Robbie Hummel Beat Others His Age to the Broadcasting Booth
“I thought about how, in a way, not wanting to play overseas and giving up professional basketball at the age of 28 or 29; I kind of beat people my age to the profession.”
For most basketball team personnel and fans, the injured list garners a negative connotation because it sidelines athletes, alters routines and threatens the longevity of playing careers, like that of Robbie Hummel.
Sometimes, though, athletes simply get unlucky and suffer injuries because of external factors, some of which are not even related to the game itself. Then when one fully recovers, it can seem like a matter of time before they are penciled in on the injured list and within a state of limbo. Oftentimes, injuries on any given night seem inevitable, and unfortunately for Hummel, he knows this tale all too well.
Throughout his collegiate and professional career, Hummel experienced a deluge of obstacles when it came to staying healthy. As a top recruit out of Valparaiso High School, he matriculated at Purdue University where he studied management and played for the Boilermakers men’s basketball team.
Following a successful freshman season in which he was named a member of the First Team All-Big Ten, Hummel suffered from back spasms and a broken vertebra, limiting his availability and minutes on the court. The next year amid a stretch of 10 straight wins in conference play, Hummel tore his right ACL and in recovery, re-tore it, forcing him to sit out of his senior year and redshirt to play again and prove his worth.
After his redshirt senior year where he stayed relatively healthy and was named the recipient of the Thomas A. Brady Comeback Award, Hummel was drafted 58th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2012. In that first year though, he played professionally in Spain and endured a right meniscus injury.
Upon his recovery, he took the court with the Timberwolves in 2013, appearing in 98 games over two seasons with the team. In the middle of that second year, his professional career was cut short when he fractured the fourth metacarpal in his right hand and was ruled out indefinitely – but he never gave up on the NBA or the sport of basketball.
As a native of Valparaiso, Indiana, Hummel was often around the hardwood either as a player or a fan. The game was rooted in the area’s culture and a regular part of people’s lives, especially in the wintertime when the weather was not conducive to playing sports outdoors.
Whether it was watching Bryce Drew hit “The Shot” for Valparaiso University, attending high school basketball games in his youth, or following the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty of the 1990s, basketball was the center of Hummel’s world.
“I was a kid that filled out 20 brackets just to see if I could get one that was right,” Hummel said. “….I loved to play and I still love to play. I wish I could move better – now that I’m 33, I don’t move great – but I love the game; I’ve been around it for such a long time.”
Upon enduring the injury as a member of the Timberwolves, Hummel traveled to Syracuse University to participate in Sportscaster U. The program, offered for free to NBA players, was organized by the National Basketball Players’ Association in conjunction with the university’s heralded S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and taught by Syracuse Orangemen color commentator Matt Park.
Over the years, some of the camp’s attendees have included Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Tobias Harris, all of whom learn from Park and other program contributors in settings meant to replicate the industry.
“It was just a crash course in all things broadcasting,” Hummel said. “….We called a game for TV; we called a game for radio; we did a demonstration at Syracuse’s practice facility like you’d see on a College GameDay-type setting. You got a really good idea of all the things you could possibly do in the media.”
Hummel began the subsequent year playing overseas in Italy with Olimpia Milano with the thought of broadcasting in the back of his mind. It became more prevalent though when he tore the labrum in his shoulder, forcing him to return to the United States to get surgery and undergo rehabilitation for six months.
During this time, Purdue Boilermakers head coach Matt Painter reached out to Hummel and asked if he wanted to help out with the team, offering his home as a place of residence. Hummel agreed to work with the team in West Lafayette, Ind. and continued to work his way back from the injury.
Shortly thereafter, the Big Ten Network called Hummel to inquire about his interest in becoming involved with some of its in-studio coverage of conference tournament games. To reiterate, Hummel had not given up on returning to play in the National Basketball Association but wanted to experiment working in the space and gradually adapted as time went on.
In fact, he proceeded in the 2016 preseason with the Denver Nuggets but was waived before the start of the regular season. As a result, he signed to play internationally in Russia but longed to be home with his family and friends. Making one last attempt at an NBA comeback, Hummel was preparing for a workout with the Milwaukee Bucks but hurt his back the day before, an occurrence he considered a sign that it was time to move on.
Luckily for Hummel, he had accepted the chance to appear on the Big Ten Network and was noticed by a broadcasting agent during the stint. Despite lacking broadcasting experience, the agent was interested in potentially representing him and the two kept in touch regarding future opportunities in the industry.
Once Hummel knew his playing days were over, he and his agent worked on closing a deal for him to join the Big Ten Network and ESPN as a color commentator and studio analyst. He looks at the misfortunes in his career on the bright side, associating his various injuries as steps to his discovery of a career in sports media.
