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Sorting The NCAA Tournament Broadcast Teams

“Instead of “ranking” them for a field of 10 so to speak, I’m going to categorize them in terms tournament fans will understand.”

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Ready or not, here we go. The field is set and the NCAA Tournament officially begins today. Obviously, this is not your normal “Big Dance”, the games are all being played in and around Indianapolis. There are strict COVID protocols and the biggest fear for some coaches is not their opponent, but the virus. 

As it’s called “The Road to the Final Four” will come our way on the same platforms we’ve finally gotten used to. Catch games on CBS and the Turner Networks, which include TBS, TNT and TruTV. 

Of course, then there are the broadcasters. In a change from previous tournaments, there will be a total of ten crews, rather than the normal eight. Only four of the crews will work past the first two rounds. I’ve decided to look into each of the broadcast teams. Instead of “ranking” them for a field of 10 so to speak, I’m going to categorize them in terms tournament fans will understand. There are some familiar faces and voices and some that are appearing in roles for the first time, including a groundbreaking debut. 

#1 Seeds 

These are the teams that will be moving on past the first round. Tried and true most have become very familiar to tournament watchers and are fan favorites. 

TEAM: Jim Nantz, play-by-play; Bill Raftery, Grant Hill analysts; Tracy Wolfson, sidelines. 

Nantz is the NCAA Tournament for many viewers. This is his 30th year as the lead announcer for the tournament. Nantz has been at the microphone for many of the tournament’s magic moments the past three decades. He is also the ultimate traffic cop, steering a broadcast back onto the road when conversations erupt between Hill and Raftery. This will be the sixth season of this trio working together alongside Wolfson. Raftery is always energetic. Sometimes that level rises to interesting heights. Personally, I love it when Raftery takes the broadcast to break, talking over a highlight package, using phrases and that high pitched “little kiss” voice. Classic. 

Jim Nantz, a class act and on-air minimalist, leads CBS into tonight's  telecast of the NCAA title game - Sports Broadcast Journal

Hill provides some soft-spoken credibility. There’s no way he can or should try to match Raftery’s level, so Hill is himself, in that kind of shy way he delivers his analysis. It works. Wolfson is locked in as a sideline reporter. She covers multiple sports and seems to get excellent information that is truly relevant to the game and broadcast. There’s a reason that this is the lead team, they work well together and it’s a smooth fun broadcast to watch. 

TEAM: Brian Anderson, play-by-play; Jim Jackson, analyst; Allie LaForce, sidelines.

Anderson is already quite the accomplished baseball announcer, serving as the TV voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 2007. It’s starting to feel like “if it’s a big game” Anderson is on the call. His profile has increased quite a bit with the Turner Networks, especially when it comes to the NBA. Anderson is a likeable, knowledgeable broadcaster that has wide appeal thanks to his style. He’ll work with Jackson during the tournament, someone who Anderson is very familiar with. They worked together for the first-time doing games for the Big Ten Network in 2009.  

There is definitely chemistry here. Jackson isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. At the same time, the man has a great sense of humor and it comes through during a telecast. Especially with someone he’s comfortable with sitting next to him. LaForce is climbing the charts at Turner. She was recently the sideline reporter for the NBA All-Star game and did the on-court interview with the MVP. LaForce is a pro. Her questions are right to the point, not filled with fluff like some others. This team is on the rise.

TEAM: Ian Eagle, play-by-play; Jim Spanarkel, analyst; Jamie Erdahl, sidelines.

Eagle has been a mainstay at CBS since joining the network in 1998. He’s been calling both the NCAA Tournament and NFL for the same amount of time. Eagle has been the network’s “B” game announcer for the NFL and seemingly if Nantz were to move on, he would be in line for the call up. Eagle has worked with a number of analysts in the NBA and CBS pairs him with one of them for the tournament, Spanarkel. Up until this year they were partners on the YES Network’s coverage of the Nets. Spanarkel played at Duke and was the 16th overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft by the 76’ers. Unlike a lot of analysts these days, Spanarkel has no catch phrases, doesn’t shout or try to make himself the star. He is known for just talking basketball and teaching fans about the game. I love the understated way he works with his play-by-play announcers to make the game the main focus.

