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It Has Been A Long, Strange Year For Jeff Rickard

“You lose all confidence in your body. You’re thinking ‘I want to do this, but can my heart handle this? Am I asking too much of myself?’”

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“I was alarmed, but I was not scared,” he answers when I ask Jeff Rickard if he thought he was going to die as he was experiencing a heart attack last November.

The 58-year-old is best known in the industry and to audiences for his hosting roles on ESPN Radio, SiriusXM and The Fan in Indianapolis, where he also serves as PD. Those that know him personally see an athlete, every bit as in tune with his body as Victor Oladipo, T.Y. Hilton, or anyone else he covers. It can honestly be intimidating to hear him talk about.

The Comeback: A Year After A Nearly Fatal Cardiac Emergency, Carmel Sports  Broadcaster Biking Again | Current Publishing

Rickard knew what was happening virtually right away. He had never had a heart attack before, but had read enough and knows his body well enough to recognize the symptoms and not dismiss them as “no big deal.”

“I know what it feels like to be out of breath because you’ve pushed it to the limit. I know what it feels like when your lungs are searing and your legs are burning because you are just out of oxygen. This is different than that ever felt. This was just, everything was going numb and there was a pain in my chest that I had just never felt before.”

As he laid on the gurney, ready to be wheeled back to the operating room, Rickard told his wife “Don’t worry. Today’s not my day”. And she believed him.

“She just deep in her heart thought that even as I was sitting there on the table, with no heart beat basically, she was just upbeat,” he says. “She said she just knew it wasn’t the day.”

“It wasn’t the day” is right. Rehab may have been cut short by COVID-19, but just months after his discharge from the hospital, Rickard was already asking doctors and physical therapists about when he could get back on his bike. The only answer he got from them was “when it’s time, we’ll know”.

What other answer could they give him? These doctors and therapists had never seen a 58 year old man recover from a heart attack and want to get back to the level of physical activity a body like his was accustomed to. They didn’t know what to say. There was no precedent.

That desire to be active showed up in Rickard very quickly. He says after his surgery, he was out of commission for about three full days, completely unconscious. It took another 24-48 hours before he felt mentally sharp. In Jeff’s mind, that meant it was time to start doing some work.

A year after a nearly fatal cardiac emergency, Carmel sports broadcaster  biking again

“I started responding to email that I would see come in,” he told me. “Our operations director David Wood called me up and goes ‘Hey, you’re on medical leave. If I keep seeing you send emails out, I’m gonna shut your email down. Take care of yourself and when the doctors say you’re ready to come back, then we’ll have you back’.”

Everything you’ve read up till now may lead you to believe that Rickard was anxious about not being able to have eyes on his staff and his hands on clocks. It would be a safe assumption. The guy is an achiever.

You would be wrong though. Jeff had no problem turning off the work side of his brain. He was at ease knowing that the right people are in the building at Emmis Communications and that The Fan has a staff of professionals that know what is expected of them.

It would be nearly eight weeks before Rickard stepped back into the building. He said there were certain physical things he knew he’d have to be able to do in order to handle the stress of a morning show and programming duties. He was in very different shape physically when he left the hospital than he was when he came in.

“I couldn’t walk from one end of the hall to the other at that point in time without losing my breath,” Rickard says. “So, when I started to get some physical ability back, by that I mean just being able to know that I could drive myself to the store or walk around the block, I started to think that I can certainly go back to work.”

Getting back to work was one thing. Now Rickard had to figure out how he was going to get back on his bike. He had to figure out how he could push himself without overdoing it. Remember, even as you are reading this, the guy isn’t even a full year removed from his heart attack.

He decided to keep the distance, but he wouldn’t concern himself with speed.

“My longest ride this year, which I was pretty proud of given when and where I did it, was probably in late May. I did an 82 mile ride.”

Oh, no big deal. Just using your own physical strength to ride roughly the same distance between Tampa and Orlando while still not at 100%.

For cyclists, there is a very easy way to measure recovery and physical ability. The athletes measure their power output in watts. Right now, Rickard says he is at about 80-85% of where he was before his heart attack. Of course he wants that number to eventually grow, but just getting there is a big deal.

“You lose all confidence in your body. You’re thinking ‘I want to do this, but can my heart handle this? Am I asking too much of myself?’”

The Cardiac Rehab Center at IU Health had Rickard under supervision. For three months, Rickard showed up at the center three times per week. He would be hooked up to an EKG machine while a therapist monitored his exercise. It is how he measured when the time was right to push himself just a little harder.

