And to think, amid all the commotion about Gonzaga, we had missed what profoundly qualifies as history on this earth. Basketball? Try the cleansing of murder and how a Baptist university in freaky-deaky Waco, Texas — one-time home of David Karesh, Art Briles and heaven knows who else — overcame its sordid past through a preacher man named Scott Drew.
What we witnessed Monday night, a disembowelment of perfection, was the end result of something so much larger. In dominating the so-called Greatest Team Ever from the first offensive rebound to the final three-point gouge of Jared Butler, Baylor completed a story that started on June 12, 2003. That is when Carlton Dotson shot and killed a teammate, Patrick Dennehy, during an argument, which led to an unspeakable act of corruption: Coach Dave Bliss asking team members to participate in a lie that Dennehy was a drug dealer, a ruse intended to distract investigators from Bliss’ illegal payments to players.
Even for the sleazy sport of college basketball, this was sick stuff. It wasn’t a matter of who would win the reclamation assignment, but who’d be foolish enough to want it. That soul was Drew, who was secure for life at Valparaiso, the small Indiana school that manufactured March dreams. His father, Homer, has been a coaching icon there. His brother, Bryce, was an NCAA tournament legend. Why would a man of deep religious faith want to descend into ashes and sabotage his coaching career?
“I prayed about it,” Drew said. “I felt led to come here.”
He’d never played college ball, serving as a student assistant at Valpo and playing on the tennis team without earning a letter. His original aim was the legal profession, until he sensed a larger life mission. Sensing the chance to perform God’s work where he was needed most, Drew met with scandal-dazed Baylor officials, dazzling them in a meeting with imaginary replicas of news stories about the program’s rise to prominence. All they wanted from him was a scrubbing of the toxic spill and a chance to compete again, knowing years of NCAA probation awaited. He told them he could win a national championship.
Today, Drew ranks among the all-time saviors in sports. Not only did he fulfill his prophecy, he and the Bears never trailed in quashing Gonzaga’s pursuit of the first unbeaten season in 45 years. It’s convenient to conclude that the Zags were drained after their stunning overtime victory over UCLA, authored by Jalen Suggs’ buzzer-beater for the memory banks. In truth, Baylor erected a force field inside Lucas Oil Stadium and never let the opponents on the court. Butler and Davion Mitchell attacked and hit threes like future NBA stars while Suggs, swept in social-media adulation across the sports world, drew two early fouls and ended the night in tears. Mark Vital and Flo Thamba ruled the paint, shrinking Drew Timme into a droopy mustache. A voracious defense forced 14 turnovers.
This wasn’t just a clinic. It was a bully pulpit.
“It was just electrifying, especially in that type of environment in the biggest game,” said Butler, named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. “Everybody was clicking on all cylinders. … We made a statement.”
The losers were to left agree, again falling short in the defining moment of their upstarts-to-bluebloods odyssey. “It’s a really, really tough one to end a storybook season on, but listen, Baylor just beat us,” coach Mark Few said. “They beat us in every facet of the game and deserve all the credit. Quite frankly, they were terrific. They just literally busted us out of anything we could possibly do on offense. We were kind of playing sideways.”
The sport’s custodians won’t be asking if Baylor is the best team ever. But they really should consider the Bears’ place in history. Certainly, the 86-70 thrashing belongs in any conversation about commanding championship-night performances, which only is magnified by the program’s journey from hell. As the coach and players celebrated on the court amid green and gold confetti, Drew made a demand of famed Baylor alumnus John Lee Hancock, director of sports movies such as “The Blind Side” and “The Rookie.”
“He promised us when we won a national championship, we would get a movie! Yeahhhhhh!” said Drew, finally busting loose with smack talk. “If you’re going to war and I’m coaching, I’m taking these guys.”
Butler and the players were delighted, whooping it up with their coach. Somewhere, Dave Bliss must wonder how so much love could emerge from depravity. “The culture of joy,” is how Drew describes his creation, repeatedly, and he doesn’t speak more than a few sentences before reminding listeners of the real savior. “I feel God has blessed us,” he said. “People have come to our program for 18 years, putting in work. Our fans have been there for us through the lean years. The fans deserve it, the city of Waco deserves it, the state of Texas deserves it.”
He never talks specifically about the murder and fallout, only referring to lessons learned from his father at Valparaiso and how they could be applied at Baylor. “You can take blueprints from that,” he said. “Obviously, any time you’re with someone who is successful and you’ve seen how they’ve been successful, you’re going to use that, try to duplicate it. I thought at Baylor University we could do the exact same thing, being a Christian school, an academics school, a family-oriented school.”
