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Presenting the best and worst of National Sports Media in 2014

MEDIA COLUMN

Presenting the best and worst, the notable and lamentable, from the year in national sports media:

### Media story of the year: Both involved TMZ, which exclusively secured video of then-Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his fiancée in an elevator and audio of then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling spewing racist comments in a phone call to a female friend. The Sterling call might never have come to light without TMZ. And the Rice controversy escalated from a big story to an enormous one (which led national newscasts) only after TMZ secured the footage of Rice’s punch, months after TMZ also obtained video of Rice dragging his fiancée out of the elevator on that February night.

### Best moves for viewers: 1) The NFL creating a full-season Thursday night package. Unfortunately, the seven early-season games aired by CBS were mostly blowouts, with an average margin of 21 points. 2) ESPN and the SEC launching the SEC Network, providing a forum for games that wouldn’t ordinarily be seen nationally.

3) ESPN airing the BCS title game in six different ways, including having current college coaches dissect strategy as the game unfolded. Good stuff. 4) ESPN creating Last Call, the relaxed, conversational World Cup studio show broadcast on a patio that resembled a Brazilian lounge.

### Worst moves for viewers: 1) Fox, with MLB’s permission, moving five National League Championship Series games to Fox Sports 1, which isn’t available in 26 million U.S. households and had sports fans scrambling to find it.

2) TBS irritating many viewers during MLB playoff coverage by continuing to superimpose “PitchTrax,” which clutters the screen and naturally leads to too much discussion about ball/strike calls.

3) ESPN2 moving Keith Olbermann’s show from 11 p.m. to 5 p.m., a time slot when many viewers are working and when Olbermann doesn’t have the chance to narrate fresh highlights, one of his greatest skills. And the 2 a.m. EST re-airing is too late.

### Best program: 1) Another strong collection of ESPN “30 for 30” films, including the Livan/Roberto Hernandez documentary and the sequel on UM football.

2) TNT’s Inside The NBA. Not even Shaquille O’Neal’s sophomoric silliness can ruin the comedic chemistry achieved by Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson. Inside the NBA accomplishes what most studio shows cannot: Giving fringe fans incentive to watch. 3) tie: NFL Network’s A Football Life series, which churned out more terrific documentaries, and ESPN’s College GameDay, which remains the model for pregame shows.

### Best personnel changes: 1) Brent Musburger didn’t necessarily deserve a demotion to SEC Network, but knowledgeable, understated Chris Fowler justified ESPN’s faith as the new lead voice of college football.

2) Fox adding Sports Illustrated reporter Tom Verducci as a co-analyst to replace Tim McCarver, who stepped aside. Verducci offered good information, not merely opinions, and followed Howard Cosell as only the second network World Series analyst in history who didn’t play or manage. The booth needed a third voice, because co-analyst Harold Reynolds didn’t always distinguish himself.

3)  CBS hiring Trent Green to fill Dan Dierdorf’s slot. Improved considerably from an earlier stint at Fox. 4)  CBS promoting Bart Scott to The NFL Today. Opinionated, personable, and less likely to state the obvious than the show’s other newcomer, Tony Gonzalez.

5) NBC hiring colorful, personable Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir for Olympic skating. Their good work on daytime coverage at the Sochi Olympics earned them an October promotion to NBC’s lead Olympic figure skating team. 6) CBS promoting Ian Eagle to its No. 2 NFL announcing team.

### Worst personnel moves: 1) Showtime hiring Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall for Inside the NFL seemed like a good idea at the time --- after all, how many studio shows have active players? --- but Marshall clearly wasn’t comfortable saying anything critical about other teams and players. Beyond discussing the Bears and social issues, Marshall didn’t offer much of anything. 2) CBS parting ways with SEC host Tim Brando, who resurfaced at Fox.

### Biggest personnel loss: Steve Kerr leaving TNT to coach the Golden State Warriors, which diminished two properties: the NBA on Turner and the NCAA Tournament on CBS.

### Dumped: 1) Dan Marino and Shannon Sharpe, both pushed out of CBS’ studio show. 2) Digger Phelps. Contract not renewed by ESPN. 3) Brian Billick. Jettisoned from Fox.

### Biggest mystery: The Associated Press reporting that the NFL was given a tape of the Rice elevator incident by law-enforcement and that a voice message exists to prove it. The NFL insists that never happened. An investigation is ongoing.

### Out on a limb: Fox’s Jay Glazer reporting early in the season that Jim Harbaugh would not return to the 49ers even if they won the Super Bowl this season.

### Worst timing: Pink eye afflicted Bob Costas during the Winter Olympics --- the only time when any sportscaster appears on prime time television for 16 consecutive nights.

### Dumbest prediction: CBS’ Tony Gonzalez saying the Denver Broncos would go undefeated.

### Overexposed: 1) Johnny Manziel as a pro. ESPN and NFL Network spent far more time discussing him than he actually played.  2) The Lakers. The NBA gave 20 national TV appearances this season to a team that didn’t deserve them. The champion Spurs received 19, by comparison.

### Best game analysts: (Tie) Cris Collinsworth (NBC NFL) and Jeff Van Gundy (ABC/ESPN NBA).

### Regrettable decisions: 1) ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, discussing the Rice story, essentially telling women to “make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions.” ESPN suspended him for a week. 2) Bill Simmons unleashing a profane diatribe against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and challenging his ESPN bosses to suspend him. (They did, for three weeks.) 

3) CBS’ Andrew Catalon referring to Oklahoma State’s decision to foul Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski during the NCAA Tournament as “Hack a Polack.” He apologized, then later was promoted to a full-time NFL announcing job on CBS.

### Unwarranted discipline: ESPN Radio unnecessarily suspending Dan Le Batard for a couple of days to punish him for his “You’re Welcome, LeBron” billboard in Akron and to torpedo his program’s plan to light-heartedly cover a LeBron James event in Akron after he signed with the Cavaliers.

### Best Twitter response: After Smith’s domestic violence comments, ESPN’s Michelle Beadle sent a series of Tweets including: “So I was just forced to watch this morning's First Take. A) I'll never feel clean again. B) I'm now aware that I can provoke my own beating…. I’m thinking about wearing a miniskirt this weekend...I'd hate to think what I'd be asking for by doing so @stephenasmith.…Violence isn't the victim's issue. It's the abuser's. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible and disgusting.”

### Best Twitter feuds on less serious issues than the aforementioned one: 1) Glazer repeatedly blasting ESPN for not giving him credit for his scoops.  2) Simmons, after ESPN colleagues Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic mischaracterized his comments about the Cavaliers: “I would say I lost respect for that show, but I never had it.”

### Will be missed: Among the notable broadcasters who died in 2014: NBA Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay, Mets announcer Ralph Kiner, Braves announcer Pete Van Wieren, Padres announcer Jerry Coleman, longtime St. Louis columnist Bryan Burwell and esteemed CBS director Sandy Grossman.

 

       

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