What about his work life? Has the experience of a heart attack and the subsequent recovery process changed the way Jeff Rickard runs The Fan?

He said that getting back to work was easier to look at as less involved.

“This whole approach for me, maybe naturally, was like coming back from a knee injury in some regards. It’s certainly different, but at some point, you just get back on your bike and you go”.

He expresses more appreciation for his staff. He makes sure mentally and emotionally they are doing well and putting as much focus on their home lives as they are on their work lives.

Don’t take that to mean Jeff has turned into a pushover. He is still “going to be a stickler to make sure we do things the right way and how we do it at our place,” as he says before noting that he couldn’t be happier with the staff he has in place right now. They made it easy for him to be away from the station for more than two months, so of course they have made it easy for him to expect his and his bosses’ standards will be met.

Rickard has been going pretty hard since returning to work. He was fortunate enough to get a family vacation in in early March right before the COVID-19 pandemic made quick work of all of our plans. Since then, he has only had two days off and those were spent at a hospital, undergoing a bevy of tests. It may not have been a relaxing two days, but Rickard says he knows they are a necessary part of life now.

When we spoke, he was enjoying his first extended time at home. While he is enjoying not listening to the radio and clearing his head of political conversations, he says he still thinks about the next person that will have a heart attack, because if they are anything like he was before last November, they probably aren’t thinking about it themselves.

“I never saw it coming. It’s not always your diet and your lifestyle,” he says, stressing the importance of knowing your risk factors. “Sometimes your body is just genetically predisposed to stuff and genetics are undefeated, man.”

BSM Writers

Keith Moreland’s Broadcasting Fills Void Left by MLB Career

“When I got through… I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”

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Austin American-Statesman

Sports color analysts are more often than not former players. This has been a consistent norm across sports broadcasting at all levels. The analyst is there to add “color” to the play-by-play broadcaster’s metaphorical and verbal “drawing” of the game. For former MLB slugger and catcher, Keith Moreland, this was the surprise post-playing retirement career that has boosted him to a key figure in Austin media and national media alike.

Moreland played football and baseball at the University of Texas before making his way to the MLB for 12 years with key contributions to the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs in the 1980s.

Moreland reminisced on his decision to play baseball full time: “I thought I was going to be in the NFL, but Earl Campbell changed that. I had just played summer ball. We had won a championship and I missed the first few days of two-a-days. I hadn’t even had a physical yet and I’m in a scrimmage. I stepped up to this freshman running back and as he ducked his shoulder, one of his feet hit my chest and the other hit my face mask and he kept on truckin’. I got up and I thought ‘I could be a pretty good baseball player.’

So I told Coach Royal after practice I was going to focus on baseball and he asked ‘what took you so long? We were surprised you came back because we think you have a really good shot at playing professional baseball.'”

It was a good choice for Moreland. He was part of the 1973 College World Series winning Texas Longhorns baseball team. While at Texas Moreland hit .388 and became the all-time leader in hits for the College World Series. After being drafted by the Phillies in the 7th round of the 1975 draft, Moreland would go-on to play in the majors from 1978 to 1989.

“You go your whole life trying to get to play professionally. When I got through my opportunity to play in the big leagues, I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”

Broadcasting was not the original retirement plan for Moreland. He first tried his luck at coaching with his first stop being his alma mater as an assistant for the Longhorns. At the time, Bill Schoening (a Philadelphia native and Phillies fan), was the radio play-by-play broadcaster. Schoening made Moreland a go-to for a pre-game interview and convinced him to come on talk shows. Schoening even convinced Moreland to practice live broadcasting skills by taking a recorder to games and listening back to them to learn.

“Bill was the guy who brought me onboard and I still have those tapes and I really learned from them, but I don’t want anyone else to ever hear them!” Moreland adds with a chuckle on how far he has come in over 25 years of broadcasting.

Moreland has been a key part of University of Texas radio broadcasts for baseball since the 1990s and has catapulted that broadcast experience to Texas high school football, Longhorn football radio and television broadcasts, ESPN, the Little League World Series, the Chicago Cubs and more since hanging up his cleats and picking up a microphone.

While his playing days are well behind him, Moreland still takes the spirit of his professional athlete background to his broadcasting:

“If you don’t bring energy to your broadcast, somebody’s gonna turn the game on and wonder ‘what’s wrong? Are they losing the game?’”, Moreland remarks, “So you have to come prepared and with energy for the broadcasts.”

