All Betts Are Off: We Have a World Series
“Just when it seemed the electric Mookie Betts and the Dodgers might sweep, the Rays seized a curious L.A. flaw — shallow and unpredictable pitching — and reminded us why they’re here.”
He is everything that’s joyful and jazzy about baseball, this Mookie Betts fun doll. The World Series quickly became his empire, a takeover involving the typical arsenal — bat, defense, leadership, neck jewelry almost bigger than him — but also the lost art of the stolen base, assuring free tacos for 330 million Americans if they wait in Taco Bell drive-thru lines for a waived $1.49 heap of promotional heartburn.
LeBron James was tweeting about him. HIs teammates were comparing him to God. Trending? Betts was propelling the Los Angeles Dodgers to a place they haven’t been in 32 years, along with possibly saving a slog sport desperate for his speed and fire and all but giving America a new Election Day option. Who wasn’t talking about Mookie?
Well, Blake Snell wasn’t talking about Mookie. He wanted to know why people generally ignore him and the Tampa Bay Rays, who happen to be in the same pandemic-neutral ballpark as champions of the American League. “I just think a lot of people don’t talk about us because there’s other teams to talk about, but when you look at this team, it’s a very fun team to watch, very fun team to talk about,’’ he said. “We just don’t have the (Mike) Trouts or things like that, or the Betts and (Cody) Bellingers and (Clayton) Kershaws. We don’t have that because the hype around Tampa isn’t as big as it is in L.A. for obvious reasons.”
Snell then took the mound and backed his babble, reminding a scarcely watching world how the Rays can bump Mookie off center stage and still make this a competitive fight. He began Game 2 by blowing away Betts on strikes, then mixed sliders and curveballs with 95-mph heat. The Dodgers kept whiffing, eight times without a hit before the fifth inning, allowing the Rays to rediscover their minimalist mystique. With Brandon Lowe — as in Wow — breaking out of a slump with two home runs, the Rays rode their robust bullpen to a 6-4 win, tying the Series at 1-1 while the Dodgers again were following the blueprint of how they’ve blown championships.
It’s doubtful they will blow another. But before anyone builds an Andrew Friedman statue at Dodger Stadium, consider that the spreadsheet savant left the rotation short of arms when he cut ties in the offseason with elite starter Hyun-Jin Ryu and veterans Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill, then traded Ross Stripling in August. Thus, Game 2 became a night to use an opener — the strategy originally hatched out of necessity by the inventive Rays due to scant resources and a low payroll. It is unbecoming of a major-market, revenue-rich team to borrow from the Rays, especially when Friedman left his Tampa Bay creation for L.A. six years ago, and it’s even more dubious when the strategy doesn’t work. A team with a prorated payroll of almost $100 million in a COVID-shortened season, compared to $28 million for the Rays, can’t do better than rookie Tony Gonsolin and a flock of relievers who allowed runs and don’t compare to the Rays’ arsenal? Oh, the horror: The franchise of Kershaw, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Don Sutton, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser used an opener in a World Series game.
“We didn’t have anybody that was on regular rest,’’ explained Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who didn’t want to use Walker Buehler on three days’ rest after Kershaw started Game 1.
So, we actually have a series now. Aren’t the Dodgers skippered by Roberts, who can make errant decisions in October like no one we’ve seen this century? Can they win with Buehler and Kershaw, both unpredictable,as the only front-line starters? Would forgotten man Alex Wood really start a Game 7? Do the Rays have their undefinable mojo back, with postseason master Charlie Morton pitching Game 3 against Buehler? “That game was a better indicator of the kind of team we are,’’ Rays third baseman Joey Wendle said. “Just a complete team win, everybody contributing at different parts of the game.’’
All that said, let’s not have short-term amnesia. The Dodgers still have Betts, the difference between this team and previous flameouts. It’s one thing to channel the late Kobe Bryant and summon the “Mamba Mentality,’’ with Betts endearing himself to an already adoring Los Angeles by enacting what the legend told him last year: “He said each and every day he wants to be the best person in the gym and to put on a show.’’ It’s quite another, in Game 1, to join Babe Ruth as the only players with a walk and multiple steals in a World Series inning, allowing us to imagine a foot race between Betts and the portly Ruth and wonder: Did the Babe do it for tacos, too?
