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A Fractured, Rudderless Sport Must Shut Down

“Regardless of money, lobbying coaches, activist players and the meddling of President Trump, college football should abandon its season entirely to avoid the threat of COVID-19 and examine a leadership void.”

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If anything can be redeeming about a pandemic, it’s the weeding-out process. We discover who’s real and who’s phony, who’s empathetic and who’s apathetic, who prioritizes health and who prioritizes wealth — and who doesn’t care if college football players contract COVID-19, get sick, suffer heart problems and transmit the evil droplets to teammates and family members in the very definition of superspreading.

“Play College Football!’’ tweeted President Trump, who is thinking only about himself, his re-election bid and his feeble response to the virus when he types his hot take.

And as quickly as you can say FOUR BILLION DOLLARS, the greedy men desperately trying to keep an industry alive have their convenient bad guy. Meaning, if the SEC, Big 12 and ACC want to continue playing football while the Big Ten and Pac-12 wisely demur, they do have a presidential hall pass, for what it’s worth. The thought of Trump encouraging young people to risk their health, when he’s not the one taking his helmet head onto the field, is as disjointed as American life itself in 2020. But that’s what he has done, taking advantage of a clumsily operated machine with no semblance of unified leadership in normal times, much less during a human catastrophe.

How the MAC fall sports shutdown will impact college football across the  country

In good medical conscience, all the university presidents and athletic officials determining college football’s fate realize the 2020 season should be shut down. They also don’t want to be perceived as leading the charge, fearing political and business-world backlash and social-media barrages. But now that Trump has weighed in, siding with Trevor Lawrence and other #WeWantToPlay advocates pushing for a season, the decision-makers can flip the script if they’re overwhelmed by money pangs and still prefer to chase the TV jackpot: “Hey, if Trump says it’s OK to play, let him take the heat while we backdoor this baby and make our fortunes!’’

I hope this isn’t their sneaky agenda, that they err on the side of science and academia. I pray they not only can spell and pronounce the condition emerging as the flashpoint of this debate — myocarditis, an inflammation of heart muscle that has impacted young people infected by COVID-19 — but realize it’s one of many coronavirus concerns that quickly could turn an unnecessary season into an all-time health and administrative debacle. These are supposed to be institutions of higher learning, not money-grab chop shops employing cheap labor.

Ah, but I am an idealist. Pardon my foolishness. Since the tweets of Trump and Lawrence, the Clemson quarterback and current face of the sport, the groundswell of start-the-season support has been astounding. The door was swung open to self-interests in athletic factories everywhere, with some coaches woefully lacking perspective, as if they’re in the fourth quarter of a playoff game when a human touch is needed. A Big Ten pause wouldn’t stop Ohio State or Nebraska from looking at other scheduling options, according to their coaches, in the first sign that programs are willing to sell souls and form a crazy-quilt season even among a handful of teams. “Swinging as hard as we possibly can right now for these players!! This isn’t over! #FIGHT,’’ declared Buckeyes coach Ryan Day, sounding like an army general. If that isn’t raw desperation, consider Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, bucking the reported wishes of his own university president by presenting facts — facts! — on why the season should proceed. According to Harbaugh, his program hasn’t had a single positive test in the last 353 administered. In his view, it’s why the Big Ten and the other four major conferences should play on.

“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players’ desire to play — but because of facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus,’’ Dr. Jim said. “We have developed a great prototype for how we can make this work and provide the opportunity for players to play.’’

Nick Saban says players safer at Alabama: 'I want to play for the players'  sake' | News Break

What he’s omitting, by design, is the fallout when his players face other teams in a violent, close-contact sport. And when his players are mingling with other students on campus. And when his players are attending mask-optional parties. And that Harbaugh will die another death if he has to wait another year for a crack at Ohio State, the rival he can’t beat. You also wonder about the megalomania of the sport’s overlord, Nick Saban, who is using the Lawrence argument: Players are safer on the Alabama campus than they are at home with their families. Said St. Nick, to ESPN: “I know I’ll be criticized no matter what I say, that I don’t care about player safety. Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home. We have around a 2 percent positive ratio on our team since the Fourth of July. It’s a lot higher than that in society. We act like these guys can’t get this unless they play football. They can get it anywhere, whether they’re in a bar or just hanging out.”

