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There’s Not One Answer Out There For Spencer Hall

“I feel like if you talk about what LSU has meant to people that follow LSU or if you follow the history of USC football in LA, you get some interesting stories that haven’t necessarily been covered as well or as closely””

Demetri Ravanos

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Spencer Hall is currently unemployed.

Maybe the average sports fan doesn’t get how strange that is, but to Scott Van Pelt, it’s a truth he finds hard to accept.

“He’s completely unique,” SVP told me in an email. “Brilliant. Uproariously funny. Nobody sees things like he does.”

I grew up in Alabama. I went to the University of Alabama. Until 2016, I was very much one of those Bama fans – the type that couldn’t let any opposing fanbase feel joy or express team pride without feeling the need to remind them how superior my team was. That changed when I discovered Everyday Should be Saturday, the site that hosted Hall’s columns and his podcast, The Shutdown Fullcast.

“I had none,” Hall says when I asked him if he had any goals of changing the way fans thought about college football when he launched Everyday Should be Saturday fifteen years ago. “I just enjoyed writing. That was it. I finally found a way of saying what I wanted to say and a community all at the same time. That’s pretty great if you get that once or twice in your life, and I did!”

Hall and his community taught me to embrace the fact that college football is the dumbest sport on the planet. The culture surrounding it is unfathomable to those that didn’t grow up with it. That is what makes it so much damn fun to watch and talk about.

The real testament to Hall’s writing talent is when he throws a curve ball and blows your mind with the perfect, poignant metaphor. The perfect breakdown of the Tuscaloosa crowd’s response to Tennessee Vols defensive back Rashaan Gaulden giving them the middle finger was written by the same guy that intertwined Tom Waits’s “God’s Away on Business,” life in the Florida suburbs, and an iconic play from the 1993 Sugar Bowl to illustrate the moral compromise you have to accept in order to be a college football fan.

That play was Alabama safety George Teague running down Miami’s Lamar Thomas and stripping the ball away, when it appeared the Canes receiver was going to sprint into the end zone untouched. The play is iconic amongst the Bama fanbase, and the reality is that it didn’t count. A linebacker had lined up offsides, so while all of us that were in the Louisiana Superdome that night had just witnessed something amazing, while that highlight is shown over and over again in Bryant-Denny Stadium before every game, according to the record books, it never happened.

I told Hall that I have always thought that column was his masterpiece. He thanked me and then launched into an explanation of why that non-play resonates with fans that reminds why Bomani Jones said Spencer Hall’s voice is “all at once highly educated and rural Southern.”

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“I think the reason people are so passionate in the sport is that it is anchored in a lot more than the sport itself. I think those moments themselves are often free floating in people’s memories and don’t really budge when in fact they are tied to very specific things and very specific people in your life,” Hall says. “College football isn’t the only place that happens, but it happens particularly in college sports because the communities are closer, the locales are often smaller and/or less well-defined. They’re less covered territory than what capital-letter mass media tended to write about, you know?

“We all know how New York felt about Joe DiMaggio in the 1940s and 50s because there was an entire apparatus pointed at it. I feel like if you talk about what LSU has meant to people that follow LSU or if you follow the history of USC football in LA, you get some interesting stories that haven’t necessarily been covered as well or as closely”

He has a different favorite column though. Hall points to a piece he co-authored alongside Holly Anderson that featured the duo sending up a past ESPN trope of debating “what is most now”.

Hall called those kinds of debates “the foundation for the rotten, confrontational talking head type vibe that dominates how we talk about sports now.” Not only did it feel good to goof on them, but it felt good to notice others enjoying those tropes being goofed on.

“It’s just a dialog with some kind of oddball photoshop thrown in. It was the first time when I thought ‘Oh goodness, this is extremely fun, and other folks seem to think so too.’”

If the Covid-19 pandemic has given us anything, it is time. In Hall’s case, it is what led to the furlough from Vox Media and SB Nation that then turned into him taking a buyout. He says that has given him a chance to think. Like anyone else, he is eagerly awaiting the return of sports, but it’s not the action on the field he misses most.