“I wanted everybody to get some tacos,’’ Mookie said with a Mookie grin. “That’s what was important to me.’’
Unfortunately, he’s also what’s wrong with baseball, this Markus Lynn Betts. No sooner did Joe Buck say the Dodgers don’t buy championships than Betts imposed his will on October, reminding us that he was given a 12-year, $365 million extension during a pandemic. The wee-revenue Rays can’t even dream about acquiring such a force until the afterworld. Tell me, in what economic sphere is this fair? It’s amazing, yes, that the Rays used intellectual guile to reach the Fall Classic, but it’s all hocus-pocus when the Dodgers were one of the few teams able to take on Betts and extend him for record numbers when he shockingly became available.
None of this is promising for the competitive future of a teetering sport — Game 1 was the lowest-rated Series game EVER — that faces a crippling labor impasse after next season. Nor is it healthy when the Boston Red Sox, they of the substantial revenues and expensive ticket prices, trade Betts in an all-time-shameful salary dump and bamboozle fans by downsizing the grand plan. John Henry and Tom Werner might be jacked to have boatloads of freed-up money and long-term flexibility, but even as the owners who broke the Bambino curse and won four World Series, they’ll never live down dealing Mookie. it was as cold and cutting as the New England winter, dumping a generational superstar — “a six-tool player,’’ says Red Sox legend David Ortiz — to push the financial reset button.
So any celebration of Mookie Mania must be accompanied by reality: He is to the Dodgers what James is to the L.A. Lakers — a hired gun — the difference being James’ arrival as a free agent while Betts came in a trade that brought modest returns to Boston. Both are 21st-century mercenaries. Both wanted to be in southern California, the most desired destination in American sports, and with the Dodgers valued at $3.4 billion, they could more than meet Betts’ ultimate price to stay. And in a few days, both could be attached in history as the driving forces behind two championships in pandemic L.A., the saviors who rescued prestigious-but-underachieving franchises from themselves.
“@mookiebetts did it all,’’ James tweeted during a transcendent Game 1.
Think about it. What does it say for Mookie if he win a World Series in Boston, then wins one in L.A.? Until the Angels figure out how to surround Mike Trout with sufficient talent, which might be never, Betts stands to be baseball’s most valuable player in the 2020s regardless of annual trophies. “I think we would have beat the Red Sox if we had Mookie Betts,’’ said Roberts, referring to their 2018 loss.
A three-hour opening glimpse of Betts was enough to think he could save the sport, too. Dating back to the scandalous steroids era, baseball has been fixated on home runs, ball-juicing, launch angles, exit velocity. Betts? He homered, but it ranked last on his list of Game 1 joys. He’ll take his track-meet sequence in the fifth inning, which resuscitated the vitality of stolen bases and how a running game can unnerve pitchers. He swiped second — tacos for all! — then third in a double steal. With an enormous lead off the bag, it took only Max Muncy’s contact grounder to first for Betts to safely slide home.
Was this actually … excitement? Should we summon the kids, tell them to get off their video games and phones and watch Mookie? He was asked which satisfied him most, the home run or the steals? His favorite feat involved feet. “I’m most proud of the contact play. Got a run there, and then it was first and third and we scored a couple more,’’ Betts said. “It just showed we don’t have to hit home runs to be successful. Stolen bases are a thing for me. That’s how I create runs and cause a little havoc on the bases. Once i get on the base paths, I’m just trying to touch home. However I get there is how I get there.’’
Listening, Rob Manfred?
“Whether it’s a defensive play that helps the team or a base-running play that gets him into scoring position for a teammate to drive in a run — I think he just gets more satisfaction out of that,’’ Roberts said. “When it’s a home run, which certainly helps the team, he just doesn’t care for the statistics. He just plays the game to win.’’
Listening, Barry Bonds?