That “family” was rocked, again, by sexual assault scandals on the watch of Briles, the football coach who left the school in shame five years ago. It was difficult to see BAYLOR on jerseys Monday night and not think of the wretched times, but, in fairness, this team is the antithesis of that mess. College hoops is rife with administrations that don’t care if programs cheat, such as Kansas, which ignored an ongoing FBI investigation in giving coach Bill Self a lifetime contract — including a clause that he won’t be dismissed for cause “due to any infractions matter that involves conduct that occurred on or prior to the date of full execution of this agreement.” Baylor, far as we know, has played by the rules in building a beast that has won 54 of 60 games since November 2019.
Besides, does a servant performing God’s work want to disappoint him? If Scott Drew isn’t legitimate, college basketball should shut down forever. He started his post-game interview with a tribute to his friend and fishing partner in the other locker room. “I feel for Coach Few and his team because they’re such class acts,” he said. “And coach Few is a Hall of Fame coach and an unbelievable guy. A better person than he is a coach. And you hate when friends aren’t feeling good.”
It’s no act. The reason America doesn’t know much about Drew is that he never talks about himself. “What we did is history here,” guard MaCio Teague said. “Really happy for coach Drew. He has come back from nothing in a basketball program. He spent a lot of time, put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this program.”
Once the domain of Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan State and other S.O.B.s — you know, Same Old Bluebloods — college basketball is in a transition swirl that might not end well. Once the NBA allows high-school players to leap directly to the league, the best teenagers will bypass the one-and-done experience and dilute the college talent pool. In that sense, Baylor and Gonzaga are positioned to stay on top as programs conducive to attracting three- or four-year players, along with transfers eligible immediately thanks to a one-time waiver process. Already, Vegas has installed Gonzaga as the 2022 title favorite, thanks to an incoming recruiting prize in Hunter Sallis and the likely addition of 7-footer Chet Holmgren, the nation’s top prep player and hometown pal of Suggs. And Baylor has the ultimate transfer success story in Mitchell, who arrived from Auburn in 2018.
But until the NCAA starts giving these essential workers a small slice of the $1 billion annual March pie, the best prospects will reject college. And the ratings will suffer. Yes, Baylor was sensational, Suggs’ shot was unforgettable, and UCLA was memorable, but much of the tournament was ragged. It didn’t help that players were isolated in a COVID bubble for days and weeks, allowing the NCAA and its broadcast partners, CBS and Turner, to make their fortunes. “It’s like we’re in jail and can’t get out,” said Syracuse assistant Adrian Autry, speaking the truth in a Syracuse Post-Standard story. Baylor’s season, remember, was paused by a COVID outbreak that derailed what might have been an unbeaten season. Every team in Indianapolis was dealing with the same health risks.
The offseason will be filled with institutional wrangling and calls for the head of the NCAA’s feeble president, Mark Emmert. For now, we should honor a right that once was the worst kind of wrong. It wasn’t all that long ago when Drew had eight rostered players and had to stage open tryouts on campus. How difficult was it? “Well, obviously going into every game being 30- or 40-point underdogs and half your team walk-ons, and you know as a coach, if we can just keep it close, keep it within 20 by the first half or 10,” he said. “`But really credit the guys who won (four) games that year. They laid a foundation. Those guys have stayed with the program and helped support these guys. And that’s what you love. There’s so many people that put in hard work and sweat.”
Deep into the night, in his native state, he kept talking about everyone else — his players, first and foremost. “When the best is needed, the best is usually provided,” Drew went on. “They love being the first — first to win a national championship. That motivates them. When you’ve got a competitive group like that, it really makes it easy to coach. If you’re going to be in a bubble for three or four weeks, you’d better be with people you love. They’re great basketball players, but better people.”
At some point, much as it pains him, Scott Drew will sit down one night, gaze into the heavens and grasp that HE created this miracle. When he does, it should be the famous final scene in John Lee Hancock’s movie.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.
This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.
Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.
This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.
The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.
Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.
NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.
Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.
Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.
Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.
A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.
It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay.
MLB Network is another option
If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.
- One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
- CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
- The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.
The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.
First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.
Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.
Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.
It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do.
Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.
Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?
I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?
That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.
After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else.
There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.
Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.
Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.
Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.
I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.