Marcellus Wiley Is Swinging For The Fences After ‘Speak For Yourself’
“I’ve been broadcasting for 25 years, and I’ve never swung for the fences… I think that was starting to starve me. Some of my muscles were atrophying in terms of what I really want to do globally.”
There’s a new commercial for FTX featuring Tom Brady. The concept is that Brady is always looking for ways to be better. He’s striving to be an improved version of himself with smarter ways to practice, recover and diet. If things can be better, why would you be satisfied with anything that’s second-rate? I don’t know if Marcellus Wiley will be the next pitchman for FTX, but he has the same mindset and approach while viewing his professional career.
Wiley, a former 10-year NFL defensive end, has been a great broadcaster for over two decades. The Compton, California native is a dynamic blend of intelligence and entertainment. In ways, he’s like a modern-day Todd Christensen. Wiley is a former player-turned-broadcaster, a scholar who graduated from Columbia that also possesses the ability to joke around on a locker-room level. I’m convinced that if Wiley sat down for five minutes with pretty much anybody, he’d be able to connect with them. Not everybody has that ability, but a smart person with personality and widespread interests does.
Dat Dude, a nickname affectionately given to Wiley by his former San Diego Charger teammates, talks about his professional goals and visions. He reveals why he’s no longer doing Speak For Yourself with former co-host Emmanuel Acho. Wiley also talks about big things that are brewing for him at FOX Sports, no longer wanting to sell cotton candy, and some great advice he received from Mike Golic. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: When and why did you decide that broadcasting was something that you wanted to pursue as a career?
Marcellus Wiley: The when was probably my fourth or fifth year. I actually had a show in Buffalo my rookie year. I’ve been broadcasting since I was in the NFL, day one. They would come to my house. We would do interviews, I would show them my life. I would cook, I would rap, I would DJ, I would do everything that I was normally doing, but a camera was there. I guess I was the first Kardashian because I had a reality show back in the ‘90s.
I didn’t make a decision to do it. I didn’t even think that was broadcasting. I thought it was just like, all right, y’all filming me live. It was about San Diego, second year, we didn’t make the playoffs again. They were starting the NFL Network. Like starting it, and I remember being a correspondent. It was the weirdest feeling ever. I’m not in the playoffs, but I’m still an active player. I’m doing this San Diego Chargers game. The Chargers lost and I’m interviewing LT (LaDainian Tomlinson). I remember when the game was over, the scrum of everyone running and trying to get an interview. I was so nervous. I didn’t run, I was like, I feel weird, like I should be playing. I should have on pads, but here I am with a microphone and a suit on. I’m like what happened to me?
I remember walking slower than everybody being over cool, really in fear, and LT finding me. I got the LT interview, and I want to say Peyton Manning somehow, some way, was like my second interview. That was easy. Everyone else bum-rushing him, bum-rushing him, and they’re giving me eye contact in the fifth quarter as they’re walking to the locker room, and just talking to me for real. I was like, whatever that feeling was in that moment, that was as close as I felt to being on the field running out the tunnel making plays. I think just because of that closeness in terms of energy, and translating to sport, probably planted the first seed in my head like yeah, when this is over, this is what I’m going to do.
BN: What’s the most fun you’ve had either in radio or TV along the way?
MW: Man, I am really trying to narrow down from a thousand and one different moments. I will start it off like this: I got in broadcasting and then I worked at ESPN. NFL Network didn’t want me because I wasn’t a Hall of Famer; I was like forget y’all. I’ll pay y’all back. Here I am at ESPN and I’m doing the car wash as they call it, all the shows, NFL Live. I remember Mike Golic came up to me the first day after doing Mike & Mike. Now I’m an active player just retired. I don’t know how big Mike & Mike is. I just think it’s a normal radio show. I’m like, why are y’all filming? It’s a radio show. Find out after I do that show — I co-hosted it with him — how big it was. Everyone was blowing me up like, dog, you did Mike & Mike and you just got there?