“The value in it for me is talking about them in the community and the connection. I think that’s the thing that gets really addictive. It’s the connection with readers or listeners, or the people that follow you for the exact cash value of zero dollars on Twitter.”

For Hall, sports and college football in particular, will always be a vessel. He describes it as using the sport “as a side door” to the story he really wants to tell or the point he really wants to make. College football seems to be the sport perfectly built for that style of writing.

“What he gets so well about [college football] is that it is a decidedly human thing. What is interesting about it is all the weirdos that are surrounding this thing,” ESPN’s Bomani Jones says of Spencer Hall. “This is an industry that is fueled by regular people that take their hard-earned money and give it to the football team, not necessarily for tickets. Like, they tithe to it!”

The next story Spencer Hall wants to tell is about college football. The vessel will be the Old West. He and three other writers that recently took buyouts from Vox Media have teamed up with artist Tyson Whiting to create The Sinful Seven: Sci-Fi Western Legends of the NCAA.

The Sinful Seven: Sci-fi Western Legends of the NCAA

It is an illustrated e-book that will use a Western motif to tell the story of the founding of the NCAA. The five are selling it using a pay-what-you-want model, which so far has been pretty successful.

“What makes this a lot of fun is the ties are already there,” Hall says of the project. “Calling something like the early days of college athletics and the foundation of the NCAA, something like the fall of the Old West, that’s not a stretch. That’s how frontiers usually go.  It starts with people doing whatever they want, then someone tries to establish an order and not necessarily doing that out of altruism.”

Hall is quick to give Whiting credit for where the book stands right now. He says that it is the illustrations that will make The Sinful Seven memorable.

“Tyson’s work is going to be the only one anybody remembers. People might as well know his name.”

Pre-orders for The Sinful Seven are just the latest piece of evidence of the devotion of Hall’s audience. When it was announced that he, Richard Johnson, Jason Kirk, and Alex Kirshner would be furloughed by Vox, advertisers Homefield Apparel and Cowbucker released special products to raise money for them. Hundreds of fans took to Twitter to directly call out Vox for not understanding what they had in Hall and his cohorts at the recently launched college football boutique site Banner Society.

That devotion, in addition to his talent, would make Spencer Hall an attractive addition for any sports media brand. It could also make it possible for him to find success on his own if he wanted to launch something on his own. He certainly has the talent to generate enough written and podcasting content to make whatever subscription price tag he settles on worth it to his fans.

Hall knows that the debate between starting his own platform versus sending out résumés is one he’ll have to have with himself eventually. Sure, The Athletic just laid off a number of writers and ESPN talent have been asked to take pay cuts, but at some point those brands and others like them will be ready to hire again. When they are, Hall is likely going to be very high on everyone’s wishlist.

It’s rare to find a sports writer that turns to the wisdom of French Enlightenment era philosophers when thinking about their next move. Jason Whitlock didn’t mention relying on the wisdom of Descartes when he was asked about starting his own media brand. Clay Travis didn’t talk about Immanuel Kant when stories were written about the expansion of Outkick the Coverage. That’s where Hall is different.

“There’s an old story, often attributed to Voltaire, but that attribution isn’t exactly solid historically speaking,” he says. The story involves the night of the man’s death. A priest comes to his bedside and asks if he renounces Satan.

10 Things You Should Know About Voltaire - HISTORY

“In the story, the character, Voltaire or whoever it is, says ‘Now now now, this isn’t the time to be making enemies,'” Hall says and we share a laugh. “In terms of what’s next, whether you could do it independently or with a group of people or corporate partners, I don’t think there is one answer out there. That’s not just for me. That’s for everyone. It’s not an industry strong on stability right now, so keeping every imaginable platform or option imaginable that you can do is a real strong play across the board.”

What Hall has created in the past would be impossible to duplicate, even for him. His reputation both amongst his audience and his peers is such though that anyone interested in working with Hall knows that he is the type of talent that keeps you looking forward instead of back.

