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Broadcaster Review: The SEC on CBS

“Sometimes broadcasters fall victim to over enthusiasm when it comes to calling huge games. These guys seemed relaxed and ready for what was to come that afternoon.”

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Rarely do hyped match ups live up to the advanced billing. Most of the time they wind up in a blowout which ruins everything for the network covering it and its announcers. That wasn’t the case last Saturday when LSU faced Alabama in Tuscaloosa. CBS had its “A-Team” on the call, Brad Nessler on play-by-play and Gary Danielson handling color commentary.

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I went back and watched the game, to focus on the actual broadcast and not the outcome. Here are my thoughts. 

GAME OPEN

The broadcast open concentrated on the 2011 meeting between the two teams billed as “The Game of the Century”, which wound up in a 9-6 overtime win for LSU. CBS created good drama, using music and graphics to set the stage for this big moment, billed as “The Game of the Year”. 

It was good to see that both Nessler and Danielson seemed be loose for calling such a big game in their on camera open. Sometimes broadcasters fall victim to over enthusiasm when it comes to calling huge games. These guys seemed relaxed and ready for what was to come that afternoon. 

The open featured most of the obvious angles, concentrating on the two QBs and of course mentioning the injury to Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. They went deeper to include an injury on defense to LSU’s safety Grant Delpit. Both were dealing with ankle injuries.   

Nessler brought in Jamie Erdahl, the sideline reporter for the game, first with an interview of Alabama coach Nick Saban who confirmed what we already knew that Tagovailoa would start the game. After a brief toss back to the booth, Erdahl caught up with LSU coach Ed Orgeron who mentions that he told his team all week, “you are the better team”. Pretty good stuff here. 

Back to the booth now and Nessler is going over a graphic illustrating that Alabama has an 8-game win streak in the series vs. LSU. It’s followed by a good graphic showing what these two teams have done over the course of the rivalry. Good illustration for those that may be new to the game. 

The open segment wraps up with something that I had to rewind to make sure I heard correctly. Nessler exclaimed, “football fans around the world have circled November 9TH”, really? The world? Seems a bit much to me here. I get what he’s trying to say but that seemed a bit over the top. 

1ST QUARTER

There is good energy in the stadium for the opening kick. LSU won the toss and deferred. I liked the energy from the guys in the booth too as Alabama gained two first downs on its first two plays from scrimmage. The announcing crew didn’t get caught up in the crowd noise from the over 102-thousand fans in attendance. 

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To me, Danielson was very sharp early. He noticed six offensive lineman in game for Alabama on one offensive set, then four wides (receivers) on the next. I liked how he explained why Alabama had to call a timeout in the red zone on the first Tide drive. It all made sense and was easy to understand, even for the uninformed casual fan. 

Danielson continued to shine as Tagovailoa fumbled trying to scramble. The crew showed the replay and it was obvious there was some rust on the QB who had ankle surgery 21 days earlier and missed some game time. “You can’t simulate game action. You can test it (the ankle) all you want, now you have to instinctively make moves. Can’t blame that one (fumble) on a bad ankle”. 

LSU would take over and a lot of the focus turned to Joe Burrow the QB for the Tigers. He led the team right down the field for a score following the fumble to give LSU a lead. I thought Nessler did a great job of “laying out” after LSU touchdown. Even though the game was in Tuscaloosa, there were a lot of Tigers fans in the crowd, they were heard from after the score. 

Coming back from a break CBS posted a great graphic illustrating it was LSU’s first lead over Alabama since the 2017 game in the 3rd quarter. Nessler acknowledges it after the graphic is gone because he let Danielson make a point, which a good play-by-play guy should do. 

Now with Alabama on offense a poignant graphic popped up, stating that the 7-0 deficit was tied for the largest of the season for the Tide. 

In an effort to show both sides, the producer popped up a graphic, a comparison of the two team’s wide receiver corps. Nessler leads to it, showing how eerily similar the numbers are – Nessler pays it off saying, “despite all that ask if there’s a better group (of receivers) than Alabama, here you go.” 

The booth sends things to Erdahl after returning from a break. She has a very in depth look at the surgery Tagovailoa went through on his ankle complete with animated graphics. Nessler highlighting the detailed look with, “Jamie did so much research on that ankle thing we thought she could perform the surgery on us.”

The first quarter ends after a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown by Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle, making the score LSU 10, Alabama 7. 

2ND QUARTER

As the 2nd quarter begins with LSU on offense, I noticed that the CBS crew cut off a few of the replays before they were finished, because of the pace of the LSU offense. I found it really distracting and maybe they should consider waiting until the Tigers go into a huddle? 

LSU continued its offensive prowess with another scoring drive. Nessler with a good call of the Burrow to Marshall touchdown. Danielson points out how the Alabama defense got schooled big time, saying “it’s just embarrassing for the Alabama defense”. 

The criticism wasn’t reserved for just the Tide defense. Danielson, the former NFL QB had a point with the slow start for Tagovailoa and the Alabama offense. “Right now he is not in sync at all in this game. He does not have the feel of complete high level competition so far.” Also so far I’ve noticed that Nessler is having a bit of an issue with the name Tagovailoa. Not that I can blame him, but it’s been coming out a few different ways. 

