College football is in a state of flux. Players have more freedom and control than ever. They can move around with ease to find a roster and playbook that is right for them thanks to the transfer portal. They can make money off of their name, image and likeness. There really has never been a time like this in the sport before.
Last week, we saw two millionaire coaches show their whole asses in a pissing contest to prove who is more out of touch with the realities of college football in 2022. It started with Alabama’s Nick Saban hurling wild accusations at Texas A&M and Jackson State as he bemoaned the state of college football in the NIL era. That was followed by A&M’s Jimbo Fisher calling a press conference in full dad rage threatening to turn this god damn car around!
Like my sports media colleagues, I was plenty entertained by it, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder how we got here. Why do we cover this sport in a way that lets these coaches play dumb without anyone calling them out? I know that doesn’t describe every media member covering college football, but there are plenty that do and fit perfectly into the lane I have just described.
I wanted to get some opinions on my opinion. I am open to hearing that there are things I do not understand. So, I reached out to three friends that cover college football on different levels in different parts of the country.
Chuck Oliver of 680 The Fan in Atlanta and the syndicated, college football-centric Chuck Oliver Show told me that he actually remembers the first time he heard a coach complain about the new realities of college football and how that made him feel.
“The tone most of us have when commenting about NIL in regards to improving a program’s recruiting class is way off,” he told me. “[Stanford Head Coach] David Shaw was the first I remember seeing comment on the record and thinking, ‘You’re too smart for that.’ He had gone to the press with ‘Before the Bama quarterback’s even taken a snap’ and how much money the kid had gotten.”
Chuck and I think a lot alike in this realm. Using NIL deals to get paid now is totally above board, right? So why would a coach waste time complaining about it? Why would he not embrace the practice and what it can do for their roster?
Oliver pointed out that framing NIL money as this evil thing other programs are doing doesn’t sound very evil to the kids that stand to make a financial gain.
“Talking about how much money recruits at another program are getting through NIL is the same as going public with, ‘The only reason those recruits signed at Michigan is because it’s an elite education and they have world-class facilities and great fans and it will likely give them an edge at playing professionally.’ NIL is just another category you’re competing in. The smart move would be to hush up about how awesome your competition is doing.”
Paul Finebaum has seen a lot of changes during the decades he has covered college football. The SEC Network and ESPN host told me that a lot of coaches want the media to amplify their complaints about the changing landscape of college football as a therapeutic device.
“In Saban’s case, it’s a combination of his age – 70 – and being an old school coach who hates losing control. That’s really what is going on here. I had a coach tell me recently, ‘if have to pay a large sum of money, I lose all control. They own me then.’ These are highly disciplined people who like to be authoritarian. They lose the leverage when players make money.”
That isn’t what Nate Kreckman has seen. He hosts the syndicated This Week in the Mountain West. The Mountain West Conference isn’t like the SEC. The SEC is what is designated a “Power 5” conference. The Mountain West is in the less powerful “Group of 5”.
The athletic departments at MWC schools aren’t as well funded. The schools themselves are usually pretty far away from where high school football talent lives, and they are all in states where there is more to do on a Saturday than live and die with college football.
Nate told me the conversations he has with coaches about NIL money tend to reflect that reality. I asked him why so many college football reporters don’t feel like they can challenge a coach that is spouting outlandish nonsense about kids getting money. He told me that he wasn’t the right guy to answer that.
“A lot of the coaches in this league, believe it or not, kind of get it. We have coaches like Andy Avalos, Marcus Arroyo, and Brent Brennan that are young and that are players’ coaches. You won’t make it at the G5 level being an out-of-touch hardass (see Addazio, Steve). Even older guys like Craig Bohl, I’ve had great conversations with him about the changing landscape. He coached Josh Allen, who was as big a G5 star as we’ve had in the last decade. These guys mostly get it. They have to make their programs desirable, and griping about players getting theirs is not a way to do it.”
So what is the path forward? It seems like any time I bring my frustrations up with someone that is covering the sport and the coaches involved every day, I hear agreement. We all kind of think the stock answer reactions are silly. Why won’t anyone say it out loud?
When Nick Saban says that Texas A&M “bought” its entire recruiting class with NIL deals, why does no one say “you know that is okay now, right coach”? Is it a level of laziness or complacency that comes with needing to create content even when we are more than 90 days away from the first kickoff of the season?
Not enough people are pointing out how dumb and strange this back and forth between Saban and Fisher is. Does that mean there will be a cycle to it? Without anyone willing to point out how irrelevant the two coaches’ complaints about one another are, do even the most respected voices in college football find a way to drag this out all summer and into October 8 when the Aggies visit Tuscaloosa?
“It’s a story now because it’s late May and there are no other college football stories,” Paul Finebaum said. “Also, it’s one of the craziest stories in recent history. This is something Nick Khan and Vince McMahon couldn’t have come up for the WWE. It won’t last though. It will be big at SEC spring meetings after Memorial Day and then Media Days in July. Then, it won’t matter until the week of the game.”
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.