I have to laugh when Friedman, who created the Rays paradigm, claims he didn’t jump to the Dodgers’ baseball operations perch in 2014 because of the staggering financial advantages. “Payrolls,’’ he said, “don’t decide the standings.’’ Please. As a bargain hunter with the Rays, he could use his algorithmic acumen and more-with-less culture to contend for playoff berths more seasons than not. But other than perhaps one chance title, he wasn’t going to be a perennial World Series contender in a zillion years. At Dodger Stadium, whenever it reopens, he has the resources to sustain a dynasty, with zero dollars — not a one — committed to anyone but Betts beyond 2022. That way, there is money to make lucrative commitments to Bellinger, Buehler, Corey Seager and other homegrown gems. That way, Friedman has a comfort zone in creating depth and versatility throughout the roster. It’s easier to cultivate a farm system, as he has expertly done, and unearth castoffs such as Muncy and Chris Taylor when he knows team co-owners Guggenheim Baseball and Todd Boehly will approve a Betts windfall and future Bellinger and Seager windfalls with a single-syllable answer: “Sure.’’
That’s why Rays owner Stuart Sternberg smacked of someone in bitter denial when asked by the Tampa Bay Times about Friedman’s departure. “I understand why he left, but I don’t understand why anybody ever doesn’t want to be part of what we’re doing. So it goes both ways,” he said. “It’s not fair to the people who have been with me since 2004 who are incredibly responsible for all this. And they’ve chosen to stay and be part of things. So I don’t want to feel great for somebody who’s left when I’ve got people here. I understand it. I’m just one of those guys — I don’t understand why people leave. Right? But they do and I get it. I get it. It’s just hard for me to fathom sometimes.”
Then came the dagger. Sternberg said team president Matt Silverman, who replaced Friedman as baseball boss six years ago, has been most important to the Rays’ overall success. “At the end of the day, and I could say this definitively, there’s nobody more responsible for our successes than Matt Silverman. Period. There’s not even a doubt,’’ Sternberg said. “And also (executive) Brian Auld’s outsized role in creating, nurturing and pounding in our culture.”
The Friedman Series had yet another angle: the unrealistic views of the owner he spurned. Why wouldn’t anyone want to remain with the Rays for life when you can run the Dodgers? As long as Major League Baseball doesn’t evenly split revenues among 30 franchises, it’s a no-brainer to leave behind a team valued barely at $1 billion while stuck in an untenable stadium mess. Last offseason, Friedman was allowed to add Betts to his overflowing roster while the Rays did their usual hoping and praying with minor deals. The Randy Arozarena pickup was a steal, but he could be a flash in the plan. Over the next dozen years, how many MVP awards and World Series runs will Betts have? That’s why Friedman left Rays blue for Dodger Blue. And that’s why, most likely, he’ll be wearing a ring this winter while Sternberg will wait the rest of his life. The Rays can defy baseball economics and slip through the AL during a pandemic. Can they really beat a blueblood with money and Mookie in the championship round?
Just the same, the pressure is squarely on the Dodgers to win it all after multiple collapses in previous autumns. Such is the tradeoff for having high payrolls and valuations and the wherewithal to bring in Betts. “The job is not done,’’ Kike Hernandez reminded. “The goal wasn’t to get to the World Series. The goal is to win the World Series. From the moment we were able to put a season together, once they figured out the COVID thing, everybody was expecting us to get to the World Series. We were expecting to go to the World Series.’’
It’s the case every year, actually. So is this the year they finally don’t choke? Ask Kershaw, who, you might have heard, has marred his Hall of Fame legacy with personal fall failures. Calmed by Betts’ impact, he again reverted to his best-pitcher-of-a-generation form in Game 1. Doesn’t he look much more relaxed than typical October Clayton? “I think we’re the best team. And I think our clubhouse believes that,’’ Kershaw said. “As a collective group, if everybody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing and playing the way they’re supposed to, I don’t see how that can happen.’’
Meaning, another crash.
The usual tension has been replaced by a welcome looseness. Bellinger, who fortunately suffered no damage when his shoulder popped in a violent forearm bash with Hernandez last weekend, had fun with the story. When he homered in Game 1, he safely tapped cleats with the others. “Going straight foot. It was pretty funny,’’ he said. “I think I’ll continue to do that maybe my whole career. Who knows?’’
It’s no coincidence that the feelgood mood coincides with the feelgood Mookie. His leadership skills, as a vocal clubhouse presence, always invoke the fun mantra. “I’m having tons of fun,’’ he said. “I’m just happy to be here with this group of guys. They’ve made it so much fun and easy to play.’’
