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Media column: Inside ESPN's decision to reject UM's request; Local radio, Dolphins


For years, television has controlled kickoff times for most college football games, and universities usually accept those decisions without public comment. That’s why it was unusual, but justified, when UM’s athletic department expressed disappointment with ESPN this summer for scheduling Saturday’s UM-UF game at noon, instead of prime time. (UM had requested a night game.)

Even ESPN’s Todd McShay said on-air this week: “Strange kickoff time for such a big game!”

So why didn’t ESPN schedule UM-UF under the lights? Ilan Ben-Hanan, the master college football scheduler for ABC and ESPN, explained his rationale:

### ABC and ESPN each carry competing prime-time games except two Saturdays when ABC has a NASCAR race. Regrettably, one of those Saturdays is this one. And ESPN committed last year to airing Notre Dame-Michigan at 8 p.m. Saturday.

### So why not air UM-UF on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. instead of Texas-BYU? Ben-Hanan said it wasn’t realistic to schedule Texas-BYU at noon on ESPN, instead of UM-UF, because that would have been a 10 a.m. start in Provo, Utah.

### So why not schedule UM-UF at 7 p.m. on ESPN2, and Texas-BYU at 10:30 p.m. on ESPN2? Ben-Hanan says they didn’t want to start a game in Provo later that 8:15 p.m. Mountain time, and doing that would have left ESPN without an appealing game at noon. ESPN networks typically allot 3 ½ hours for each game.

### ESPN is airing a tripleheader Saturday: UM-UF at noon, Georgia-South Carolina at 4:30 p.m. and Notre Dame-Michigan at night. Why not flip-flop the UM and Georgia start times so UM at least could play in the late afternoon?

Ben-Hanan said this is a rare Saturday when CBS does not have an SEC game at 3:30, and “we wanted an SEC conference game in that slot.”

### So why not schedule UM-UF at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC? Instead, ABC will air two less attractive games that will get full national exposure between ABC and ESPN2 --- Oregon-Virginia and Ohio State-San Diego State. (Viewers who receive the Oregon game on ABC will get the Ohio State game on ESPN2, and vice versa.)

Ben-Hanan said ABC always airs a game involving a Big 10 team in that 3:30 slot. And he said airing the Oregon game at noon on ESPN, and UM-UF at 3:30 on ABC, would have been unfair to Oregon players because even though the game is in Virginia, “that would have been a 9 a.m. start for them.”

Ben-Hanan said UM and UF fans should not feel offended because “a noon start isn’t inferior or diminished. Oklahoma-Texas and Ohio State-Michigan go at noon.”

But those games usually are assigned No. 1 or No. 2 announcing teams – not the case with UM/UF Saturday, when Dave Pasch and Brian Griese handle the call.

Ben-Hanan said the ACC “let us know” that a noon kickoff for UM-UF “was not their preference…. We do our best. It’s a challenge. It’s rare to get a tripleheader like ESPN has [Saturday], three games with such national appeal.”


### Dan Le Batard assures us that when his local radio show begins airing nationally on ESPN Radio on Oct. 1, neither the content nor the on-air talent will change. ESPN (as well as The Ticket, locally) will carry the final three hours of the show, from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays.

Le Batard, who also hosts an ESPN TV show, and radio co-host Jon Weiner will work the 3 to 4 p.m. hour only on 790-AM and 104.3-FM The Ticket.

### WQAM-560’s choice of Channing Crowder and Brandon Guzio to host its 3 to 7 p.m. talk show – replacing ESPN-bound Jorge Sedano – means that three of the market’s four late-afternoon talk shows will have a heavy Dolphins component: that program, Orlando Alzugaray’s on WMEN-640, and the Finsiders on WINZ-940 at 5 p.m., the first hour of which will be simulcast on Fox Sports Florida beginning Monday. Le Batard’s show, the market’s highest-rated, always has discussed the Heat more than the Dolphins.

### Sedano’s new ESPN Radio show with Mark Shlereth will air 7 to 10 p.m. weeknights beginning Monday but won’t be carried by a Dade or Broward station. But ESPN 106.3 in West Palm Beach likely will air it a couple of nights a week, Sedano said. And the program is also available on satellite radio and mobile apps.

Sedano’s ESPN gig also will include TV appearances on First Take, SportsCenter, Sports Reporters and The Numbers Never Lie.

So ESPN Radio essentially has plucked two South Florida hosts (Le Batard and Sedano) for six consecutive hours of weekday programming.   

### Recommended viewing for all longtime Dolphins fans: NFL Films’ 60-minute documentary on Don Shula, airing at 9 p.m. Tuesday on NFL Network. Don Shula: A Football Life offers a powerful and richly detailed portrait of the legendary coach through interviews with players (Irving Fryar, Nick Buoniconti and Larry Csonka were particularly insightful), journalists, family members and others; audio of Shula barking on the sidelines and at practice; and reflections from a relaxed, engaged Shula.

Shula shares anecdotes many fans haven’t heard, including how he told the elevator operator at the team hotel to get players’ autographs on a ball late at night so Shula could determine what players were missing curfew.

Csonka noted how he unintentionally stumbled upon a copy of the Raiders’ game plan the day before they played Miami and gave it to Dolphins assistant coach Monte Clark, but Shula told Clark to throw it away because “Shula won’t cheat. He’s got integrity.” (The Dolphins lost that game.)

### Dolphins coach Joe Philbin is a good and decent man, but his secretive style with the media can be puzzling at times.

Among many examples: In a profile on Richie Incognito, NFL.com's Jeff Darlington noted how Philbin began a meeting with his players by showing tape of Houston’s Antonio Smith swinging a helmet at Incognito during their preseason game and praising Incognito for not retaliating.

But when Philbin was asked by reporters if Incognito handled the situation the right way, Philbin responded: “That’s not for me to judge.” So why wouldn’t Philbin credit his player publicly? What does withholding public praise accomplish?

Philbin's secretive nature goes well beyond his refusal to publicly acknowledge or discuss any player who doesn't practice on a particular day.

Philbin wouldn't reveal his backup center this week because he suggested it would put the team at a competitive disadvantage. OK then. Nor would he say with whom he consults before deciding whether to throw a challenge flag. Nobody likes to hear the media -- the conduit for the fans -- complain, and this part of the weekly media column is certainly not intended as such.

(Dolphins writers have enough to write about regardless of what Philbin says or does not say.)

It's more of a statement of the paranoia in sports today --- with Philbin displaying more of that than many coaches. But it's odd coming from an organization where the owner (Stephen Ross) has insisted the team must be more transparent, a philosophy not shared by his coach.