So if they’re going to get the virus, let them at least get it on a football field, goes Saban’s rationale, so his program can bring in its $180 million in revenues. I thought Nick was urging Deep South COVID-iots to wear masks, concerned enough about the virus that he feared a lost season. Now, facing that possibility, Saban isn’t nearly as concerned. It begs a question: Do you trust these coaches? Will they be transparent about testing results when no law requires them to be? They could be lying. Would we ever know?

Starring in his own movie, “Dabo Vs. The Virus,’’ Clemson coach Dabo Swinney declared after a practice in pads Monday night that he and his team will play football regardless of what the ACC decides. If you’re keeping score, that’s Clemson, Ohio State and Nebraska so far in the rogue league. “I fully support what we are trying to do at Clemson and elsewhere in college football to have a season. I’ve made my decision, and I have a football team that has made their decision, and hopefully people will respect what we want to do,’’ Swinney said.

“This game is important to so many people. I wish everyone could have seen our practice today, the energy, competitiveness and fun — just trying to win the day. This is the safest environment we could have our guys in, without a doubt, as opposed to not getting tested every day at home or not being in such a sanitized environment as we have here. Everything here is mitigated. We have had one player test positive since early July. We all know there is risk with the virus. If you told me we wouldn’t get the virus if we canceled football, I’d be the first person to sign up. But if we cancel football, the virus doesn’t go away.’’

Clemson's Swinney: "Awesome" to return to field amid virus | WCIV

Yet if you cancel football, Dabo, that’s one less way of spreading it during hundreds of college games, which are taking an average of three hours and 24 minutes these days. Why so long? Answer: Commercials, which reimburse media companies for the lucrative amounts they pay to conferences for rights, such as the $2.25 billion the SEC has negotiated with Disney/ESPN.

Then you have the politicians, such as COVID’s best friend, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. `The Southeastern Conference and ACC — I think most of those institutions do want to play because I think they do understand, you know, how important it is for the well-being of their student-athletes,’’ he said. “So yeah, I’m 100 percent in favor. We’ve got to play.”

All of which only brainwashes players who don’t know better. “Years of work will come down to votes from presidents and execs who haven’t even witnessed our protocols and safety measures with their own eyes,” Ohio State captain Justin Hilliard tweeted. “Our guys are safe.’’

Or so says Ryan Day, anyway.

Has anyone checked with the kids who don’t want to play? Or their parents? Jake Curhan, a Cal offensive lineman, is part of the grass-roots unity group demanding compensation and other benefits to play the sport. His research turned up numbers different than those of Harbaugh and Saban: A scientist estimates an infection rate of 30 to 50 percent if a season is played, with as many as three deaths. For direct proof of how the virus ravages the system, Harbaugh should have mentioned a Big Ten player, Indiana offensive lineman Brady Feeney, who fears heart-related issues after contracting the virus.

IU freshman Brady Feeney tested positive for COVID, still dealing with  symptoms, according to mother | Hoosier Sports Report

“COVID-19 is serious,’’ tweeted Feeney, an incoming freshman. “I never thought I would have serious health complications from the virus, but look at what happened. We need to listen to our medical experts.’’

Feeney’s mother was more outspoken, writing on Facebook: “Here was a kid in perfect health, great physical condition, and due to the virus ended up going to the ER because of breathing issues (and spent) 14 days of hell battling the horrible virus. … Now we are dealing with possible heart issues! He is still experiencing additional symptoms and his blood work is indicating additional problems. Bottom line, even if your son’s schools do everything right to protect them, they CAN’T PROTECT THEM!!’’

If you wonder why we don’t hear from more parents, well, wouldn’t you be intimidated by the money hoarders? Protest too loudly, and your kid is canceled in the sport. From the first time a coach stepped into a recruit’s living room, we’ve heard the sales pitch about “taking care of your son at (Power 5 program) as we build his bridge to manhood,’’ or some b.s. of the such. In truth, the young athlete is a servant. He will keep a scholarship and perks as long as he contributes to generating massive profits that cross well into nine-figure, two-comma territory for a football behemoth. And if he isn’t a good soldier, in the parlance, he’ll be shipped away. After all, football money accounts for more than 60 percent of a major public university’s total annual operating revenues. It’s a pity if your son develops heart issues, but, hey, the games must go on.

The stance is too familiar. It mirrors what Trump has said for months about the virus death toll: “People are going to die,’’ he says, wanting to believe the number is a pittance when the World Health Organization says it’s 750,000 globally. Donald, why risk young lives in the name of football? Pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who was to have been the Opening Day starter for the Boston Red Sox, opted out of the baseball season after a COVID-19 infection led to heart problems. Why aren’t we focusing on the illnesses, the patients?