BSM Writers

Colorado Hiring Deion Sanders Will Be Constant Gift for College Football Media

“If Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers, he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor.”

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Deion Sanders quickly made it clear why the University of Colorado chose him to be its next head football coach.

Coming off a weekend in which the four College Football Playoff teams were announced and all of the other bowl-eligible teams accepted their invitations, Colorado — which went 1-11 this past season — made news for hiring Sanders, the former NFL star who was phenomenally successful at Jackson State.

The media that covers college football and sports as a whole should be thrilled that the Buffaloes program decided to take a big leap for attention and notoriety. Sanders is a bold, risky hire. But he’s also been successful in virtually every venture he’s taken. “Primetime” had a Hall of Fame NFL career and also played Major League Baseball. And he’s a master at drawing attention to himself.

During his first meeting with his new team, Sanders made sure to mention that he has Louis Vuitton luggage to make the point that some of his Jackson State players are coming with him to Boulder — including his son, quarterback Shadeur Sanders. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart probably don’t cite luxury fashion when explaining to their players that they’ll have to compete for starting positions.

Coach Prime will not be boring to cover. (That self-appointed “Coach Prime” title, which was on his name plate at his introductory press conference, is a big clue there.) He never has been. This is a man who said during the 1989 NFL Draft, after being selected No. 5 overall by the Atlanta Falcons, that if the Detroit Lions had selected him at No. 3, he “would’ve asked for so much money, they’d have had to put me on layaway.”

Even if he doesn’t win as much as Colorado hopes, Sanders will pursue top talent — players who want to perform on a larger stage than the FCS-level Jackson State allows — and impact athletes will be attracted to him. He got the No. 1 recruit in the nation, cornerback and wide receiver Travis Hunter, to play for him. (Hunter is following his coach to Boulder.) Now that Sanders is at an FBS school in a Power 5 conference, more stars will surely come.

But if Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers — going 27-5 in three seasons, including a 12-0 campaign in 2022 — he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor. And he’ll get the attention that such figures typically draw from media and fans. According to the Denver Post‘s Sean Keeler, at least 400 people attended what felt more like a celebration than a press conference.

Coach Prime wasn’t going to just win the press conference, which is what any school and fanbase want when a new coach is introduced.

If Colorado wanted someone to sit at a podium, and give platitudes like “We want to win the Pac-12 and get to the College Football Playoff,” “We’re going to build a program with young men you’ll be proud of,” or “It’s time to restore Colorado to the football glory we remember,” Sanders isn’t the guy for that.

“Do I look like a man that worries about anything? Did you see the way I walked in here? Did you see the swagger that was with me?” Sanders said during his introductory presser. “Worry? Baby, I am too blessed to be stressed. I have never been one for peer pressure. I put pressure on peers. I never wanted to worry, I make people worry. I don’t get down like that. I am too darn confident. That is my natural odor.”

To no surprise, Sanders announced his presence in Boulder with authority. He had cameras following him as he met with Colorado players for the first time. How many other coaches would have recorded what many would see as a private moment for posterity and post it online?

Sanders caused a stir by putting his players on notice. He warned them he was coming, telling them they’ll be pushed so hard they might quit. He told them to enter the transfer portal and go someplace else if they don’t like what he and his staff are going to do.

That candor, that brutal honesty surprised many fans and media when they saw it Monday morning. For some, that message might have felt too familiar. How many in media — or many other industries — have worried about their job status when a new boss takes over? What may have seemed secure days earlier is now uncertain.

But how do we know other coaches haven’t said something similar when taking over at a new job and addressing their team? We just hadn’t seen it before. But Sanders has been in the media. He knows social media. He understands controlling his own message and telling his story.

Sanders also knows what kind of value he brings to any venture he takes on. How many people would have left an NFL Network gig for Barstool Sports? But Sanders went to where his star would shine, where he was the main show, where he could be Deion Sanders. Maybe he’ll have to turn that down just a bit at Colorado. But athletic director Rick George knows who he hired.

