The Ultimate College Basketball Broadcaster Draft
Imagine a sports television universe featuring Gus Johnson calling college basketball alongside Bill Walton. How about a studio show staffed by Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Chris Webber? With the NCAA tournament tipping off in a little over two weeks -- and with every television viewer a talent evaluator at heart -- I thought it would be fun to panel a group of sports television watchers together for a mock college basketball broadcaster draft.
The objective: We specifically drafted to staff the NCAA tournament and not the entire college basketball season. You could choose anyone currently working in college basketball broadcasting for each of the positions.
The panel: Randy McClure, the founder and executive editor of the terrific college basketball website, Rush the Court; John Ourand, Sports Business Daily media writer; Matt Yoder, managing editor of Awful Announcing, and yours truly.
The positions: Two play by play announcers, two game analysts, one studio/onsite host, three studio/onsite analysts, and one sideline reporter. We also agreed on drafting one wildcard pick consisting of anyone in the sports media.
The 10-round draft was conducted over two days via email, and the results made for interesting booths and studio teams. I asked each of the panelists to explain in why they made each pick, and I gave myself the No. 1 overall pick as an ode to the 1985 NBA Draft. Here's how it went:
1. Deitsch: Gus Johnson (Fox, play by play): Had this been for an entire college hoops season, ESPN announcer Dan Shulman, who carries Dick Vitale the way Michael Jordan carried the Bulls, would have been my selection, but Johnson is the perfect announcer for the compressed nature of the tournament, an audio funhouse in the closing moments of a tight game.
2. McClure: Charles Barkley (Turner Sports, studio analyst): Sure, Chuck may not be all that familiar with the names of college players (or even some teams), but the very definition of star talent is when people will tune in to see what you have to say. In the rapid-fire format of the opening weekend of March Madness, he's often more entertaining than the games themselves.
3. Yoder: Jay Bilas (ESPN, studio analyst): Bilas is the total package as an analyst - smart and entertaining with a deep knowledge of the college game. Most importantly, he connects with viewers. Not only is he the preeminent analyst for college basketball, he's one of the leading voices in all of college sports in the crusade against the crumbling NCAA and its fiddling emperor.
4. Ourand: Ernie Johnson (Turner Sports, studio host): For the NCAA tournament, I value the traffic cop that cuts in and out of games much higher than any announcer. In basketball, there's nobody better than EJ, who will keep his cool and provide relevant information to viewers during the craziest moments of March Madness.
5. Ourand: Doris Burke (ESPN, game analyst): Some may see this as pandering. It might be. Diversity is important to me, and I want somebody who can effectively speak to different segments of the audience. The fact that Burke is knowledgeable, quick-witted and versatile is why I'm taking her with the fifth pick. Honestly, there aren't many analysts better than her.
6. Yoder: Bill Raftery (CBS Sports/ESPN, game analyst): The steal of the draft at No. 6. (Can I call that already?) Raftery is one of the most popular figures in all of broadcasting, let alone college hoops. He's no one-trick-pony though. Raft can break down X's and O's with the best while still dishing out his signature enthusiasm. What's the NCAA tournament without a double order of ONIONS!
7. McClure: Dan Dakich (ESPN, game analyst): He may have played under Bob Knight at Indiana, but he's leagues ahead of The General when it comes to communicating his deep and insightful knowledge of the sport. He's straight with the viewers, successfully treading the difficult line between too much coach-speak and appealing to fans at home watching the game.
8. Deitsch: Rece Davis (ESPN, studio host): The perfect person to move highlights along and prompt discussion. As good as he is, he's still underrated in the industry.
9. Deitsch: Bill Walton (ESPN and Pac-12 Network, game analyst): Honest and forthright in a profession too often filled with coach-smooching brokers. Heads should explode when I pair him with Gus for the Final Four. Do me proud, Big Man!
10. McClure: Doug Gottlieb, (CBS Sports, studio analyst): I need an in-studio foil to challenge and ridicule Sir Charles when he discusses Creighton star Doug McDormond and Arizona head coach Shane Miller, so Gottlieb is my guy. He also manages to walk the fine line between reasonableness and absurdity with his takes so that you're convinced he just might be onto something.
11. Yoder: Marv Albert (Turner Sports, play by play): The gold standard for basketball play by play. Any game is made better by Marv's presence and his transition to the NCAA tournament with Turner has been seamless. In fact, his presence in March Madness has been the highlight of the Turner/CBS alliance.
