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Big Ten Reversal Is a Big Loss For America

“Politics and money win — and health and safety lose — as university presidents change course and vote to play a lucrative conference season, the latest indication that this country is unhinged.”

Jay Mariotti

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To be clear, normalcy is not returning to American life just because the Big Ten is playing football. No, this is another plunge into the abnormal and grotesque — allowing a sitting President to use college athletes as pawns in his re-election bid, cheered on by coaches and parents who continue to treat the coronavirus like the common flu. The 14 university presidents were supposed to remain above the messy fray and continue to support health over profits and politics.

Instead, these purported leaders of higher academia buckled, abruptly reversing course and announcing the season will start the weekend of Oct. 24. The flip-flop comes only five weeks after their common-sense decision to postpone the season, but when President Trump is cursing, TV networks are lobbying, parents are protesting at conference headquarters, Nebraska players are filing a lawsuit and Jim Harbaugh is leading a march on the Michigan campus, funny how strength turns to mush in the ivory towers.

Now, Trump is viewed as a hero in at least three battleground states in Big Ten Country. Remember this if he is re-elected, a leverage play that will have scholars and historians wincing decades from now. “Great News: BIG TEN FOOTBALL IS BACK,’’ the President tweeted. “All teams to participate. Thank you to the players, coaches, parents, and all school representatives. Have a FANTASTIC SEASON! It is my great honor to have helped!!!’’

All while college campuses, in the Big Ten and beyond, are ravaged by Covid cases. It stands to reason that football players, regardless of rapid-response tests that now can be administered daily, will remain carriers capable of triggering team outbreaks while exposed to reckless students also spreading the virus. The conference vows to be responsible, with daily antigen tests for athletes, coaches and staff starting Sept. 30. Guidelines established by “positivity rates’’ — within teams and campus communities — could force disruptions of seasons. if a player tests positive for Covid, he can’t play in a game for at least 21 days.

In theory, it sounds super-optimistic, to paraphrase the cool kids. But with so much money at stake — $4 billion, counting the riches of a College Football Playoff that now involves four of the Power Five conferences — can these revenue-generating machines be trusted with transparency about test results? Only minutes before the Big Ten news arrived, I finished a column that asked if anyone is concerned about the plight of athletes amid the existential demands of 2020. Part of it is worth repeating here, so the absurdity of it all can be seen on two verticals.

Imagine being a college football player, unpaid and impressionable, having to trust power freaks who run the biggest programs and university presidents thirsting to reap the financial bonanzas. Ed Orgeron, coach of defending national champion LSU, isn’t considering the long-range health dangers that accompany Covid. Sounding uninformed and almost diabolical, he actually hopes his team achieves herd immunity — though he clearly doesn’t understand what that may or may not mean. “Not all of our players, but most of our players have caught it. I think that hopefully they won’t catch it again, and hopefully they’re not out for games,’’ he said. “Hopefully that once you catch it, you don’t get it again. I’m not a doctor.’’ Then why is he trying to play one? Know how many college football coaches are playing hocus-pocus with players’ lives? And their loved ones? And the students they associate with — and party with — on Covid-ravaged campuses? The Big Ten had been one of the two wise conferences not playing, yet there were those presidents, voting to return in October, kids be damned.

The celebrations are ongoing anyway, risks be damned. Among the first to tweet was Harbaugh, a worldly guy who should know better. “Great news today. Over the past month, I could sense the anticipation from our players and coaches, and I’m thrilled on their behalf that they will have a chance to play a 2020 season,’’ Harbaugh wrote. “ Stay positive. Test negative. Let’s play football.’’

Go Blue!

“We’re excited and we can’t wait to get started,’’ said Michigan State linebacker Antjuan Simmons, on a campus where students are in a 14-day quarantine due to an “alarming surge’’ in Covid cases.

Victory for MSU!

As it is, Trump is using the NFL’s early ratings declines to his political advantage, claiming viewers are turned off to Black Lives Matter protests during “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’ The Big Ten flip-flop gives him more ammunition in key states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Imagine if football determines the next four years in this country. Ain’t that America, for you and me, sang a Midwestern boy named John Mellencamp.

As for the College Football Playoff, ESPN executives are doing their own dancing. They’re armed with a more legitimate playoff system that includes all but the Pac-12, which mostly sucks at football anyway. The SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten are all in, despite numerous game postponements and Covid cases, and even if the virus guts hundreds of players, you sense Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Ohio State will trot out intramural teams to have a shot at a championship — and all of that money — in January.

The Big Ten is aiming at eight games in eight weeks, per team, with a conference title game on Dec. 19. But if you’re waiting for the Pac-12 to join the party, it’s not happening anytime soon. If you’ve noticed, we’re dealing with West Coast wildfires that take precedence over football games. “At this time, our universities in California and Oregon do not have approval from state or local public health officials to start contact practice,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “We are hopeful that our new daily testing capability can help satisfy public health official approvals in California and Oregon to begin contact practice and competition. We are equally closely monitoring the devastating fires and air quality in our region at this time. We are eager for our student-athletes to have the opportunity to play this season, as soon as it can be done safely and in accordance with public health authority approvals.”

I’m pleased to say I live in Pac-12 country, where the skies might be orange and ashen but the collective conscience is clear.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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