Colorado could have made a safer choice, including previous head coaches Tom Herman, Bronco Mendenhall, or Gary Patterson. A top assistant from one of this year’s Playoff contenders — such as Georgia’s Todd Monken, USC’s Alex Grinch, Alabama’s Bill O’Brien, or Michigan’s Sherrone Moore — could also have been an option.

But what fun would that have been? What kind of tremor would Colorado have created in the college football news cycle? How much attention would a more conventional hire have received? Yes, Sanders has to recruit and win. However, if the objective was to make Colorado football a talking point again, that’s been accomplished.

There could be some friction too. Sanders has already been criticized for being a champion of HBCUs, only to bolt for a mainstream Power 5 program when the opportunity opened. (To be fair, other columnists have defended the move.)

At Jackson State, Sanders tried to control local media when he didn’t like how reporters were addressing him or covering a story. Last year during Southwestern Athletic Conference Media Day, he balked at a Clarion-Ledger reporter addressing him as “Deion,” not “Coach,” insisting that Nick Saban would’ve been shown that respect. Earlier this season, Sanders admonished a school broadcaster (and assistant athletic director) for speaking to him more formally on camera than he did off-camera.

Will that fly among Boulder and Denver media, or the national college football press? It’s difficult to imagine. Maybe Sanders will ease back on his efforts to control reporters within a larger university environment, metropolitan area, and media market. But we’re also talking about Deion Sanders here. He doesn’t bend to outside forces. He makes them bend to him.

Sanders’ stint in Boulder — whether it lasts the five years of his contract and beyond, or less than that — will not be dull. There could be no better gift for the media covering Colorado football. Or college football, a sport already full of bold personalities, eccentric to unhinged fanbases, and outsized expectations. Coach Prime will fit right in.

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BSM Writers

The Media Is Finally Strong Enough To Take On The Rose Bowl

“The whole Rose Bowl organization is stuck in a black and white TV world. The future playoff is Marty McFly stepping out of a Delorean and the Rose Bowl is the Enchantment Under the Seas Dance.”

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I am a sucker for packaging. Take me to a grocery store and show me a uniquely packaged sauce or condiment or waffle syrup and I’ll give it a try just based on bottle size or design. The one packaging ploy that has vexed me is the “biggie size” at the local drive through. I’m always interested in the largest drink possible but don’t necessarily want a grain silo full of fries passed through my window. The College Football Playoff is going “biggie sized” in 2024 and I’ll take all of that I can get.

The College Football Playoff Committee made official last week what had long been speculated, that the four-team playoff field would increase to 12 teams starting with the 2024 season. This was an inevitable move for money and access reasons. The power conferences and Notre Dame stand to gain significantly in TV revenue and the “non-power” conferences finally get the consistent access they have long craved.

What may have finally pushed the new playoff over the finish line was the end of an ultimate game of chicken between college football powers and the Rose Bowl.

There is a scene from the movie The Hunt for Red October when the rogue Russian nuclear submarine is trying to avoid a torpedo from another Russian submarine. The American captain, aptly played by Scott Glenn, tells Jack Ryan; “The hard part about playing chicken is knowing when to flinch.”

The Rose Bowl finally flinched.

The only thing that delayed an earlier move to this new world was the insistence of the Rose Bowl Game to cling to the bygone era of the antiquated bowl system. Only in college football could an organization that runs a parade hold such outsized influence but, until recently, the Big Ten and PAC 12 gladly enabled their addiction to a specific television time slot.

Dan Wetzel is a Yahoo! Sports National Columnist, he also wrote the book Death to the BCS which laid out a very early argument for dumping the bowl system for a Playoff.

“The single hardest thing to explain to people is that the Rose Bowl and its obsession of having the sunset in the third quarter of its game was a serious impediment to a billion dollar playoff,” Wetzel wrote. 

Wetzel makes the point that simply moving the game up one hour would’ve helped the playoff TV schedule immensely, “They were adamant that they get to have an exclusive window on New Year’s Day, the best time of all, not only would they not give that up but they wouldn’t even move it an hour earlier (to help Playoff television scheduling) because then the sun would set at halftime.  It was so absurd but for a lot of years they got so much protection.”