12. Ourand: Dan Shulman (ESPN, play by play): I almost took Jim Nantz here, but I'm going to create a new voice with someone that lives college basketball all year. Shulman is the best out there.
13. Ourand: Steve Kerr (Turner Sports, game analyst): This goes against my rule of only picking announcers that live college basketball during the year. But Kerr had a breakout performance during last year¹s tournament. He was prepared, insightful and ready to take on the biggest stage.
14. Yoder: Clark Kellogg (CBS Sports, game analyst): There's a real premium on analysts in this draft because it's not as deep as play by play. With both Walton and Kerr gone, I turn to CBS's top game analyst. He's a likable guy and as long as I can get him to limit his rampant food analogies (Dairy Queen'd, pumpkin, orange...), he can inform and entertain viewers. I like my analysts flexible too, and I may throw a curveball and put Kellogg back in the studio, where he may be a better fit than the broadcast booth, depending on how the rest of the draft shakes out.
15. McClure: Mike Tirico (ESPN, play by play): I need a consummate pro courtside to balance out the studio shenanigans, so I'm going with Tirico, who could unflappably call an Irish hurling match if called upon to do so. He also happens to be Dakich's current play by play partner at ESPN, so I'm not about to mess up a pretty good thing.
16. Deitsch: Greg Anthony (CBS Sports and Turner Sports, studio analyst): A smart and thoughtful voice who comes prepared for every broadcast, college or pro. You can't have enough of those.
17. Deitsch: Jeff Van Gundy (ESPN, wildcard pick): My wildcard comes early because of the run on game analysts and I want Van Gundy as part of my broadcast even if his strength lies in the pros. I also seriously considered Andy Katz here.
18. McClure: Greg Gumbel (CBS Sports, studio host): With all the bickering and bloviating going on in my studio, I need a veteran who can play a good traffic cop and bring the group back down to Earth. Gumbel is that guy.
19. Yoder: Jim Nantz (CBS Sports, studio host): In a move that would make CBS suits do a spit take, I'm hiring Nantz not as my lead announcer, but as my studio host (where he does have experience). His smooth delivery and presence is more valuable there with plenty of great basketball play by play announcers still on the board.
20. Ourand: Andy Katz (ESPN, studio analyst): Great information person. I wanted Seth Davis, but my team rule is "No Dukies."
21. Ourand: Jalen Rose (ESPN, studio analyst): Good opinions, good delivery, and he knows more about college basketball than Barkley or Kenny Smith.
22. Yoder: Chris Webber (Turner Sports, wildcard pick): Quickly becoming one of my favorite studio analysts and he's still improving as a television personality. Frankly, it's a mystery as to why Turner doesn't use him more. (Now here's hoping McClure takes Jimmy King to continue our run on Fab Five players.)
23. McClure: Seth Davis (CBS Sports, studio analyst): Considered Juwan Howard just so we could highlight his goofy grin throughout the broadcast, but Davis is the straight man that rounds out my dream team studio crew. Is it safe to say that I prefer the CBS studio guys over their ESPN counterparts? (Donations eagerly accepted at 1234 Bilastrator Lane...)
24. Deitsch: Ian Eagle (CBS Sports, play by play): Smarts, terrific pipes, and he can do the championship game if Gus is in Spain covering Real Madrid.
25. Deitsch: Fran Fraschilla (ESPN, studio analyst): Always one of my favorites parts of ESPN's NBA draft coverage, Fraschilla knows the sport's landscape as both a studio and game analyst and his son is currently playing at Oklahoma, which means firsthand scouting for Big 12 teams.
26. McClure: Dick Vitale (ESPN, game analyst): One of the biggest tragedies in sports broadcasting is that college basketball's grandest cheerleader hasn't called a game in its signature event in over two decades. Love him or hate him, he adds an authentic and childlike joy to a big-game broadcast. And I double-pinky promise to keep him away from Duke's region.
27. Yoder: Sean McDonough (ESPN, play by play): A top play by play announcer who is criminally underrated by fans and the industry. And with Webber on board as my wildcard, I can bring together one of the best booths in all of sports to call my Final Four: McDonough, Bilas, and Raftery.
28. Ourand: Seth Greenberg (ESPN, studio analyst): Greenberg has impressed in his first year with his willingness to be outspoken, a rarity for former coaches in the business. I can see how he was able to recruit kids to Blacksburg.
29. Ourand Tim Brando (CBS Sports/Raycom, play by play): Timmy B. loves college basketball as much as anyone, knows college basketball as well as anyone, and calls as good a game as anyone in the business.