What does he enjoy more, crossing home plate or driving in runs?
“I like winning,’’ Betts shot back. “Whichover one is needed that day, I’m just trying to do that.’’
You might say it isn’t fair, a player of his magnitude dropping into L.A. to form a baseball superteam. As it is, their use of institutional influence is almost bigger than the sport. After learning they lost the 2017 Series to a cheating Astros team that was electronically stealing signs, Friedman and team president Stan Kasten demanded instant justice from Major League Baseball. While Houston kept the trophy and the players somehow weren’t punished, the Dodgers did get heads on a platter through Manfred: those of general manager Jeff Luhnow, manager A.J. Hinch and then-bench coach Alex Cora, who lost their jobs. This week, Luhnow continued to deny direct involvement in the scheme and said he was targeted as a scapegoat by … the Dodgers.
“I was certainly not expecting for the team I spent eight years building to fire me and let me go,” Luhnow said. “I know the Dodgers, for sure, were adamant about some big punishments. And they wanted the manager, and they wanted the general manager to go down in this scandal. And they got it. And I think the investigation was not attempting to really uncover who did what, and who was really responsible. The goal of the investigation was to deliver punishments that Rob could feel good about and that would calm the panic.”
Whether that’s true or the desperation of a man trying to save his career and reputation, the Dodgers simply carried on with their process. They do what they want and spend what they want. For 32 years, they haven’t been able to win what they want. But because they had $365 million to offer Betts, along with warm weather and palm trees, they are close to getting it. The Astros outcheated them in 2017, the Red Sox outspent them in 2018, the Nationals outpitched them in 2019.
Will the Rays out-algorithm them? Armed with the Mookie Betts, the Dodgers have no excuse not to win. Even if few are watching on screens and inside a spooky Texas ballpark, the fun doll is capable of transcending a spreadsheet, a pandemic and, I dare say, an election involving a sitting President who’s probably waiting in line for a free taco.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
Robert Griffin III Wants to Tell Your Story the Right Way
“Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
During last season’s VRBO Fiesta Bowl, Robert Griffin III was part of ESPN’s alternate telecast at field level alongside Pat McAfee. Suddenly, the Heisman Trophy winner took a phone call. Once he hung up the phone, Griffin divulged that his wife had gone into labor and proceeded to sprint off of the field to catch a flight. An ESPN cameraperson documented his run and jubilation as he returned home to welcome his daughter, Gia, into the world. It encapsulated just what motivates Griffin to appear on television and discuss football, and why he is one of ESPN’s budding talents with the chance to make an impact on sports media and his community for years to come.
“This was an opportunity for me to go out and be different in the way that the media covers the players and truly get to the bottom of telling the players’ stories the right way,” Griffin said. “I look at this as an opportunity to do that.”
Griffin was a three-sport athlete as a student at Copperas Cove High School, and ultimately broke Texas state records in track and field. In addition to that, he played basketball and was the starting quarterback for the school’s football team as a junior and senior, drawing attention from various schools around the country. He ended up graduating high school one semester early and quickly became a star at Baylor University in both football and track and field.
Robert Griffin III’s nascent talent was hardly inconspicuous, evidenced by being named the 2008 Big 12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year and then, three years later, the winner of the Heisman Trophy. In the end, he graduated having set or tied 54 school records and helped the program to its first bowl game win in 19 years.
Ultimately, he transitioned to the NFL in a career with many trials and tribulations, but through it all, he never lost his sense of persistence. Nearly a decade later, he returned to college, but this time as a member of the media covering the game from afar. Unlike a majority of former players though, Griffin did not formally retire from playing football when inking a broadcasting contract with ESPN.
“I haven’t retired yet at all,” he said. “I tell everyone that asks me the question that I train every day [and] I’m prepared to play if that call does come. I’ve had some talks with teams over the past two years; just nothing has come to fruition.”
While Griffin’s focus as a broadcaster is undeniable, he never thought about seriously pursuing sports media until his broadcast agent pushed him to do so. He was urged to take an audition at FOX Sports. Griffin broke down highlights and called a mock NFL game alongside lead play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt. He was not prepared for that second part, but impressed executives and precipitously realized a career in the space may not be so outlandish after all.