The third member of the team, Erdahl is the versatile sideline reporter. She’s so prepared for games that even a curveball thrown at her during an SEC Football game couldn’t trip her up. Erdahl had to cover for a couple of minutes while the booth’s audio was inoperable. Covering a football game from that angle is tough, it’s tougher to call play-by-play from for sure. 

Jamie Erdahl is a reporter for CBS Sports | Jamie erdahl, Cheer skirts,  Muscle women

TEAM: Kevin Harlan, play-by-play; Dan Bonner, analyst; Dana Jacobson, sidelines.

There’s really nothing Harlan can’t call. His unbridled enthusiasm, his humor and passion for play-by-play always come through. Harlan is just a likeable guy behind the mic, he’ll crack a joke here and there, but never at the expense of the action. He always seems to be having a great time bringing you the game. He is accurate and descriptive with that authoritative voice. That combination makes Harlan an easy listen. Harlan will be paired with Bonner, the former Virginia player, who will be working his 35th NCAA Tournament. Bonner has worked with Harlan and Gus Johnson the most in his tournament career, meaning two high energy, live for the moment and make it count guys. Bonner rises to the occasion every time. He’s had some famous calls along the way and doesn’t ever seem intimidated by the guys that are working along side him. Bonner matches the passion with his play-by-play guy and you can tell how much he enjoys the tournament and the game of basketball. The guys at the table will be joined by Jacobson on the sidelines. She’s a familiar face on the broadcasts and one that never shies away from asking a tough question, to anyone. Jacobson is a pro, always composed even when a coach may shoot a glare at her for asking something he didn’t want to answer. She spent about a decade at ESPN before she joined CBS, so she is certainly seasoned. 

Conference Tournament Champions 

These crews gained the “automatic” bid to the tournament. Some of the old guard is represented as is some of the “newer” talent that’s on the cusp of breaking through to a top seed in the tournament.

TEAM: Andrew Catalon, play-by-play; Steve Lappas, analyst; AJ Ross, sidelines. 

Catalon has been around CBS for just over a decade, popping up on NFL coverage, Golf and of course the NCAA Tournament. Catalon has become a fixture during the tournament calling games with Lappas. He has a very excitable delivery; the engine always seems revved and ready to go. It’s an intense style, but it doesn’t go over the top and matches the intensity of a lot of the college basketball games he’s calling.

The former Villanova coach Lappas is a great compliment to Catalon. Lappas is always high energy, bringing that “coach” perspective to the broadcast. If you watch coaches on the sideline you’ll know that perspective as “always into the game”. That’s Lappas and what makes him a good partner for Catalon. This team is becoming more popular with the fans as the tournaments go on. They’ll be joined on the sideline by Ross. She is a relative newcomer having joined CBS and CBS Sports Network in 2018. Ross has risen quickly, working the sidelines for NFL and NCAA Football/Basketball for the network. She has a confidence about her, along with a smooth delivery a great combination to have. Ross looks very comfortable on camera and seems like a perfect person to join this broadcast team. 

TEAM: Spero Dedes, play-by-play; Brendan Haywood, analyst; Lauren Shehadi, sidelines.

Dedes has had a ton of success at a relatively young age. He’s already been the radio voice of the Lakers and the New York Knicks. Dedes joined CBS in time for the 2010 NCAA Tournament and has been on the call ever since. Dedes also handles NFL games for the network. His voice is unique, but still cuts through and resonates with the viewer. It’s more of a relaxed style than some of the others mentioned in this column, but that is not a bad thing. You want a variety of voices when viewing a long tournament like this. Dedes is knowledgeable and works well with whomever he’s paired with.

Speaking of which, it’s Haywood that will be working alongside. Haywood, the 7-footer, is full of personality. What you see is what you get from him as a broadcaster as well. He has great information, mixed with some sarcasm and laughter. Haywood brings it home like a fan. The third member of this team is Shehadi. The veteran of MLB Network was scheduled to make her first appearance on an NCAA Tournament broadcast last year, but of course it was cancelled. Shehadi has energy and a personality to go along with it. She’s covered the dugouts during the baseball playoffs, so this should be old hat for her. Shehadi is always smiling, seems like she really enjoys what she’s doing. 

Brendan Haywood on UNC's Coaching, NCAA Chances

TEAM: Brad Nessler, play-by-play; Steve Lavin, analyst; Evan Washburn, sidelines. 