“I thought about how, in a way, not wanting to play overseas and giving up professional basketball at the age of 28 or 29; I kind of beat people my age to the profession,” Hummel said. “A lot of people play until they’re 32-33 years old and I have been doing this for five years now. They’re retiring now and trying to get into this and I kind of beat people my age to it.”
Although Hummel has continued taking the floor as part of FIBA 3×3 World Cup – in which he was named the 2019 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year after leading his team to a gold medal finish – broadcasting is his primary focus and means to stay connected to the game. His travel schedule is quite intensive and sometimes involves multiple cities in the span of just a few days in which he broadcasts basketball games on different mediums.
This requires continuous preparation to be sure he is ready for the next broadcast and his process is intensive: it consists of watching 30-40 clips of individual player highlights using Synergy Sports Technology; compiling a spreadsheet with relevant stats and information; and keeping a notebook with information about the previous games he has called.
Yet relying on comprehensive preparation and knowledge of tendencies usually goes out the window by gametime, instead focusing on what is taking place on the floor and reacting to it. When the game takes place, the preparation instead serves the purpose of contextualizing situations and enabling Hummel to more effectively think in the moment.
“I make a sheet – but I only make one just because writing stuff down helps me remember,” Hummel said. “I think that I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve been very comfortable not having to look down. If I put it on the sheet, I look it over before the game and I can draw from that as I’m watching the game. I think [that] has been a process because early on, I’m sure I was looking down a decent amount and you’re missing stuff.”
Just as most color commentators aim to do, Hummel brings a different perspective to the broadcast than his play-by-play announcer thanks to the perspectives afforded to him playing professional basketball. He tries to simplify his deft knowledge of the game, acquired through years of experience at different levels, to make it coherent for the average viewer. He looks at Jay Bilas and Jim Spanarkel for validation in his style in which he simply tells it like it is using familiar vernacular to best serve his audience.
“I think I would be somebody who’s not speaking in cliché,” he said. “I think that I really try to watch what’s happening on the floor, and I think my favorite guys that do this that I listen to have been people who have been very good at making complex basketball plays more simple for the viewer.”
Hummel is not far removed from playing professional basketball when comparing him to other color commentators or studio analysts – but the haste evolution of the sport has engendered him to adapt. The game today is predicated on an increased volume of three-point shooting and a positionless style of play prioritizing defensive matchups. Much like sports media, its rapid transformation coerces flexibility in thinking and versatility in performance.
“I think that going through those situations and understanding how you want to guard these things is really beneficial to then talk about that on air,” Hummel said. “You can see the way that teams are scheming and you can kind of relate [it to] your own experience.”
Throughout his time working in sports media, Hummel has paired with several play-by-play announcers – most regularly Jason Benetti, Brandon Gaudin and Kevin Kugler. In frequently working with the same group of play-by-play announcers (although that has somewhat changed this year), Hummel is able to do his part in fostering synergy, facilitating a more seamless broadcast.
The familiarity with Benetti, for example, kept Hummel from interfering with his call of David Jean-Baptiste’s game-winning three-point shot on Westwood One Radio. The last-second heave, which took place just past halfcourt, defeated the Furman Paladins in the Southern Conference Tournament championship game to send Jean-Baptiste’s team, the Chattanooga Mocs, to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016.
“He talked for a minute straight and I’m glad I wasn’t jumping in or interrupting him because he was so good,” Hummel said of Benetti’s call. “Just kind of taking that in and watching those Chattanooga kids get to go to the NCAA tournament; then on the other side of that [to] see Furman – and you hate this part – the devastation on one side [and] the elation on the other.”
The process of cultivating synergy demands time and genuine investment, along with cooperation on both sides in order to effectuate a compelling broadcast product for consumers on a nightly basis. Through activities such as going out to dinner or conversing about topics not related to the job, colleagues are able to learn more about one another and bring a personal element to the broadcast when appropriate.
“I think getting to know your partner is incredibly helpful,” Hummel said. “I’ve been very lucky that I’ve worked with great people. It’s something that I definitely recognize and am thankful for because those guys are great.”
When Hummel is doing games for Westwood One Radio, it is more difficult to find space in which to intersperse his analysis and opinion than it is on the Big Ten Network and ESPN. During one broadcast, it was apparent to him that the Michigan State Wolverines were pushing the pace of play during the NCAA tournament, necessitating the play-by-play announcer to keep up with the game and call the action.
“You feel like you’re maybe stealing a paycheck in the sense that it’s so much more of a play-by-play guy’s game,” Hummel explained regarding broadcasting games on radio, “and it makes sense because the play-by-play guy has to really let the viewer know what’s going on. TV is much more of [an] analyst’s game because you can watch; you can see it with your two eyes [and] the play-by-play guy doesn’t have to say every little thing that’s happening.”