30. Yoder: Sam Ponder (ESPN, sideline reporter): In just a short period of time Ponder has proven herself capable of moving well beyond the "Next Erin Andrews" label that plagues sideline reporterdom. As much as the blogosphere looks past it amid her rising profile, she's really good at her job.
31. McClure: Scott Van Pelt (ESPN, wildcard pick): I don't yet know what role he'll play on my team, but I can easily find room for an on-air talent whose obvious and sincere enthusiasm for college hoops is on par with mine.
32. Deitsch: Stan Van Gundy (NBC Sports Network, game analyst): I've only watched him do one game -- Georgetown-Florida -- but that was enough. Stan Van has the chops to be a very good analyst. Plus, I now own the market on Van Gundys.
33. Deitsch: Jeannine Edwards (ESPN, sideline reporter): Whether horse racing, college football or college basketball, she asks smart questions with a journalistic bent. Respect her work immensely.
34. McClure: Kanoa Leahey (ESPN, play by play): With my other play-by-play announcer to team with Dakich, I'm headed to the islands, where Leahey's coconut butter smooth delivery will mesh beautifully when Dickie V loses his mind over another great finish. Aloha.
35. Yoder: Kenny Smith (Turner Sports, studio analyst):How is The Jet still available? He can bring over the entertainment value of Inside the NBA while also breaking down the games when need be. And if the power goes out, I have no doubts my studio crew can safely keep the broadcast from a panicked freefall.
36. Ourand: Lesley Visser (CBS, sideline reporter): An industry icon, Visser will be able to ask the right questions at the right time. And I have no doubt she will be able to find out what's happening if the lights go out.
37. Ourand: Bill Simmons (ESPN, wildcard pick): Smart. Provocative. Funny. The most underwritten story in sports media this year is how good Simmons is on TV and how much ESPN's NBA pre-game show has improved since he joined.
38. Yoder: John Thompson (Dial Global, game analyst): The former Georgetown coach is still calling the Final Four on radio for Dial Global and remains one of the most respected figures in the game. It's a shame television audiences around the country have missed his insights on the tourney all these years.
39. McClure: Holly Rowe (ESPN, sideline reporter): Unlike too many to name in this category, Rowe is a talented sideline reporter who actually follows and knows the sport. And since Brent Musburger isn't on my squad, she should feel free to do her job without any unnecessary awkwardness among the team.
40. Deitsch: Kara Lawson (ESPN, studio analyst): As someone who covers women's basketball, I can tell you there has never been a better studio analyst in the history of the sport. Lawson is so bright, so prepared and such a sports wonk, she could morph over to the men's game and quickly be one of the best.
Here are the rosters for each group with an evaluation from the panelists:
Overview: You want talent who can quickly react to news during the tournament and this group is set up to do that. If Johnson and Walton don't mesh as a team, I can always move Jeff Van Gundy to the top booth. My studio group is very solid.
Booth No. 1:
Play by play: Gus Johnson
Analyst: Bill Walton
Sideline reporter: Jeannine Edwards
Booth No. 2:
Play by play: Ian Eagle
Wildcard/Analyst: Jeff Van Gundy
Analyst: Stan Van Gundy
Host: Rece Davis
Analyst: Greg Anthony
Analyst: Fran Fraschilla
Analyst: Kara Lawson
Overview: This group truly represents an NCAA tournament broadcasting dream team. Carrying equal parts knowledge and shtick, bombast and subtlety, enthusiasm and analysis, my team will greatly enhance the viewing experience of fans tuning in for the best three weeks in all of sports.
Booth No. 1:
Play by play: Mike Tirico
Analyst: Dan Dakich
Sideline reporter: Holly Rowe
Booth No. 2:
Play by play: Kanoa Leahey
Analyst: Dick Vitale
Host: Greg Gumbel
Analyst: Charles Barkley
Analyst: Doug Gottlieb
Analyst: Seth Davis
Wildcard: Scott Van Pelt
Overview: The average audience for the tournament is closer to 50 than it is to 40. My crew should help bring that age down, especially my studio crew (former coach Greenberg specializes in connecting with kids) and top broadcast team.