Nessler is the ultimate pro when it comes to play-by-play. Not flashy, not over the top, just solid. Whether he’s doing CBS’ coverage of the SEC in football or here on a big stage with the NCAA Tournament. Smooth and always under control is Nessler. You always know you’re getting a good broadcast when he is on the call. Lavin has plenty of experience as an analyst, with time at ESPN, Fox, The Pac-12 Network and during the tournament for CBS. Lavin always seems prepared and has a good way of conveying complicated things in an easy-to-understand manner. He dips into his coaching experience to make points that he either had success with as a coach or failed at. He’s a plus on a telecast.

Washburn completes this broadcast. The rising sideline star at CBS has worked with the number one football broadcast on NFL Sundays. He also got a chance to work the Super Bowl. Washburn is a former Lacrosse player at Delaware and he really understands the athlete and his/her mindset. The information he gives out is well prepared and interesting. You can tell he does his homework. 

Primed for the upset 

You know what they say when you fill out a bracket. There are certain 12’s that deserve a better seed and play like it. Especially in those 12/5 matchups where in this list, there are three locks to move on in the tourney and get by a #5.

TEAM: Carter Blackburn, play-by-play; Debbie Antonelli, analyst.

Blackburn got his first taste of the NCAA Tournament in 2008, calling action in the West Region at the age of 31. He’s gotten a lot of work through the CBS Sports Network as well. He provides a little youthful exuberance on the mic. Blackburn has some catchy calls, but without getting too far into the weeds where he loses some in the audience. Definitely a guy the network thinks highly of and could be rising as these tournaments roll on.

Antonelli teams up with Blackburn again this season. The two have done some solid work together. Antonelli is well seasoned, having been with CBS Sports Network since its inception in 2003. In 2017 she was named a game analyst for the Men’s NCAA Tournament, making her the first female analyst to call men’s tournament games in 21 years. Antonelli has a ton of experience in the game, she’s worked as a TV analyst for the ACC, Big 12 and SEC. She also was a three-year starter for NC State’s basketball team.  

TEAM: Lisa Byington, play-by-play; Steve Smith, analyst.

Byington is making history. She becomes the first woman to call a men’s NCAA Tournament. Forget about all of that for a moment and understand just how talented Byington is. She has worked for the Big Ten Network, Fox Sports, FS1, Pac-12 Network, ESPN and the SEC Network. Experience for sure. She also filled in last season on Chicago Bulls broadcasts on NBC Sports Chicago. Byington also handles play-by-play for the Chicago Sky of the WNBA. She’s already broken barriers by becoming the first woman to call a football game on BTN. She has the credentials, the talent and she deserves this shot and I have every reason to believe she’ll be great. Not just this year, but for many more years to come. Byington will be working with a familiar face. She and Smith have known each other since she was a reporter in Lansing, Michigan. Byington also was part of the broadcast team, as the sideline reporter, when Smith was the analyst for Dedes from 2017-2019. 

TEAM: Tom McCarthy, play-by-play; Avery Johnson, analyst.

McCarthy is one of the new voices this season on the NCAA Tournament broadcasts, but he’s no newcomer. McCarthy’s resume is impressive on both radio and television. He’s broadcast Mets baseball and now Phillies baseball on television. McCarthy is part of the CBS Network rotation for NFL games, handling those since 2014. He also works for Westwood One Sports providing radio coverage of national NFL games. McCarthy is a talented broadcaster, there’s no phony flash or crazy over the top calls. He is solid, as solid as they come. It’s great to see that he’s getting this chance to show what he can do for a couple of big games in this year’s tournament. Johnson is also a newcomer to the scene as far as the tournament goes. He gets a bit of a head start, doing yesterday’s First Four games with the Nessler/Lavin/Washburn team. Johnson has previous television experience, working as an analyst on ESPN’s coverage of the NBA from 2008-10 and again from 2013-15. He’s coached two NBA teams, the Mavericks and Nets and most recently was the coach at Alabama. I’m interested to see how these two will work together. Johnson is full of personality and also provides great information. 

Breaking: Avery Johnson agreed to $5.5 million buyout with Alabama

This will certainly be a unique tournament. One like we’ve never seen before. All the games are being played in one geographical location and with safety protocols in place, the job of the announce team gets ultimately more difficult. I have no doubt that these fine pros will make it sound like they always do. Best of voice to you all and I can’t wait for the ball to be tipped.

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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