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BSM Writers

Radio Partnerships With Offshore Sportsbooks Are Tempting

The rush to get sports betting advertising revenue offers an interesting risk to stations in states where the activity is illegal.

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Maryland Matters

As the wave of sports gambling continues to wash over the United States, marketing budgets soar and advertisements flood radio and television airwaves. Offers of huge sign-on bonuses, “risk-free” wagers, and enhanced parlay odds seem to come from every direction as books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM fight over market share and battle one another for every new user they can possibly attract.

For those in states where sports betting is not yet legalized–or may never be–it is frustrating to see these advertisements and know that you cannot get in the action. However, as with any vice, anybody determined to partake will find ways to do so. Offshore sports books are one of the biggest ways. Companies such as Bovada and BetOnline continue to thrive even as more state-based online wagering options become available to Americans.

While five states–Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York–have passed laws making it illegal for offshore books to take action from their residents, using an offshore book is perfectly legal for the rest of the country. While there are hurdles involved with funding for some institutions, there is no law that prevents someone in one of those other 45 states from opening an account with Bovada and wagering on whatever sporting events they offer. The United States government has tried multiple times to go after them, citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, and have failed at every step, with the World Trade Organization citing that doing so would violate international trade agreements. 

While gambling is becoming more and more accepted every day, and more states look to reap the financial windfall that comes with it, the ethical decisions made take on even more importance. One of the tougher questions involved with the gambling arms race is how to handle offers from offshore books to advertise with radio stations in a state where sports betting is not legalized. 

Multiple stations in states without legalized gambling, such as Texas and Florida, have partnerships with BetOnline to advertise their services. Radio stations can take advantage of these relationships in three main ways: commercials, on-air reads, and the station’s websites. For example, Bovada’s affiliate program allows for revenue sharing based on people clicking advertisements on a partner’s website and signing up with a new deposit. This is also the case for podcasts, such as one in Kansas that advertises with Bovada despite sports gambling not being legal there until later in 2022.

People are going to gamble, and it’s legal to do so. In full disclosure, I myself have utilized Bovada’s services for a number of years, even after online sports wagering became legal in my state of Indiana. As such, advertising a service that is legal within the state seems perfectly fine in the business sense, and I totally understand why a media entity would choose to accept an offer from an offshore book. However, there are two major factors that make it an ethical dilemma, neither of which can be ignored.

First, Americans may find it easy to deposit money with a book such as Bovada or BetOnline, but much more difficult to get their money back. While the UIGEA hasn’t been successful in stopping these books from accepting money, it has made it difficult–near impossible, in fact–for American financial institutions to accept funds directly from these companies. Therefore, most payouts have to take place either via a courier service, with a check that can take weeks to arrive, or via a cryptocurrency payout. For those who are either unwilling or not tech-savvy enough to go this route, it means waiting sometimes up to a month to receive that money versus a couple days with a state-licensed service.

The other major concern is the lack of protections involved with gambling in a state where legislation has been passed. For example, the state of Indiana drew up laws and regulations for companies licensed to operate within its borders that included protections for how bets are graded, what changes can be made to lines and when they can take place, and how a “bad line” is handled. They also require a portion of the revenues be put towards resources for those dealing with gambling addiction or compulsion issues. 

None of those safeguards exist with an offshore book. While the books have to adhere to certain regulations, it’s much more loosely enforced. I’ve lost track of the number of times a book like Bovada has made somewhat shady decisions on what bets to honor as “wins”, and how they handle wagers on what they deem to be “bad lines” where they posted a mistake and users capitalized on it. Furthermore, not a single dime of the monies received go towards helping those dealing with addiction, and there are few steps taken by the offshore books to look for compulsive or addictive behaviors.  

As states look to move sports betting out of the shadows, the decision whether to take advertising dollars from offshore books seems to be an even larger gray area than ever before. Although it is perfectly legal to accept these funds when offered, it feels unethical to do so. There are moral obligations tied to accepting the money involved, especially given the lack of regulations and safeguards for players in addition to the limited resources for those who find themselves stuck in a situation they may struggle to escape. While it’s possible to take steps to educate listeners on these pitfalls, it simply feels irresponsible to encourage people to utilize these services given the risks involved, and the lack of protections in place.

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BSM Writers

Saban v. Jimbo Is WrestleMania for College Football Fans

Ryan Brown says the Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher feud is one made for pay-per-view and we have nearly five months to hype the match.

