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Lean Into The College Football Playoff Rankings

“Hosts in college football markets are doing themselves a disservice if they don’t acknowledge how listeners gravitate towards content centered on the rankings.”

Tyler McComas

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College football has stumbled upon something brilliant. Whether it was a conscious effort or not, the sport has found itself being talked about off the field as much as it does on the field. That’s a win. 

Credit that to the idea of the College Football Playoff Rankings Show that airs every Tuesday night from now until the end of the conference championship weekend. In college markets all across the country the conversation on sports radio stations is how the committee will react to the local team just as much as it is what they did Saturday on the field. 

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In Birmingham this week, the LSU-Alabama game has certainly gotten its fair share of run. But the fallout of the game and how it impacts the rankings is equally as compelling. 

Cole Cubelic, host of 3 Man Front on WJOX 94.5 FM talked mostly on Monday about what happened during the game, but says the conversation shifts more to the rankings as the week goes on.  

“I think Monday was probably 60 or 70 percent what happened in the game,” said Cubelic. “Obviously a lot of that shifted into playoff discussion and what might happen. Tuesday, it was much more playoff talk and probably 15-20 percent of what happened in the game. ”

James Crepea of Fox Sports Eugene has taken a similar strategy. 

“On the air on a Monday after a game I really look at the game first,” Crepea said. “Then, in a subsequent break, get into, alright, that happened with Oregon, here’s some things that happened nationally and what that might mean come Tuesday when the new rankings come out.”

Beau Bishop of 97.1 The Fan in Columbus has been covering the rankings since they debuted in 2014. He’s seen Ohio State both get and not get the benefit of the doubt. But it was his first year covering the rankings that has shaped his opinion on the show. 

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“In the first year of the College Football Playoff in 2014, we would go over it on Monday and Tuesday with a fine tooth comb,” said Bishop. “The way we approached it was with a poll mentality, which means, if you won, you either stay or you move up. If you lose, you drop, simple as that.

“Typically, in the history of polls, both the AP and Coaches, if you don’t lose it’s really hard for teams to jump you. They’re pretty static. Our attitude was always a poll mentality, thinking you’re not going to jump teams that are ahead of you. Then in the final poll of 2014, Ohio State jumped Baylor and TCU and got to No. 4. At that point, I said ‘the rules don’t apply to the College Football Playoff Committee. They can do whatever the hell they want, whenever they want to do it.’

“This is a fun thing, week-to-week, it’s a television show they’re making. They will decide in the final poll who the four teams are and the rest of it is just fun. It’s like cake. It tastes good but there’s no substance to it week-to-week, because it’s a television show. But that hasn’t stopped me from having fun with it, I put that out there to our listeners and say, look, this doesn’t mean anything, let’s have fun for 15 minutes.”

Doing my own show in Norman, OK, another college football market, I agree with Cubelic and Crepea that Mondays should still be about what happened in the game, but as Tuesday arrives, the conversation needs to heavily sway into what the upcoming rankings will look like. Then, as Wednesday comes, reactions to what the rankings mean or what the committee is telling us, should be what you focus the most on. 

But what’s the biggest day for rankings talk: the Tuesday before the release or the Wednesday after? 

“After, for sure,” said Bishop. “The fans love it. They absolutely love it. There’s also the SEC/Big 10 thing that’s there. The other thing we have fun with, and we talk about it quite a bit, is the fact this is a television show. Not just the poll, but the actual College Football Playoff is a television show.”

Crepea is dealing with establishing a new show on a new station, but can already see the traction that relevant discussions around the College Football Playoff has created. 

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“Because of the relative newness of not only my show, but the station as a whole, but especially my show, getting more by way of callers and that in-show feedback is a bit harder because of how new we are,” Crepea said. “At the moment, I’m looking more for analytics from podcasts of the show. I know last week, for the most part, we did pretty well. Both Tuesday leading into the rankings and the day after was pretty similar, from that type of metric and measure. I think as the weeks go on, and I’m on the air as the rankings come out, I would think those days will garner most of that.”

Hosts in college football markets are doing themselves a disservice if they don’t acknowledge how listeners gravitate towards content centered on the rankings. Essentially, its bonus content for hosts that is almost guaranteed to rile up a fan base, or even in some cases, multiple fan bases in a market. One thing is for sure: Fans crave it and it plays extremely well over the radio. 

“Absolutely it is,” said Cubelic. “Especially in my market, because all we say is, should Alabama be in? Or, is Alabama one of the best four teams? It’s an immediate Twitter and phone feedback. Then, you’re going to get one person call in and say why they should be in and three more are going to disagree. This College Football rankings show every Tuesday, I’ve seen people make light of it or make fun of it, saying it doesn’t matter and nobody pays attention to it. What blows my mind is that people who are actually in the sports talk radio business are dumb enough to think that these ratings don’t matter, when it’s there for us. It’s instant material for us that can really last the rest of the week, if you want it to.”

What about guests to talk about rankings? It’s common to bring on someone to talk or break down an upcoming game, so wouldn’t having a guest to talk about the rankings essentially be the same thing? 

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“We don’t have anybody on specifically for that,” said Cubelic. “But in the past, we’ve had Heather Dinich and Brad Edwards. Peter Burns and Tom Hart were on today (Tuesday) to talk about it. Yesterday, we had Jordan Rodgers on, we asked him about it. If you get a college football analyst on the show, you’re going to ask them their Top 4, as well as if Alabama is in or out right now. It’s a direction we go, but I think if you bring somebody on just to talk about that right now, this close to Bama-LSU being over and what that game meant, you’re limiting yourself just a little bit. But that’s not to say we won’t do it down the road.”

So yes, talk about the rankings. Especially if the team you cover is in the hunt. But even if you cover a team that’s outside the Top 25 or out of the College Football Playoff race, the rankings are still compelling enough to create interesting content. 

The most interesting conversations on college football this week aren’t any of the upcoming games on Saturday or even the weekends to come. The most interesting conversations sound like this: “Why did Alabama only drop to No.5? When will undefeated Minnesota get the credit it deserves? Does the committee hate the Big 12?”

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That’s what the conversations around college football are right now. And it’s because of the College Football Playoff Rankings. 

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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