Mike Golic told me he said, man, keep your personality and keep telling stories. He says that’s your secret sauce. I was able to navigate a career where I was able to have personality in all of my broadcasting more than just analytics or just X’s and O’s. I was more I’s and you’s from day one. So I’m doing NFL Live and we’re talking about third-and-goal and fourth-and-goal, and I’m sitting here talking about the club, and stories, and I know that guy, and we hung out.
Seth Markman at the time, the boss of the show, came to me and he was like, Marcellus, you’re not long for this show, and that’s a good thing. What happened from there is SportsNation. I started doing SportsNation, which was so personality driven. It started to snowball from there. I carved out a lane before it was really carved for us in the industry.
All of that said my favorite moment? I don’t really have a favorite moment. I know when I feel the best. I feel the best when I’m with a co-host or a guest and we came here to talk one thing and we end up talking that, but we take it to so many different levels and peel back so many layers. We all do it, even if we’re in disagreement, with respect. That’s my favorite place to go is to bring all four corners of the room together, and talk through it and smile about it.
BN: What has been the most challenging show you’ve worked on?
MW: The most challenging. Ahh, man. Probably Speak For Yourself the last two years. Let me preface it by saying it’s because it switched from the first two years. I left ESPN with Jason Whitlock being a recruiter, coming to my back yard it felt like every day. It wasn’t that often, but he made me feel like a 5-star player. [Laughs] Recruiting me to come to FOX. He had this show structure and he had this show element and design and heart to do a show he wanted to do.
It was right up my alley because for the longest I’ve always been this balancing act. I’ve never been the football. I’ve never wrapped my entire identity around sports. It’s something that I did, but it wasn’t who I was. When the offer came to do a show that was deeper than sports or more than sports, oh, I was all-in. Then that shifted because Jason left. And he didn’t even tell me he was leaving too so you know, he’s still my boy, but hey, Jason, you already know how you got your boy. But that wasn’t a death blow.
Nick Khan, my super agent, friend, co-CEO of WWE, he also left. So I’m not even talking about the show; I’m talking about what’s going on while I’m doing this show. The reason I went to FOX to do a show is now gone, and my conductor, navigator of it all was now gone. But he planted the seed in me that really has blossomed of late. He was like, look man, at this point in my life, I’ve done amazing at what I’m doing, but there’s a certain point you got to stop swinging for singles and doubles and try to hit one over the fence. I was listening to that because he was really saying, I gotta get deeper into my passion, but also swing for it.
I’ve been broadcasting for 25 years, and I’ve never swung for the fences. Okay, you got this base hit. Okay, now I’m doing a show with Golic. All right, another base hit, I’m with Beadle. Then a base hit, I’m with Max. I’ve always kind of just been with great co-hosts who, at times, they swung for the fences in their respects. I always just sat there taking my base hits just rounding the bases.
When Acho came, one, the show completely switches in dynamic because they’re two different people. Duh. I’m doing the same show a different way and then it’s all of a sudden not the same show. I love doing it with Acho because I knew Acho from before. That’s my friend. He used to be quote-unquote, maybe a mentee, if you could call it that. He came to SportsNation one day and we just exchanged numbers and we used to talk all the time. I used to tell him how I was and he was telling me how it’s going. We just broke bread like that and became like my little bro, big bro, just because I’m way older than him. He was my boy. We had fun doing the show, but it was a different show.
I think that was starting to starve me. Some of my muscles were atrophying in terms of what I really want to do globally. I like it real. I like it raw. I like it deep. I want to bring the sociology of sports out. Our show was going in a direction and format that was going to be lighter. I have done fluffy long enough and I had done SportsNation. I’ve done fluff. I know how to sell cotton candy, but it was time to get to the meat and potatoes. No slight to my boy, Acho, but I was looking different at what I was doing than what he was doing. So, got to a point where the bosses and us, we started to talk through it. They gave me a great plan. They gave me a great consolation if you would.