Booth No. 1:
Play by play: Dan Shulman
Analyst: Doris Burke
Sideline reporter: Lesley Visser
Booth No. 2:
Play by play: Tim Brando
Analyst: Steve Kerr
Host: Ernie Johnson
Analyst: Andy Katz
Analyst: Jalen Rose
Analyst: Seth Greenberg
Wildcard: Bill Simmons
Overview: Team AA has the perfect March Madness stable of broadcasters because they can not only deliver memorable calls, but also provide depth in analysis and entertainment when you're watching 12 hours of basketball a day over the opening weekend. I've got an eye towards team chemistry as well with Nantz and Kellogg leading the studio crew and one of the most enjoyable booths in sports announcing my Final Four.
Play by play: Sean McDonough
Analyst: Jay Bilas
Analyst: Bill Raftery
Sideline reporter: Sam Ponder
Play by play: Marv Albert
Analyst: John Thompson
Host: Jim Nantz
Analyst: Clark Kellogg
Analyst: Kenny Smith
Wildcard: Chris Webber
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the weekend)
1. Lesley Visser will no longer work as a sideline reporter for CBS Sports after three decades of reporting during games for the network. CBS said the decision was hers. An on-air pioneer for women in sports broadcasting, Visser will transition to features and enterprise work for CBS Sports. She has been with the network since 2000 after spending seven years with ESPN and ABC in the 1990s.
2. One of the great buzzer-beaters in the history of buzzer-beaters occurred when New Rochelle stunned Mount Vernon on a 60-foot shot in the New York State boys basketball Section I Class AA finals.
The MSG Varsity broadcast team of Keith Irizarry (play by play) and Kevin Devaney Jr. (analyst) called the game and the pair saw their work go viral on Sunday afternoon, including multiple spots on ESPN's SportsCenter. "It's been overwhelming, to be honest," said the 32-year-old Irizarry, who has worked for MSG Varsity since 2009 and also serves as an anchor for SiriusXM Radio, in an email. "I was immediately tweeted and texted by people in the industry, friends, coaches, and players." What was Irizarry's self-assessment of his final call? "I thought that you were able to hear the excitement in my voice throughout without me screaming or going too far over the top," said Irizarry, who said he has called around 700 games as a broadcaster. "In the moment I felt great for the New Rochelle kids because they had just pulled off a miraculous comeback, but in the same breath I felt terrible for Mount Vernon in how their season had just ended. It was the true highs and lows of sports, and I'm so happy that I was able to capture it all in the final 2.9 second of the game and during the celebration."
3. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock says the depth of this year's draft is very strong. "If you're a playoff team this year, you're laughing because there is so much depth that if you're drafting 20-30, it's not a whole lot different than the fifth or sixth pick," Mayock said. "For me, if you're a playoff team, you're sitting back and going, 'This is pretty good.'
3a. The NFL Network said 7.25 million viewers watched its coverage of the NFL Scouting Combine over its four days of coverage. Viewership was up 11 percent from 2012 (6.51 million total viewers).
3b. Twenty-two current and former NFL players have been selected to take part in the second annual NFL Pro Hollywood Boot Camp at Universal Studios in Universal City, California. The program, which runs from March 11-15, gives participants the opportunity to shoot and edit a short film at Universal Studios. Among those current and former NFL players in the program: Former NFL MVP Shaun Alexander, Raiders wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey, Browns center Alex Mack, Bucks defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and Dolphins defensive end Jared Odrick.
4. Among the memorable sports pieces this week:
• SI.com's George Dohrmann had a great piece on the Big Head craze in college basketball:
• A co-founder of Bleacher Report responds to the many critics.
•Impressive reporting by USA Today college basketball reporter Eric Prisbell on Kansas star freshman Ben McLemore:
5. Miscellaneous: Joe Tess, a first-time starter named for ESPN announcer Joe Tessitore, finished 12th (and last) in a three-year-old Maiden Special Weight race at Santa Anita Park on Saturday.
5a. Sirius XM Radio has added Adam Schein to the all-sports Mad Dog Radio channel. He will host the network's 10 am-2pm ET slot. Schein was previously heard on SiriusXM NFL Radio and can also be seen on CBS Sports Television Network.
5b. This year marks the first time that every Pac-12 women's basketball tournament game will be televised nationally including the first three rounds on the Pac-12 Network. The tournament final airs on March 10 on ESPN2.
5c. MLB Network will air the championship game of the World Baseball Classic on March 19 from AT&T Park in San Francisco. The announcers are Bob Costas, Jim Kaat and SI's Tom Verducci.
Some non-sports pieces of note:
• Time had a stunning portrait of domestic violence.
• The New York Times examined how online comments impact our perception of news.
• The toll of the Holocaust grows as researchers discovered more killing camps in Hitler's Europe.