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Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

It was the day after I turned eleven that Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre ‘The Giant’. WrestleMania III filled 90,000 seats at the Pontiac Silverdome and the living room of one of the houses in my neighborhood. Real or fake, we didn’t care. Three decades later, Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher is 100% real and it is coming to a living room near you.

I live in the capital city of SEC Country – Birmingham, Alabama. SEC football needs no additional drama here. You get a complete college football obsession at birth. That said, the October 8th Texas A&M visit to Alabama will be among the most anticipated regular season college football games both regionally and nationally.

One would think CBS will use their annual prime time date for that Saturday just as they did for last season’s Alabama at Texas A&M game, you know, when Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher were on speaking terms. Not knowing how the season will play out, it would be no surprise if ESPN’s College Gameday is in Tuscaloosa as well. While we are at it, let’s just cut to the 2024 chase and schedule a Presidential debate in Tuscaloosa that weekend, as well.

Not one person will be surprised if Alabama is undefeated and the top ranked team in the nation that week. The surprise, based on the rest of the Jimbo Fisher era, will be the Aggies being unbeaten. Their trip to Alabama comes at the end of a five game stretch that includes Appalachian State at home, Miami at home, Arkansas in Dallas and a road game at Mississippi State. Incidentally, the same Texas A&M team that was able to upset Alabama last season also managed to lose to Arkansas and Mississippi State.

Just the prospect of the two teams being unbeaten and highly ranked causes some to say this game would need no extra storylines. Shouldn’t that, and being on CBS in prime time, be enough? The Saban-Fisher Feud already has people discussing this game nationally and Lee Corso hasn’t even donned a body odor-filled mascot head yet.

I would like to project this game to deliver the largest TV audience of the regular season but I can’t, for one reason: I’m not certain it will be close. I think Alabama is that much better than Texas A&M. That’s why the build up will deliver a huge first half audience.

For perspective, in the 2021 regular season, the Alabama at Texas A&M game had the fifth largest TV audience, in a game that went down to the final play. The Ohio State at Michigan game had 15.8 million viewers on as part of FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff, almost double that of Alabama at Texas A&M on CBS in prime time.

That brings me to another misconception: big games have to be in prime time to get a big audience. Of the top ten largest college football audiences in the regular season and conference championship weekend, only half were prime time games. College football fans, and NFL fans for that matter, will find the best games no matter where they are placed.

So, back to Saban v. Fisher; why is it a bad thing? Would SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey prefer it not happen? Of course. Will it bring more attention to a game in the conference he oversees? I say, absolutely. Heck, my daily show is already selling t-shirts for the game. You may say “shameless plug”, I say paying for my kid’s college. Tomato, tomahto.

This is what made “Mean” Gene Okerlund a household name in the 1980’s. He was the far too serious host that interviewed the wrestlers who challenged other wrestlers to a grudge match in exotic places like the Macon Coliseum and the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum and the Dallas Sportatorium. Why did they do that? First, it was entertaining but, primarily, it sucked the viewer into making plans to view those matches.

I mean, if Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat said he was going to rip the head off “Big” John Studd, was I going to miss that?

That was why a bunch of kids crowded into a living room in Anniston, Alabama in 1987 to watch WrestleMania III, The Main Event. I can’t tell you who was on the undercard that night. The only wrestlers we cared about were Hulk Hogan and Andre “The Giant”.

Actually, my friend’s mom thought the Ultimate Warrior was “cute and had a great body”. He wasn’t on the card and I thought it was odd she told us that but she was footing the bill for the pay-per-view and had mixed the fruit punch Kool-Aid, so who am I to judge one’s wanton desires?

Texas A&M at Alabama will be the SEC’s main event this season and, if the cards fall right, it may be college football’s main event. What happened between the two head coaches might not be the proudest moment in SEC history but it will bring more attention to that game. And, my word, we finally have a nano-second in which two prominent coaches weren’t pre-programmed robots refusing to deviate from the script.

As amazing as WrestleMania III was for my childhood, it was scripted. The Tide and the Aggies will not be. College football remains one of the greatest values in sports. I pay very little to watch unscripted game after unscripted game. Truth is, you couldn’t even script most of what we see on a college football Saturday. 

Texas A&M at Alabama is already beyond what the most creative writers could imagine and that is why this fuel to the already smoldering fire adds to this game. Now, if Nick Saban will just try to bodyslam Jimbo Fisher, we’ll have something.

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