President Donald Trump Tweetstorm – The Saturday Edition – Deadline

Do I really have to answer that? The president again has been allowed to politicize and mock the health crisis of our lives, this time giving oxygen to a football season that should have been canceled months ago.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled. #WeWantToPlay,’’ Trump tweeted.

No, the politicians, coaches and universities have too much at stake for their season to be cancelled. #Money #Power #Ego #Deceit.

BSM Writers

Adam The Bull Is Giving Cleveland Something It’s Never Had Before

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?”

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After spending 22 years on the radio, Adam “The Bull” Gerstenhaber was ready for a new adventure.  In fact, the former co-host of Bull and Fox on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland did not have a new job lined up when he signed off from his 11-year radio home last month.

“I was already leaving without having a new project,” admitted Gerstenhaber during a recent phone interview with BSM.  “I left before I knew for sure I had a ‘next project’.”

Gerstenhaber was preparing for his final show with co-host Dustin Fox on April 1st when he was contacted by an executive producer for TEGNA, a company that was developing a Cleveland sports television show on YouTube.  The executive producer, who had just found out that Bull was a free agent, made it clear that he wanted Bull to be a part of the new project.

It all came together very quickly. 

“Let’s talk on Monday,” Gerstenhaber told the executive producer. “And within a week they signed me up.”

The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show on YouTube featuring Gerstenhaber, former ESPN personality Jay Crawford, 92.3 The Fan’s Garrett Bush, and rotating hosts to make up a four-person round-table show, made its debut last Monday.  The show, which airs weekdays from 11am to 1pm, features passionate Cleveland sports talk, live guests, either in-studio or via Zoom, as well as interaction from the audience through social media.

“I’m very excited,” said Gerstenhaber.  “It’s a definite adjustment for me after 22 years on radio doing television.  For the last 11 years, I’ve been doing a radio show with just one other host and I was the lead guy doing most of the talking and now I’m on a show with three other people and it’s such an adjustment.  So far, I’m having a ball.”  

And so far, the reaction to the show has been very positive.

A big reason why is that it’s something that Cleveland didn’t have and really never had, unlike a city like New York, where there are local radio shows that are simulcast on regional sports channels. 

“There’s nothing like that in Cleveland,” said Gerstenhaber.  “And there was certainly nothing like this with a panel.  Cleveland is such a massive sports town and now people that don’t live in Cleveland that are maybe retired in Florida or Arizona, now they actually have a TV show that they can watch that’s Cleveland-centric.”

The new venture certainly represents a big change in what Bull has been used to in his radio career.  He’s enjoying the freedom of not having to follow a hard clock for this show. In fact, there have already been some occasions where the show has been able to go a little longer than scheduled because they have the flexibility to do that on YouTube.

Doing a show on YouTube gives the panel a great opportunity to go deep into topics and spend some quality time with guests.  And while there is no cursing on the show at the moment, there could be the potential for that down the road.

Don’t expect the show is going to become X-rated or anything like that, but the objective is to be able to capture the spirit and emotion of being a sports fan and host.

“It’s something we may do in the future,” said Gerstenhaber.  “Not curse just to curse but it gives us the option if we get fired up.  It is allowed because there’s no restrictions there.  The company doesn’t want us to do it at the moment.”  

There’s also been the shift for Gerstenhaber from being the “point guard” on his old radio show, driving the conversation and doing most of the talking, to now taking a step back and having Crawford distributing the ball on the television show.

For a guy called “The Bull”, that will take some getting used to. 

“Jay is a pro’s pro,” said Gerstenhaber.  “He’s the point guard for this but he’s also part of the conversation.  I’m not used to not being the point guard so I have to adjust to that.  I think it’s gone pretty well and the chemistry is pretty good and with time we’ll get used to the flow of it.”  

Gerstenhaber’s move from sports radio to an internet television show is a perfect example of how the industry is changing.  A good portion of the listening and viewing audience these days, especially those in the younger demographic, are not necessarily watching traditional television or listening to terrestrial radio.  For a lot of sports fans, watching and listening on a mobile device or a computer has become a very important way of life.

The desire to adapt, along with a shorter workday, was very enticing to him.

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?” wondered Gerstenhaber.  “There were things about my job that I was unhappy about.  I was doing a five-hour radio show.  It’s too long. That’s crazy.  Nobody should be doing a five-hour radio show at this point.” 