I still have that muscle that needs to go back to the gym and get his reps in and doing that show wasn’t going to allow me to get those reps. Now the show has rebranded, has shifted to those places. I wish all those dudes luck, and Joy, my girl. I’ve known Joy since she was itty-bitty. I knew Joy before she could even drive, like back in the Miami Dolphin parking lots, Jason Taylor my homie days. I love them all. But I want to tap into my greatest passion and I haven’t been able to do that just yet.
BN: What does swinging for the fences look like for you? What do you want to do next?
MW: Well one, it’s not just commentating sports, it’s connecting with the people. I was going to be a school teacher, or a Dean of Students. That was like my life goal. But I just kept getting bigger, faster, stronger, so I ended up playing football. I wanted to just return home and be a teacher. That’s carved into me. I look at people in this world, all walks of life, and we all meet that moment where it’s a fork in the road. I just kind of want to be a life coach. I want to be a grander voice for those who are confronted with those forks in the road and help them go right, not left, go the right way and not the wrong way. That’s where I need to tap into.
Those are the opportunities that are being presented to me right now in terms of still being who I am in my sport thread. I’m still an athlete, I get it. I’m still a commentator, I love it. I’m still going to do a show on FOX Sports and it’s going to be sports based. It’s going to be football focused..
Swinging for the fences is me taking off the suit, getting from behind the desk, not talking about sports in a binary fashion, not being argumentative, not constantly trying to pit things against each other because it is a competition. But really weave through those nuances that we all sit back when we’re sipping a brew or we’re around our friends or we’re in the bar. There’s a different energy and spirit and there’s a different way that we consume the game than what is happening largely in broadcasting right now.
In broadcasting, we’re going Cowboys, we’re going Dak, we’re going NFC East and then we’re going LeBron and he sneezed. Then it’s going oh, Westbrook’s not happy. And it’s like, I know all these dudes. I know all these scenarios. I lived through this. How dare we now undermine them? How dare we now antagonize everything to kind of bring it to a lower common denominator instead of the love for this? I coach youth football. Every single parent would switch places with every single guy we demonize right now. It’s like you’re on a road to nowhere if we can’t start at the top and properly articulate it, and let people properly consume it. I’m ambitious, but since I’ve been through it, it’s not too far gone.
BN: I’m divorced. For a long time people would ask what happened. It’s like, ahh man, I get why you’re asking, but I’ve been asked that so many times and I just don’t want to talk about it. Is that how you feel with Speak For Yourself when people ask you what happened?
MW: Not completely. But everyone wants to know what happened and I do want to set this straight. FOX loved me. FOX loved Acho. FOX didn’t love what we were doing because that’s not what we were supposed to be doing. Y’all remember that. So FOX said let’s figure out the best alternatives for both. Speak was changing its format. I didn’t want it (to be) Speak. I didn’t want it (to be) Speak For Yourself because Whitlock was Speak For Yourself, as Colin Cowherd was Speak For Yourself with Whitlock. Let’s go all the way back. I wanted to do what I wanted to do.
Now the best version of that was an opportunity and offer to do First Things First. And I wanted to do First Things First, but first, there was conversation of it coming to L.A. Ultimately, it stayed in New York. I still had that opportunity, but as you’re divorced, I’m married with three little ones and a fourth one in New York, which got me on the edge. Boy, I was running that ball, open field, five, four, three, goal, and then no, I didn’t want to cross the goal line.
But my heart is with those guys on that show. I love that show. I love what that could have been and what may come. But I couldn’t do it. We then tried to, all right, land the plane differently, different versions, hybrid New York and L.A. Then I started to feel half pregnant as they say. I’m robbing myself, I’m robbing you, I’m not all-in. This is a trial, this is all new.