Griffin then moved to ESPN where he experienced a similar audition process, this time calling a game with play-by-play announcer Rece Davis. Once the audition concluded, it was determined that Griffin would not only begin working in the industry, but that he would be accelerated because of his ability to communicate in an informative and entertaining style.
As a player, he saw the way media members covered teams – sometimes bereft of objectivity – and therefore saw assimilating into the industry as a chance to change that. Now, he is focused on telling the stories of the players en masse while being prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice.
ESPN’s intention was to implement Griffin on its studio coverage, but once executives heard him in the broadcast booth, the company had a palpable shift in its thinking. He was told he was ready to go out into the field and start calling games immediately, something of a surprise to him. FOX Sports felt similarly. This led to a bidding war between the two entities, which ultimately concluded with Griffin inking a contract with ESPN. He appeared over its airwaves plenty of times as a player, and even participated on a variety of studio shows in 2018 where he was almost permanently placed on NFL Live. This time around though, Griffin was suddenly preparing to work with Mark Jones and Quint Kessenich on college football games. He did not have time to consider the implications of the decision, instead diving headfirst into the craft and remaining focused on what was to come with producer Kim Belton and director Anthony DeMarco at his side.
“These guys took me under their wing, and I’m beyond indebted to them for that,” Griffin said of his colleagues. “They taught me everything that I know about the industry. They taught me everything I know about how to present things to the masses to where it can be easily digestible. They’ve allowed me to allow my personality to shine through.”
Demonstrating his personality was a facet of his makeup Griffin felt was inhibited by playing professional football, but he knows it would have been considerably more difficult to attain a chance to cover the game had he not laced up his cleats. Calling college football games with Jones accentuated his comfort in the booth because of Jones’ adept skill to appeal to the viewers and penetrate beyond the sport.
“He has the way to connect different generations of listeners to hear what he’s saying and perceive it in the same way,” Griffin said. “To me, that’s what we all strive to do in this industry is to be able to find the connective tissue between the fan who is 60 or 70 years old, and the fan who’s in their late teens or early 20s.”
From the beginning, everyone told Griffin to be himself and not adopt an alternate persona in front of the camera. That advice has guided him as he approaches his third year working in the industry.
“It is so hard to maintain a character or try to be someone that you’re not, but if you are who you are every single day, then every time you show up on camera you will be that person,” Griffin said. “I’ve made sure that when I stepped foot in front of that camera, I was going to be myself.”
Griffin identifies his style as pedagogical to a degree, critiquing players as if he was coaching them on the sidelines. He will never look to penetrate beyond football with his criticism, as drawing conclusions and using unrelated parlance could be viewed as indecorous. In short, Griffin III knows what it means to represent ESPN.
“We’re not a gossip website. We’re supposed to be critically acclaimed, prestigious journalists, and at the end of the day, that’s how I try to approach the job that I do. That’s why I got into the business – because I felt like there was a little of that going on, especially during my career, so I would never do to somebody else what was done to me.”
Over the course of his NFL career, Griffin was subject to immense criticism that went significantly beyond the gridiron. For example, sports commentator Rob Parker suggested that Griffin was not fully representative of the Black community and proceeded to question if he was a “cornball brother.” The incident resulted in Parker receiving a 30-day suspension from ESPN, and after he defended his comments and blamed First Take producers in a subsequent interview, the network decided not to renew his contract.
“My goal as a member of the media is to tell players’ stories the right way, and if I don’t know you personally, I’m never going to make it personal,” Griffin said. “Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
In addition to broadcasting college football games with Jones on ESPN and ABC, he also appears on-site for Monday Night Countdown, the network’s pregame show leading up to Monday Night Football. Making the decision to add NFL coverage to his slate of responsibilities meant that Griffin would be able to tell more stories and utilize his knowledge of players during their collegiate careers to enhance the broadcast.
The energy that he felt attending tailgates and interacting with fans at the college level gave him a unique skill set to translate to the NFL side, leading him to present the production team with an unparalleled idea for Week 1. He wanted to race Taima the Hawk, the live game mascot for the Seattle Seahawks who flies around Lumen Field prior to the start of each home game. It was an outlandish idea, but one that made sense for television because of the visual appeal it can present.