Broadcasting on the internet has arrived and it’s not just a couple of sports fans doing a show from their garage anymore.  The business has evolved to the point where the technology has provided more opportunities for those who have already enjoyed success in the industry and are looking for new challenges.

Kind of like Adam The Bull!

“I think years ago, probably like many people in the radio business, we looked at internet and podcasts as like whatever…those guys aren’t professionals…they’re amateurs,” said Gerstenhaber.  “But the game has changed.”

Gerstenhaber, Crawford and everyone associated with the “Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show” should not have much of a problem attracting the younger audience. That demographic is already accustomed to watching shows on YouTube and other streaming platforms.  The challenge now is to get the more mature audience on board. There are certainly some obstacles there.

I know this from experience with trying to explain to my mother in Florida how she can hear me on the radio and watch me on television simply by using her tablet.

Bull can certainly relate to that.

“My mother is still trying to figure out how to watch the show live,” said Gerstenhaber with a chuckle.  “The older fans struggle with that. A lot of my older fans here in Cleveland are like how do I watch it? For people that are under 40 and certainly people that under 30, watching a YouTube show is like okay I watch everything on my phone or device.  It’s such a divide and obviously as the years go by, that group will increase.” 

With the television show off and running, Gerstenhaber still has a passion for his roots and that’s the radio side of the business.  In the next couple of weeks, “The Bull” is set to announce the launch of two podcasts, one daily and one weekly, that will begin next month.  But he also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to terrestrial radio at some point.

“I have not closed the door to radio,” said Gerstenhaber.  “I still love radio.  I would still, in the right set of circumstances, consider going back to radio but it would have to really be the perfect situation.  I’m excited about (the television show) and right now I don’t want to do anything else but I’m certainly going to remain open-minded to radio if a really excellent opportunity came up.”

The landscape of the broadcasting industry, particularly when it comes to sports, has certainly changed over the years and continues to evolve.  Adam Gerstenhaber certainly enjoyed a tremendous amount of success on the radio side, both in New York and in Cleveland, but now he has made the transition to something new with the YouTube television show and he’s committed to making it a success.

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BSM Writers

I Heard A Lot of Boring, Uncreative Sports Radio On Friday

“Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released”

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Maybe this one is on me for expecting better. Maybe I need to take my own advice and accept that there are times the sports radio audience just wants a little comfort food. Still, this is my column and I am going to complain because I listened to probably six different stations on Friday and all of them were doing the exact same thing.

The NFL schedule was released on Thursday night, so on Friday, regardless of daypart, every show seemingly felt obligated to have the same three conversations.

  1. How many games will the home team win?
  2. What does the number of primetime games we got mean for how much respect we have nationally?
  3. Why do the Lions still get to play on Thanksgiving?

Football is king. I get that. Concrete NFL news is always going to take priority. That is understandable. But where was even an ounce of creativity? Where was the desire to do better – not just better than the competition, but better than the other shows in your own building?

I listened to shows in markets from across the league. The conversations were the same regardless of size or history of success. Everyone that picked in the top 5 in last month’s draft is going to go 10-7. Every team that got less than 5 primetime games feels disrespected. It was all so boring.

Those of us in the industry don’t consume content the way listeners do. We all know that. Perhaps I am harping on something that is only a problem to me because I listen to sports talk radio for a living. If you don’t ever want to put more than the bare minimum of effort into your show, decide that is the reason for my reaction and go click on another article here.

Consider this though, maybe the fact that I listen to so much sports radio means I know how much quality there is in this industry. Maybe it means that I can spot someone talented that is phoning it in.

I want to be clear in my point. There is value in giving your record prediction for the home team. Listeners look at the people on the radio as experts. I will bet some futures bets in a lot of markets were made on Friday based on what the gambler heard coming through their speakers. All I want to get across is there is a way to have that conversation that isn’t taking two segments to go through each week one by one. I heard no less than three stations do that on Friday.

Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released. It’s a very familiar rhythm: pick the wins, get a guest on to preview the week 1 opponent, take calls, texts and tweets with the listeners’ predictions.

I didn’t hear anyone ask their listeners to sell them on the over for wins. I didn’t hear anyone give me weeks that you could skip Red Zone because one matchup is just too damn good. I didn’t hear anyone go through the Sunday Night Football schedule and pick out the weeks to schedule dates because the matchup isn’t worth it.

Maybe none of those ideas are winners, and that is fine. They are literally three dumb ideas I pulled out of the air. But they are all ways to review the schedule that could potentially leave a smile on your listener’s face.

