WEEKLY MEDIA COLUMN
There have been three especially significant changes on lead announcing teams of marquee team sports properties in the past year, with generally favorable results.
The transition from Brent Musburger to Chris Fowler in ABC/ESPN’s booth was seamless, with Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit already positioned alongside Verne Lundquist/Gary Danielson as the premier college football announcing teams in the business. The move from Tim McCarver to Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci on Fox’s baseball telecasts wasn’t quite as effective, with Reynolds’ work uneven and the trio too chatty at times.
And now CBS and Turner, on their lead college basketball team, are transitioning from analysts Steve Kerr and Greg Anthony to Bill Raftery and Grant Hill, who join Jim Nantz on the Final Four, with Saturday’s semifinals on TBS and Monday’s championship game on CBS.
That new troika, necessitated by Kerr’s move to NBA coaching and Anthony’s January arrest on solicitation of a prostitute, has displayed considerable potential through two weekends of the tournament but clearly has room for growth.
At 71, the personable and playful Raftery deserved this opportunity after 32 years as an analyst. Raftery has called 23 Final Fours on radio but never one on television.
“I never envisioned it or coveted it,” Raftery told me this week. “When [CBS Sports chairman] Sean McManus called, I was taken back because there were so many choices. For him to think of me made me feel pretty darn good. It proves if you stay around long enough, they will call your number.”
Hill’s analysis has been credible and functionally sound, and he was a lot more assertive last weekend after deferring to Raftery initially. We like that Hill isn’t merely reactionary but also proactive; during the South Regional semifinals and final last weekend, he said UCLA and Gonzaga had to make a stronger attempt to get the ball inside.
Hill astutely pointed out that the size of NGR Stadium in Houston (where the NFL’s Texans play) was affecting shooting during the semifinals --- large black curtains were the backdrop behind both baskets --- and Nantz was timely in pointing out that Butler shot 18 percent against Connecticut in the 2011 championship game in that facility.
But in the best three-man booths --- primarily the Mike Breen/Jeff Van Gundy/Mark Jackson NBA troika on ABC --- the analysts sometimes disagree and good-naturedly rib each other.
There has been some interaction between Hill and Raftery, but both seem concerned about not stepping on each other’s toes instead of engaging each other in conversation or debate.
Their only disagreement last weekend came when Raftery disputed Hill’s claim that UCLA’s and Gonzaga’s poor shooting had nothing to do with good defense. Hill changed his mind after Raftery disagreed. If Van Gundy or Jackson had a similar discussion, it’s likely neither would have backed down. But such disagreements shouldn’t be forced.
Nantz said he has received an “overwhelming positive” response to the new booth and it has been “a longtime since I've had the kind of reaction. I am so invigorated by it. We've done a total of 12 games. It gets stronger, more cohesive by the game. I love what we're doing. Everybody hears the energy, the excitement, the laughter.”
Hill, polished and likable, has a longterm future in the business but here’s one area he can improve: Having played for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and already having called four Duke games in the past month, he should offer more personal anecdotes and insight into Coach K’s approach and idiosyncrasies.
The best Hill story was delivered by Nantz, who said Hill was nameless for two days after birth before Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach came to the hospital and suggested to teammate Calvin Hill that he name his son Grant.
### Turner will supplement the traditional semifinal coverage on TBS by having TNT and trutv each carry broadcasts of both games from a fan’s perspective of each team. So there will be three telecasts of each semifinal Saturday.
Commentary on the TNT and trutv cablecasts will be provided by a former player from each school: Alaa Abdelnaby (Duke), Mateen Cleaves (Michigan State), Rex Chapman (Kentucky) and Mike Kelley (Wisconsin).
### Bob Knight’s ESPN career ended Thursday night --- the network isn't renewing his contract --- and the only regret is that it didn’t happen a week earlier, before viewers had to be subjected to his insufferable analysis on the NIT semifinals and final.
Knight talked a lot about himself over game action, blabbered incessantly about issues unrelated to anything relevant, admitted he didn’t know much about UM’s personnel, said Stanford should put two defenders on Miami’s best scorer (whose name he didn’t know), said Miami should call a timeout (unaware the Canes didn’t have any left), had no idea how long the shot clock was and placed irrationally high importance on various first-half possessions (claiming each would be the difference in the game). Beyond that, he was brilliant!
### Though Miami-Fort Lauderdale’s NBA ratings are strong, the same cannot be said for college basketball. Among 56 metered markets, we had the lowest rating for both regional finals on CBS last Sunday.
### Only eight Marlins games will not be televised this season, and seven are on weekday afternoons. (The other: July 23 at 10 p.m. in San Diego.)… The Marlins have two games on Fox’s regional prime-time coverage: May 23 against the Orioles and July 4 at the Cubs….
One Fox Sports Florida personnel change on Marlins games: Jessica Blaylock replaces reporter Allison Williams, who left to focus on her ESPN assignments…. FSN will have a 90-minute pregame show before the Marlins’ 4 p.m. opener against the Braves on Monday.
### ESPN Radio’s 3 to 11 p.m. lineup has a distinct South Florida flavor, with Jorge Sedano now anchoring alone from 7 to 9 p.m. after Dan Le Batard’s show (Sedano’s former co-host, Mark Schlereth, is focusing on his ESPN NFL TV duties) and Bomani Jones (co-host on Le Batard’s TV show) hosting 9 to 11 p.m. The Ticket already has a very good evening program (Josh Friedman, Chris Wittyngham) but will carry the second hour of Jones’ show when there’s no Heat conflict.
### Ticket general manager Maureen Lesourd said she “would like at some point” to have different programming on the two signals: 104.3 FM and 790 AM. That is contingent on the wishes of prospective new owner Entercom, whose acquisition of the station is expected to be approved later this year.
### Short stuff: The NFL’s decision to place the Week 7 9:30 a.m. Bills-Jaguars game from London on only a to-be-determined digital platform outside those markets does a disservice to Sunday Ticket holders who expect to be able to see every game not aired in their market…
Le Batard’s TV show moved from ESPN2 to ESPN this week, with a 4:30 p.m. time slot… Shane Battier impressed on Le Batard’s radio show this week and is expected to make future appearances.
Fox hired Raul Ibanez as a baseball studio analyst… Best wishes to Turner’s Craig Sager, who is once again battling leukemia after returning briefly to the air last month.
Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Please see the last post for some on-field (and on-court) items.