“If you know anything about hawks, they can fly up to 120-140 miles per hour, so they’re like, ‘There’s no way he’s going to beat this hawk in a race, but we’ll do it,’” Griffin said. “To that crew’s credit, they never once balked at any of the creative ideas that I brought to the table because they want to try different things and be exciting and have fun on the show.”
Griffin ended up winning the race, commencing the new season of Monday Night Countdown with immediate excitement before the Seahawks’ matchup against the Denver Broncos. He thoroughly enjoyed his first year on the show and having the chance to work alongside Suzy Colber, Adam Schefter, Booger McFarland, Steve Young, Larry Fitzgerald and Alex Smith.
“They always tell me, ‘Hey, anything you’re not comfortable with, you just let us know and we won’t do that thing,’” Griffin said of the show’s producers. “My answer always back to them is, ‘Well, I won’t know if I’m uncomfortable with it if I don’t try.’”
While Griffin had what looked like a seamless assimilation into the broadcasting world, he had a difficult moment when using a racial slur on live television in discussing Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. The clip quickly gained traction across the internet, and Griffin issued an apology on his Twitter account for using the pejorative language and claimed that he misspoke.
“I was shocked that it came out in the way that it did, and I immediately jumped on it and apologized because there’s no need to deny,” he said. “You messed up. You move forward, and I think that’s the easiest way to get over those types of things and to get back on your feet.”
The football season at both the college and professional level is undoubtedly a grind, and it requires a combination of dedication, passion and persistence few people possess. Robert Griffin III has garnered the reputation of being an “overpreparer,” often partaking in considerably more information than necessary to execute a broadcast. The information he consumes and conclusions he draws combined with his experience at both levels has cultivated him into a knowledgeable analyst who makes cogent, intelligible points on the air.
“I over-prepare for everything, and 70% of the information that I soak in going into a game or going into a broadcast for Monday Night Countdown, I don’t use because there’s just not enough air time,” Griffin III said. “There’s not enough opportunities to talk on it all.”
At the same time, he makes a concerted effort to make the most of his time with his family and separate himself from the field, engaging in activities including playing ping pong, going to the movies and supporting his children. He also embarks in charity work through his RG3 Foundation and strives to teach his daughters the importance of giving back. The mission of the nonprofit foundation is to discover and design programs for underprivileged youth, struggling military families and victims of domestic violence, and it has made a significant impact since it was launched in 2015.
“Trying to end food insecurity; making sure that our under-resourced youth have access to the things that they need just to survive – talking about food, clothes, books, the ability to learn [and] putting on these after-school programs,” Griffin elucidated in describing the organization’s mission. “We want to have an impact on our community. We mean that with everything in us and have shown that to be the true case of why we do this.”
Griffin’s wife, Grete, serves as the executive director of the foundation and also runs her own fitness business. Staying physically and mentally in shape is something they actively try to accomplish in their everyday lives, and lessons they are passing down to their daughters.
“I’m 33 years old right now, so if I want to continue to train every single day, I can do that for the next 10 years if I need to,” Griffin said. “Not taking hits and being physically fit is also a good thing for your own health, which is something me and my wife are extremely passionate about.”
Although his experience is in playing football and working in sports media, Robert Griffin III does not believe in limiting himself and would consider exploring opportunities outside of sports and entertainment. He wants to become the best broadcaster possible no matter where he is working in the industry and continue finding new ways to be distinctive en masse.
“We’re storytellers,” he said. “We’re here to break down things [and] to tell people a story the right way; things that people are interested in, and that expands across all media levels. We’re not closing the door on anything from that standpoint.”
While he was playing in the NFL, Griffin dealt with a variety of injuries that ultimately kept him off the football field and made it difficult to display his talents. Ranging from an ACL tear, shoulder scapula fracture and hairline fracture in his right thumb, staying healthy was a challenge for him over the time he played in the NFL.
Through surgeries and rehabilitation, he learned how to face and overcome these challenges. It has shaped him into the broadcaster and person he is today as he looks to set a positive example to aspiring football players and broadcasters everywhere.