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Maybe it was just great timing, as Nessler and Danielson had a conversation about the ‘Bama wideouts from Jerry Jeudy’s perspective. He told the crew that Devante Smith just “caught everything”, just then Tagovailoa threw a 64-yard score to…Smith. How did he get so open? The producer showed us on replay, that several LSU defenders looking to the bench for a change in coverages as the touchdown pass developed.

CBS shined during a disputed play in the 2nd quarter. LSU receiver Thaddeus Moss made a catch near the sideline, it was very close, but called a catch on the field. “Pylon cam” showed Moss’ left foot out of bounds then re-established in the field of play to make the catch. This produced some good discussion between Danielson and rules analyst Gene Steratore about the legality of the catch. Was it illegal touching? No flag was thrown for it. Eventually after a lengthy delay, the call is confirmed. More on this situation pops up later in the broadcast. 

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As the first half ends, Danielson says this about Tua, “he just seems rusty to me, more than just his ankle is bothering him, just seems out of sorts.” Followed by Nessler throwing to a break, “I don’t believe I’m saying this, LSU by 20.”

The first half ends with LSU up 33-13. 

3RD QUARTER

To open things up, Steratore had a terrific follow up of the ruling of the completed pass controversy in the 2nd quarter. He stated that all the information wasn’t initially given about the play. He said that the official near the sideline ruled the receiver was pushed out of bounds and did not go out on his own, that would make it a legal catch rather than illegal touching. It is a strong follow up from one of the best rules analysts in the business. 

The struggles continued for Alabama, with Waddle calling for fair catch inside the 10…Danielson “that’s a mistake, you’re not supposed to back up behind the 10. Usually it’s Alabama forcing their opponent into bad plays like this, today it’s different.” Strong and correct commentary. 

Even after the previous statement the sentiment in the booth is that Tua is going to get hot at some point. Again, lucky or just great timing, Tagovailoa obliges and validates the thought with a touchdown pass to his RB Najee Harris.

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As the quarter comes to an end, Nessler says, “If you’ve ever in your life thought about doing something now instead of watching the fourth quarter – reconsider. 33-20 LSU after 3…” 

4TH QUARTER

The game still felt in doubt as the final quarter began. Alabama went right to work with the Tide scoring an early 4th quarter touchdown. Right after the play, again Nessler lays out for crowd reaction, which was a beautiful thing. 

After the Alabama score, the narrative switched to the pressure being on the LSU offense now which hasn’t scored since the 2nd quarter. Of course, more fortuitous timing, because a TD drive would ensue. 

Nessler put on his SEC hat and seemed to go on a rant which based on Twitter reaction wasn’t received all that well. The producer put up the College Football Playoff graphic, with LSU as #2 and Alabama as #3, leading him to say, “I don’t care if Ohio State (the #1 Buckeyes) won by 100 points (73-14 actually over Maryland), if LSU beats Alabama their number one next week.” The Clemson and Oregon fan bases were the most critical of this comment of all. 

The announcing crew shined in some cases as the game’s momentum swung from one side to the other toward the end. 

Danielson reacted to a pass that was batted down at the line, with a possibility of him running in the picture. Danielson thought that for the first time in the game, Tagovailoa may have been affected by his ankle injury in his decision making. The analyst still wasn’t off the bandwagon, thinking there would be a moment for the Tide quarterback. The payoff came after a huge 4th down conversion resulting in a touchdown throw by Tagovailoa. It’s a 5-point game, LSU 39, Alabama 34. 

Now it was Burrow’s time to shine. He led a 7 play, 75-yard drive and in the process picked up a huge first down late in the drive and quarter. Nessler pointed out, “might be a Heisman moment there.” The drive continued and wound up in a 7-yard score for running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. 

Image result for clyde edwards-helaire bama touchdown

As quickly as the crew commented on the LSU score after the kickoff, the Tide would strike on its first play from scrimmage. The game would come to an end after a failed on-sides kick to give LSU the win in Tuscaloosa. 

OVERALL

It didn’t seem like the moment was too big for a veteran broadcast crew, and I never really suspected it would be. I felt like Danielson was very pointed in his commentary and on both sides. He had criticisms for each of the teams and all seemed extremely warranted at the time of the commentary. 

Nessler did his normal solid job with a couple of exceptions. The pronunciation of Tagovailoa’s name changed a few times and he didn’t seem to see some of the things that looked obvious on screen, especially when plays would be called back by penalty. Just a little nitpicking on my part here. 

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The broadcast never seemed too over the top which can be a tendency when some networks cover big games. CBS stuck to the script and to the storylines of the game itself. Nice job all around. 

BSM Writers

Who Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion Best?

Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.

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The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.

Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.

In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?

We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?

Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:

Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN

ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.

The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.

Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.

Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.

“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”

Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.

“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?

“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”

Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.

Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.

The NFL Today – CBS

CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.

Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.

The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.

Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.

Fox NFL Sunday

The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.

Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.

Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.

Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.

Football Night in America – NBC

Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.

But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.

Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?

When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.

But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”

“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”

Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.

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BSM Writers

Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers

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Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.

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Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area

Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.

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Joe Rogan

For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.

As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.

I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.

At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.

From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”

But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.

But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.

However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.

One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.

Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.

There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.

Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.

At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.

There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.

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