worked as a TV analyst for the ACC, Big 12 and SEC. She also was a three-year starter for NC State’s basketball team.  

TEAM: Lisa Byington, play-by-play; Steve Smith, analyst.

Byington is making history. She becomes the first woman to call a men’s NCAA Tournament. Forget about all of that for a moment and understand just how talented Byington is. She has worked for the Big Ten Network, Fox Sports, FS1, Pac-12 Network, ESPN and the SEC Network. Experience for sure. She also filled in last season on Chicago Bulls broadcasts on NBC Sports Chicago. Byington also handles play-by-play for the Chicago Sky of the WNBA. She’s already broken barriers by becoming the first woman to call a football game on BTN. She has the credentials, the talent and she deserves this shot and I have every reason to believe she’ll be great. Not just this year, but for many more years to come. Byington will be working with a familiar face. She and Smith have known each other since she was a reporter in Lansing, Michigan. Byington also was part of the broadcast team, as the sideline reporter, when Smith was the analyst for Dedes from 2017-2019. 

TEAM: Tom McCarthy, play-by-play; Avery Johnson, analyst.

McCarthy is one of the new voices this season on the NCAA Tournament broadcasts, but he’s no newcomer. McCarthy’s resume is impressive on both radio and television. He’s broadcast Mets baseball and now Phillies baseball on television. McCarthy is part of the CBS Network rotation for NFL games, handling those since 2014. He also works for Westwood One Sports providing radio coverage of national NFL games. McCarthy is a talented broadcaster, there’s no phony flash or crazy over the top calls. He is solid, as solid as they come. It’s great to see that he’s getting this chance to show what he can do for a couple of big games in this year’s tournament. Johnson is also a newcomer to the scene as far as the tournament goes. He gets a bit of a head start, doing yesterday’s First Four games with the Nessler/Lavin/Washburn team. Johnson has previous television experience, working as an analyst on ESPN’s coverage of the NBA from 2008-10 and again from 2013-15. He’s coached two NBA teams, the Mavericks and Nets and most recently was the coach at Alabama. I’m interested to see how these two will work together. Johnson is full of personality and also provides great information. 

Breaking: Avery Johnson agreed to $5.5 million buyout with Alabama

This will certainly be a unique tournament. One like we’ve never seen before. All the games are being played in one geographical location and with safety protocols in place, the job of the announce team gets ultimately more difficult. I have no doubt that these fine pros will make it sound like they always do. Best of voice to you all and I can’t wait for the ball to be tipped.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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