“The eight-year career that I was able to have thus far didn’t come without roadblocks in the way [and] didn’t come without adversity. Learn from the adversity that you go through and learn from all the things and the lessons that you have that sports teaches you, and then go be able to present that to the masses.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Pac-12 Pushing Enhanced Access, Deion Sanders Reeks of Desperation
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Coach Prime if those game telecasts aren’t seen?
Getting experimental has drawn some attention to USFL and XFL broadcasts during each league’s seasons. The Pac-12 is apparently hoping the same approach will draw viewers to its football telecasts beginning this fall.
Last week, the conference announced that its broadcasts on ESPN, Fox Sports, and Pac-12 Networks would feature enhanced access for viewers. Head coaches will be interviewed during games. Players and coaches will be mic’d up during pregame warm-ups. Cameras will have pregame and halftime access to team locker rooms. And handheld camera operators will be allowed to film parts of the field and game experience which were previously prohibited.
Those familiar with USFL and XFL telecasts will likely see some similarities to the greater access that those leagues allow their TV partners. Coaches are mic’d up on the sidelines, giving viewers insight into play calls and strategy. Players are interviewed during the game, providing near-instant reactions to success or failure. Cameras in the replay booth show how officials decide to either overturn or uphold calls on the field.
What the Pac-12 intends to do with its broadcasts won’t go as far as the USFL and XFL. Access to coaches and players is being expanded but will still have limits. The conference doesn’t have to demonstrate familiarity, credibility, and legitimacy to fans and media.
Spring pro football leagues are a tough sell to mainstream sports fans accustomed to college football and the NFL from September through January. Especially when the level of play is subpar and rosters are filled with unfamiliar names, the USFL and XFL have to give fans more reasons to watch.
USC, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon are established national brands and regularly compete with the top teams in college football. Utah has played in the past two Rose Bowls, seen on millions of televisions during the New Year’s Day holiday. All five of those schools finished among the final AP Top 25 rankings of the 2022-23 season. USC quarterback Caleb Williams won the 2022 Heisman Trophy.
Yet the Pac-12 is promoting the gimmick of enhanced access because it needs to attract positive fan and media attention. Right now, most of the headlines the conference is generating aren’t flattering.
Notably, the Pac-12 needs a new media rights deal. Losing two of its most prominent schools, USC and UCLA, to the Big Ten in 2024 certainly isn’t helping with that. Rumors have persisted that Washington and Oregon could soon follow. Additionally, the Big 12 is reportedly eyeing Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah as possible expansion targets.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff is left to tout Colorado’s new head coach, Deion Sanders, as a selling point in a new media rights deal. Never mind that Sanders hasn’t coached a game in Boulder yet. The Buffaloes are also coming off a 1-11 season and have won more than five games only once since 2007.
If Coach Prime is as successful as Colorado hopes, how likely is he to jump to a better program and stronger conference? And as mentioned in a previous paragraph, even if Sanders sticks around, Colorado could be poached by the Big 12. How much value would Coach Prime provide for the Pac-12 then?
ESPN’s deal with the conference expires in July 2024, shortly before USC and UCLA defect, and reportedly has no intention of renewing. (ESPN could still agree to a package of lower-tier games for late-night broadcast windows, but Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reports that doesn’t appear likely.) Fox’s agreement is up at the same time, though prospects of a renewal seem more optimistic. The network needs Pac-12 games to fill its college football Saturday inventory.
The options from there aren’t promising. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reports that current speculation has USA Network, part of the NBCUniversal conglomerate, as a possible landing spot. According to The Athletic, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff believes that the conference’s next media rights deal will have a large streaming component with Amazon and Apple TV+ mentioned as potential partners.
A streaming partner might be good from a financial standpoint, helping produce some of the revenue that ESPN has cut off. But forcing fans to find your product and asking them to pay for another TV platform isn’t a good way to draw interest. It may well be a path to irrelevance and obscurity. That’s not going to compete with the Big Ten and SEC, or even the Big 12.
And as The Athletic’s Chris Vannini points out, how can streaming be expected to save a conference like the Pac-12 when it isn’t even helping TV networks (or standalone providers) right now? Disney is losing money with Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu. NBCUniversal has lost billions on Peacock, as has CBS with Paramount+. Maybe the Pac-12 won’t care about that because it got paid. But there’s little chance for growth.