We may never know what it was that finally forced the Rose Bowl to play ball with the rest of the college football world. There are many possibilities, not the least of which was the presence of SoFi Stadium just down the road. The College Football Playoff committee could have always taken the bold step of scheduling games at SoFi, in the Los Angeles market, opposite the Rose Bowl TV window to try to squeeze them out.

It is also possible the Rose Bowl scanned the landscape and realized that, if a 12-team playoff already existed, their 2023 game would’ve been Washington (10-2) versus Purdue (8-5). That shock of reality came with the understanding Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Utah and USC would enthusiastically choose a 12 team playoff bid over a Rose Bowl invite. That was the future the Rose Bowl faced with the departure of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten and the 12 team playoff gobbling up the top remaining PAC 12 teams.

I have proposed that theory to many people in the college football world and have received some version of this response from many of them: “They really wouldn’t care who is playing as long as they can still have their parade.”

That is one of the issues at play here; in many ways, the whole Rose Bowl organization is stuck in a black and white TV world. The future playoff is Marty McFly stepping out of a Delorean and the Rose Bowl is the Enchantment Under the Seas Dance.

One other possibility is that the television executives of the major networks, primarily FOX, may have put the pressure on the Big Ten and Pac 12 to have a little less interest in keeping college football stuck in the late 1970’s. It makes sense, FOX has nothing to gain by the Rose Bowl keeping influence. Fox may have everything to gain by getting a media rights cut of the future playoff. Many believe FOX was a driving force behind USC and UCLA bolting to the Big Ten. If that much is true, pressing for less Rose Bowl influence is child’s play.

No matter what was the catalyst to the expanded playoff, it worked and the fans benefited. College football is moving into a brave new world all because the college football powers finally stood up to the old man yelling at the clouds.

Turns out, it was all a game of chicken. And the Rose Bowl flinched.

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BSM Writers

Andrew Perloff Learned From The Master of Sports Radio on Television

“I think I’m really lucky because I went from a really fun and supportive place in the Dan Patrick Show and have now transitioned into what I would also call a very fun and supportive place at CBS Sports Radio/Audacy.”

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It’s a fact of life that not everybody loves their job. To have a job that you love and have fun at is pretty special. For Andrew Perloff, life is good.

“I’m just watching so much sports during the week,” said Perloff. “I don’t come up for air watching sports and I love that.  And the fact that we get paid to sit on the couch for 72 hours…oh my God…it really is the best job in the world.”

That job is being the co-host of Maggie & Perloff weekdays from 3pm to 6pm eastern time on CBS Sports Radio and simulcast on CBS Sports Network. Perloff was an on-air personality on The Dan Patrick Show beginning in 2009 before making the switch to CBS Sports Radio for the new show with Maggie Gray that launched this past January.

And so far, the move has worked out.

“I’m really happy,” said Perloff. “I think I’m really lucky because I went from a really fun and supportive place in the Dan Patrick Show and have now transitioned into what I would also call a very fun and supportive place at CBS Sports Radio/Audacy. I miss the DP Show but I love my new co-workers. (Vice President of Programming) Spike Eskin and (New York Market President) Chris Oliviero have been great. We get a lot of support and a lot of help from those guys and they’ve made the transition so much easier.”

When a new radio program begins, chemistry between the hosts is vital to the success of the growth and success of the show. In the case of Maggie & Perloff, they had an existing friendship from their time working together at Sports Illustrated. 

And that relationship is certainly evident to the listeners.

“I’m having a great time with Maggie,” said Perloff who was an editor and contributing writer at Sports Illustrated and SI.com. “We knew each other pretty well at Sports Illustrated. We’ve been friends for a while now. I have gotten to know her a lot better through the show. It took a couple of months to really find our rhythm and get the show to where we wanted to get it.”

There has been a fun and evolving dynamic to the on and off-air chemistry between the hosts.  Perloff is from Philadelphia and a die-hard Eagles fan while Gray is a fan of the Buffalo Bills.  The Eagles have the best record in the NFC at 11-1 while the Bills are among the best teams in the AFC at 9-3.