Hummel enjoys calling college basketball games and hopes to continue doing it for a long time, but he would like to pair it with another job down the road: calling NBA games. Last season during an outbreak of COVID-19 within the Chicago Bulls organization, he was asked to step in on a few broadcasts to fill in for radio analyst Bill Wennington. It was representative of a full-circle moment, as Hummel grew up listening to former Bulls announcer Doug Collins and followed the dynasty led by Hall of Fame guard Michael Jordan since the team played just one hour away from his hometown.
Yet it came in an unfavorable circumstance, a scenario Hummel did not wish had occurred, but nonetheless gave him his first chance at broadcasting an NBA game. It was the beginning of an unprecedented stretch in which Hummel worked with a slew of different commentators – including K.C. Johnson on three minutes’ notice for one game in January – and experienced back-to-back game-winning shots by all-star forward DeMar DeRozan.
“To do the Bulls games and get to be back in that setting was terrific,” Hummel said. “….It was a great time [and] I hope I get to do more. I hated the fact that I was doing it because Stacey King and Bill Wennington got COVID; that’s not what you want to have happen to get that opportunity.”
It just so happened that during his stretch on the Bulls broadcasts, another team had experienced a similar outbreak of COVID-19 and needed Hummel to be prepared not to fill in on its broadcast – but to potentially suit up and appear in an NBA game. On Dec. 19, the Bulls were facing the Los Angeles Lakers and Hummel was not sure whether he would be broadcasting or playing in the game. Thankfully, no Lakers players ended up testing positive for the infectious disease and Hummel was behind the mic.
In a similar mold to what Kirk Herbstreit just completed in regularly broadcasting college football with Chris Fowler on ESPN and NFL Thursday Night Football games with Al Michaels on Amazon Prime Video, Hummel has interest in potentially one day taking on a dual role. There are subtle differences between basketball at the college and professional levels, according to Hummel, largely because of the elevated style of play in the latter. It was after filling in on the Bulls’ broadcasts when he recognized the margin between both entities in terms of shot-making and athleticism.
“I love the atmosphere of college basketball and the pageantry,” Hummel said. “I think that playing for your school is such a special, unique thing for these kids and just the atmospheres that we see in college hoops…. To see those things up close is very special but the NBA, from a talent perspective, is just [at] a different level.”
Off the court, a difference between these two levels of basketball is in the responsibilities of the athletes. In college, the athletes are students majoring in different subjects; therefore, they are responsible for attending classes and achieving a satisfactory level of academic performance. In the NBA, the athletes are students of the game of basketball, immersing themselves in the sport although some pursue additional outside business ventures. No matter the level or the circumstance though, there is a quality Hummel believes he must exhibit to earn and maintain the respect of team personnel, fans and colleagues.
“I think fairness is the biggest part,” he said. “[Being] critical and giving a guy his props when those props are due; [and] it’s not personal saying a kid takes a bad shot or makes a bad decision. [It] doesn’t mean he’s a bad player or a bad kid. I think as long as you’re verbalizing that, it’s okay to be critical when that time [comes].”
Hummel has broadcast the first two weeks of the NCAA tournament on Westwood One Radio and would like to one day have a chance to do it on television. If the right situation were to become available in which to coach, he would consider lending his vision and expertise to help a team win in that way as well. No matter what the future holds for him though, he aspires to remain involved in the game of basketball, the sport that continuously knocked him down but, in so doing, gave him a lucky break and fostered a new career.
“This is a career that I want to do for a long time,” Hummel said. “I feel fortunate that I get to do it because it is a privilege to get to watch high-level basketball whether it’s in the Big Ten or other conferences or doing some Bulls games…. I am fortunate in that regard and it is kind of crazy to look back as to how it can be a silver lining.”
For athletes, stepping away from any sport can be a difficult challenge, leading them to want to remain immersed in it. Throughout his time playing basketball, Robbie Hummel had a sense that his future may lie working in sports media since he was always fascinated with who was calling the games in which he played and listening to their commentary.
He also became friendly with Larry Clisby, the play-by-play announcer at Purdue University, and, from him, learned about the industry and the art of broadcasting itself. Without his indefatigable drive to succeed in a new chapter of his life, Hummel may not have made it to where he is today: one of the nation’s top college basketball analysts with an auspicious future ahead.
“I think taking advantage and picking the brain of the play-by-play guy at your college when you’re there [and] talking to guys who are doing games [is important],” Hummel advised former athletes, “and then if anything kind of comes by chance, [it could] maybe be something that you could do. I do look back and [ponder] if I had said ‘No’ to [the] Big Ten Network and said, ‘You know what? I’m just going to focus on helping the team.’ I might not be doing this.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he interns in video production with the New York Islanders and formerly worked as production manager for the team’s radio broadcasts. 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.
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 programmer 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 active shunning.
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 email@example.com.
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.