OK, Lincoln Riley, Chip Kelly, Dan Lanning, and Kyle Whittingham could be interviewed during games. But they probably won’t say much interesting during a game. Caleb Williams, Bo Nix, and Michael Penix Jr. will be mic’d up during warm-ups. Maybe we’ll see coaches and players going crazy in the locker room at halftime. Just remember that Peyton Manning said most players only have time to use the bathroom and have a snack. There’s your compelling television.
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Deion Sanders if those game telecasts aren’t seen by large audiences? To say otherwise is desperate. That’s exactly where the Pac-12 is.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
ESPN Deal Used to Mean Stability for ACC, Now It Means Anything But
It was April 19, 1775 when the first shots of war were fired on battlefields in Lexington and Concord that would send shockwaves across the world. Some brave soul among a group of rebel farmers and blacksmiths, doctors and lawyers literally pulled the trigger on what would become known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”. Indeed, the world would never be the same.
The college athletics version of that event was June 11, 2010. On that day, regents at the University of Nebraska officially applied for Big Ten membership and were unanimously approved by the other eleven schools (if the number in the conference name not matching the number of schools in that conference is something that bothers you, this column may not be for you). From that day forward, we have never really exited the “expansion era”.
One conference that has gone largely untouched in that time is the ACC. Only Maryland has left the ACC since 2010, heading to the Big Ten, and the conference has added Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville in that same window. That is significant when you consider only the SEC and Big Ten have avoided any departures in this era. Every other major conference has seen great turbulence while those three conferences have primarily seen only growth.
That trend may actually continue for the ACC and that may not be a net positive for the conference or the ACC members. This is thanks to the long term grant of rights deal the conference schools negotiated with ESPN. The grant of rights means ESPN holds the broadcast rights to all home games of the current ACC schools, and do so for the next 13 years.
When the deal was signed in 2016, the 20 year media rights deal seemed like a win for the ACC, creating stability in a time of great instability. Now, what seemed like a “must have purchase” may be the impulse buy that the league schools regret for decades.
Put simply, the ACC has been lapped in the media rights race by the Big Ten, SEC and even the Big 12. At best, the ACC schools are working at a $10-15 Million per year deficit when compared to Big 12 schools. At worst, they are operating at a much larger $30-$40 Million annual deficit when compared to Big Ten and SEC programs. It would be a battle of monumental proportions for the ACC to compete on the same level as those other conferences at that large of a disadvantage.
The conference’s options are slim. ESPN has a deal that is locked for 13 more years, what benefit would it be to them to renegotiate just so the ACC can compete? For instance, it would require $140 Million annually from ESPN just to place the ACC in the same financial neighborhood as the Big 12 Conference. What would be the benefit to ESPN in doing that?
The other option for ACC schools would be to bang the departure drum. Almost all legal analysts have painted a very grim picture for the schools that would be itching to leave. The exit fee is $120 million and may get the schools some nice parting gifts but does not give them their media rights. Their home game broadcast rights will still be a part of the ESPN deal with ACC. That greatly reduces a departing school’s value to any other conference.
Maybe ESPN is willing to broker a deal for a departing school if it is going to a conference, such as the SEC, that has a large rights deal with ESPN. If one of the schools desires a departure to the Big Ten, who has large deals with networks not named ESPN, one would have to think The Worldwide Leader would be in less of a deal-making mood.
Some league athletics directors, led by Florida State’s Michael Alford, are suggesting teams be incentivized for success. Breaking the code; rather than equal distribution, the power schools want a bigger share of the money. This is where Wake Forest points out that it is all they can do to exceed football expectations on their current stipend, what will become of them if that money shrinks? It seems that conferences and leagues that steer away from an equally shared revenue model have had a difficult time making that work long term.
Maybe the ACC teams that are ready to punch out could flash back to the period of time our country was in with the events we started this column remembering. They have a team in Boston, go throw some tea in the harbor and revolt, have a modern day Boston Tea Party. As it stands now, there are several ACC members that want to leave the party they are part of. Their only problem is they are all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.