Perloff has come to understand just how much Gray loves the Bills and there is a chance that their two teams could meet come February 12th in Arizona for Super Bowl LVII.

“She’s a very passionate Buffalo Bills fan,” said Perloff.  “I always knew that, but to actually sit there on a daily basis and see her sweat out every detail about the Buffalo Bills has been a lot of fun.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’re on a collision course for the Super Bowl and we’re already trying to figure out a Super Bowl bet.”

The easy wager to set up would involve food.

If the Bills win, Perloff would have to give Gray some Philly cheesesteaks.

If the Eagles win, Gray would have to furnish Perloff with some Buffalo Wings.

But it appears as if management wants there to be more at stake for the potential bet.

“Our boss wants us to do something more severe,” said Perloff. “The truth is I’m an Eagles fan so I’ve already won my Super Bowl. Maggie, on the other hand, has no idea what that feels like. I almost feel sorry for her because it’s tough being a Bills fan.

“We have a pretty big rivalry with our team because she’s a Mets fan and I’m a Phillies fan. We get along great expect for those areas.”

The Maggie & Perloff chemistry extends throughout the show and that includes producer Michael Samtur who has his own rooting interests.

Samtur is a fan of the New York Jets who are having a better-than-expected season.

“When the Jets win, I don’t want to see Mike on Monday mornings because he’s smiling so much,” said Perloff. “He’s an unbelievably cynical Jets fan…it’s hysterically funny.

“Mike is doing a great job. It’s really an all-hands-on deck show. I think we all sort of kind of wear each other’s hats at certain times.”

An added element to the show is that it is also simulcast on CBS Sports Network. If there’s one thing that Perloff learned from working with Dan Patrick — who also has a simulcast on television — is that the program is a radio show that just happens to have cameras in the studio. At the end of the day, it’s a radio show on television and not a television show on the radio.

“That’s also my philosophy,” said Perloff. “From a logistical standpoint, to do a good radio show you can’t really focus on the TV side of it. For us, the foundation of the base is to really focus on the radio show and the TV and video comes naturally after that.”

Perloff’s resume also includes writing and co-writing an assortment of magazine stories, books, and television shows while also hosting his own weekend show on NBC Sports Radio from 2016 to 2019. But it was working on The Dan Patrick Show where he learned an important aspect of being a talk show host that he continues to live by at CBS Sports Radio.

What he learned was that you just have to be yourself.

“Dan always wanted us to be authentic in the sense that don’t try to be someone you’re not,” said Perloff. “Don’t try to come up with hot takes just for the sake of hot takes. When you listen to Dan Patrick on the radio, you’re really hearing Dan. He’s not a radically different person off air.”

This is a huge time of the year for sports radio. 

The NFL’s regular season is winding down and college football is heading towards bowl season and the College Football Playoff. Throw in the NBA, college basketball, NHL, and the World Cup and there’s so much going on in the sports world to talk about. 

Perloff can’t get enough of it.

“I love it so much,” said Perloff. “College football is just huge right now. When we bring up a college football story, the phone lines just light up which I think is a reflection of the growing interest in that sport. This is the best time of the year. It’s incredible.”

As Maggie & Perloff head towards their first anniversary on the air, there are goals and expectations heading into 2023. The show has grown tremendously over the course of the first year and while that may have occurred faster than expected, the hope is that the trend continues.

“I’ve been a little surprised by how fast the audience has grown and our connection with the audience,” said Perloff. “One of the great things about The Dan Patrick Show was the community feel with the show and all of the listeners. That’s definitely growing with us and I’d like to see that really take off next year. It makes it so much more fun when you’re doing the show and everybody is along for the ride.”

It’s been a great ride so far and it should be interesting to see what happens if that ride includes an Andrew Perloff vs Maggie Gray Super Bowl matchup in February. It’s not even because the breakdown of Eagles vs Bills would be fascinating but the audience wants more.

That Super Bowl bet would certainly be intriguing.   

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