Show prep is so important, especially in a group setting. It is your chance to tell your partner, producer, or host that you know you can do better than the idea that has just been thrown out. Quit nodding in agreement and challenge each other! It may mean a little more work for you, but it means more reward for the listeners. And if the listeners know they can rely on you for quality, creative content, that leads to more reward for you.

And lay off the Lions. It’s Thanksgiving. You’re stuck at home. The NFL could give you Lions vs Jaguars and you’d watch.

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BSM Writers

Why You Should Be Making Great TikTok Content

“We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds.”

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It feels like there’s a new social media platform to pay attention to every other week. That makes it easy to overlook when one of them actually presents value to your brand. It wasn’t long ago that TikTok was primarily used by teenagers with the focus being silly dance trends filmed for video consumption with their friends and followers alike. Now, as the general public has become in tune with how this complicated app works, it’s grown far beyond that.

TikTok is now an app used by all types of demographics and unlike TikTok’s closely related cousins Instagram and Facebook, this app provides a certain type of nuance that I think people in our line of work can really excel in. 

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how you can use TikTok to your advantage and how to make your videos catch on, I think it’s important to first mention why this matters for you. Now, if I’m being realistic, I’m sure there are some that have already stopped reading this or those that could scroll away fast enough when they saw the words TikTok. You might be thinking that this doesn’t fit your demo, or maybe that it’s a waste of time because productivity here won’t directly lead to an uptick in Nielsen ratings. But I’m not sure any social network directly leads to what we ultimately get judged on, and we aren’t always pumping out content directly to our core audience.

TikTok, like any other app you may use, is marketing. This is another free tool to let people out there know who you are and what you offer in this endless sea of content. And the beauty of TikTok is that it directly caters its algorithm to content creators just like us. Bottom line, if you are a personality in sports talk, there’s no reason you can’t be crushing it on TikTok right now. All it takes is a little direction, focus, consistency, and a plan. 

Unlike Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where you can throw a photo up with a caption and be done for the day, TikTok’s whole model is built on creative videos that keep users engaged for longer periods of time. This approach works. According to Oberlo, a social media stat tracking site, people spend more time per day on TikTok than any other popular social media application. 38 minutes per day!

This is where this is good news for us in talk radio. We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds. TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t care how many followers you have, your level of credibility, or the production on your video. All ir cares about is 1) Is your content good. and 2) Are people watching it. 3) How long are they watching it. The more people watch and the longer they watch creates a snowball effect. Your videos views will skyrocket, sometimes within hours. 

So, how do you create content that will catch on? It’s really not all that different than what you do every day. Create thought-provoking commentary that makes people think, argue, or stay till the end to get the info you teased up for them. I’ve found through my own trial and error that it’s best if you stay away from time-sensitive material, I’ve had more success the more evergreen my content is. That way, the shelf life expands beyond just that day or week. This is different for everyone and there’s no one-size-fits-all, but this is where I’ve seen the most success. 

Also, put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to say something that people are going to vehemently disagree with. Again, it’s not unlike what we do every day. It’s one thing to get someone to listen, it’s another to get them to engage. Once they hit you in the comment section, you’ve got them hooked. Comments breed more views and on and on. But don’t just let those sit there, even the smallest interaction back like a shoulder shrug emoji can go a long way in creating more play for your video. 

If you want to grow quickly, create a niche for yourself. The best content creators that I follow on TikTok all put out very similar content for most of their videos. This means, unlike Instagram where it’s great to show what a wildly interesting and eclectic person you are, TikTok users want to know what they’re getting the second your face pops up on that screen. So if you are the sports history guy, be the sports history guy all the time. If you are the top 5 list guy, be the top 5 list guy all the time, and on and on, you get the point. 

Other simple tricks

  • Splice small videos together. Don’t shoot one long video. 
  • 90 seconds to 2 minutes is a sweet spot amount of time. 
  • Add a soft layer of background instrumental music (this feature is found in the app when you are putting the finishing touches on your video) 
  • Label your video across the screen at the start and time it out so that it disappears seconds later. This way a user gets an idea of what the content is immediately and then can focus on you delivering your message thereafter.  
  • Research trending hashtags, they are far more important than whatever you caption your video. 
  • Use closed captions so that people can follow your video without sound. 

Finally, don’t be intimidated by it or snub your nose at it. Anything that helps your brand is worth doing and anything worth doing is worth doing well. 

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