Now if they would’ve moved the show to L,A., done deal, I would’ve been the guy. That’s why they don’t have the football guy there constantly right now. It was going to be me. But we’re not there, so I’m going to do my show, which I need a name for — so anybody, everybody something with Dat Dude — I’m going to start it off twice a week and just ramp it up. It’s going to happen that way and meanwhile all these other opportunities — we’re going to have to do a Part 2 interview after everything settles over there because of legalities — I’ll have those other entities land and then I’ll be doing my show on FOX Sports. Then you’ll start to see a fuller expression of me and hopefully it’s going to be a better conversation around sports and life for you.
BN: Awesome, man. I’ll start brainstorming. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. Dem Dudes? [Laughs]
MW: I’ve heard worse. I’ve heard better, but I’ve certainly heard worse. Hey look, if I’m stuck, I’m not judging anybody.
BN: I want to do a couple of rapid fire questions with you; just a couple of quick thoughts on each of these. Who’s the smartest host you’ve worked with in radio or TV?
MW: Oh, Max Kellerman. Not even close. I don’t know how his brain fits in that little head of his, but goodness, he’s like an almanac. He’s like a dictionary. He’s corrected me so many times on air as well. That’s how you know that’s my boy. He’s like, that’s not it. [Laughs] I love that. We went to the same school. It took him way longer to graduate than me. I don’t know how. Maybe he wanted to get like nine degrees, but he’s a genius.
BN: Which school did you both go to?
MW: Columbia. Yeah, we went to Columbia together. He was there before me and after me, but Max at that time was a rapper and in them streets. Different dude.
BN: Who’s the funniest host you’ve worked with?
MW: Oh, man. Oh, that’s so close. Kelvin Washington comes to mind. Kelvin Washington, I call him Wayne Brady light. Like he’s Wayne Brady, a different version. This dude is like the most talented cat I’ve ever seen. Impressions, comedy, it’s almost like he should be on every game show as the host. This dude is next-level hilarious. Every time I see K Dub, I’m cracking up.
BN: Who’s the host you enjoyed working with the most?
MW: Beadle’s so close, but man, she’s a firecracker too. One day Beadle coming in and you’re, aww, look out, mama mad. We used to always say mama mad, and then that wasn’t the day. Most fun? A lot of these are going to get Max. I don’t want to keep Max-ing it out, but let me think, most fun. Charissa is like the best hang. Charissa Thompson, it’s like, oh, we’re working? You forgot. I’ll probably go Charissa because your shoulders are always down with Charissa. She works the room and she just keeps it light.
BN: Last one, not so much rapid fire, but just the script for your next five, 10 years professionally. If you could write it, what would you want that script to look like?
MW: It would have to be full expression of who I am and all of my experiences and perspective. I am creating a structure, a machinery that I can now be in connection with the masses, with the people. What does that look like? I want to be Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, my version. Kevin Samuel, rest in peace, just these people who have these perspectives that enlighten, unify, even sometimes disrupt, but they’re in pursuit of the universal truth, and really trying to just display who they are for all in fullness.
So for me, no more just athlete because I used to hate that growing up and I forgot it for the last 20 years. I became now just broadcaster. You’re getting fluffy off the cotton candy. You’re doing the same thing and it’s amazing, I’m not trying to slight it, but then there’s a part of you that’s starting to grow a little hungry, starving itself as I said before, starting to atrophy. I just want to feed that muscle as well.
The players, before they put the helmet on or after they take it off, I want to talk about that. The times that my family would drive to my games and tailgate in my living room before I left for the stadium. Those experiences where people would be like, what the hell? Yeah, my mama and my grandmama was drunk before kickoff at my house and offered me beer. Never took it. Should’ve, probably would have played better. But the point is, there’s a trillion different ways we can talk about sports, and I just felt that I had done a lot, if not all I could do in just that one vein. Now it’s time to expand it.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at email@example.com.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN boss Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids. Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and actively shunning the sport.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
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.