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NCAA, NC State Both Bungled College World Series, There Are No Good Guys

“Present this topic with some rage if you want. That is a totally valid way to talk about this story if it is relevant to your audience, but rage only offers one conversation.”

Demetri Ravanos

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While I think the NCAA is a corrupt, inept, unnecessary organization, there are times I actually have some sympathy for President Mark Emmert. Saturday morning wasn’t exactly one of those times. The NCAA chose to announce that it had decided North Carolina State was eliminated from the College World Series at 2:10 AM on the East Coast, when most of the team’s fans and school’s administrators were asleep. It is the absolute peak of cowardice and ineptitude on the part of an organization largely built on those two pillars.

Had they been able to participate as scheduled, the Wolfpack would be forced to play a winner-take-all semifinal against Vanderbilt with just 12 players. Covid protocols and diagnoses had made the rest of the roster unavailable. NC State was willing to play under those conditions. The NCAA was not. The organization ruled the event a no-contest and Vanderbilt punched the first ticket to the championship round.

Back in Raleigh, where I live, Wolfpack fans howled at the injustice. “The NCAA was out for us the whole time!” “The NCAA exists to prop up the SEC!” “ESPN did this!”. This is what instant reaction from the only fan base in the world that I am starting to believe is indeed cursed sounds like.

Did the NCAA screw NC State? Yeah, there is no debate that the advantages of having a fully vaccinated roster were never clearly presented to NC State or anyone else in the tournament. But let’s not absolve NC State’s administration and roster of all responsibility here. They screwed themselves. We’re 16 months into this pandemic. There is no way they can say they didn’t know that unvaccinated players could put their team at a disadvantage.

Fans react in black and white. I have lived in North Carolina and amongst NC State fans long enough to know that despite not having a team that was actually good at anything in most of my lifetime, they believe with all of their heart and soul that the NCAA has put a target on their backs. It is funny, but at the same time, I feel for their fans. If you grew up hearing this and then watched what has happened to teams with “NC State” emblazoned across their chests over and over again, it would be impossible to convince you otherwise.

But you’re not a fan. You’re the media or an entertainer. You can call yourself whatever feels appropriate. You have the ability to think logically about this situation before you react. Do that and you will come to two obvious conclusions: No one is innocent and there are no good guys here.

Ranting and raving on your show on Monday does two things. Neither of them really help. First, it gives you nowhere to take the conversation. Second, it turns the story solely into a college baseball story.

College baseball.

Does that feel like a good content choice?

Ever?

When you introduce nuance into the conversation, you get more avenues to walk down and this becomes bigger than a single incident in a single sport.

NC State being ousted from the College World Series is another example of something I wrote weeks ago. The vaccine conversation IS A SPORTS CONVERSATION NOW! Jon Rahm, NFL protocols, attendance at EURO 2020, there are so many sports stories where we see someone’s decision regarding the vaccine has consequences in the stadium and on the field.

Go back to before the vaccine was widely available. VCU was eliminated from the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Notre Dame was eliminated from the NCAA Ice Hockey Tournament. Rice was eliminated from the NCAA Volleyball Tournament. Countless bowl games were cancelled. All of it was due to Covid-related issues. How was NC State baseball coach Elliott Avent not hammering home the idea that it is important for everyone on the roster to be vaccinated, because this could cost us?

COVID-19 scare leaves Wolfpack with 13 players for CWS game | State/Region  | thedailytimes.com
Courtesy: Ethan Hyman

I get that in the aftermath of the decision Avent didn’t want to have a vaccine debate. I get that him saying that he was in no mood to have that conversation right now is no indication of how he feels about the vaccine or his personal vaccination status. But his statements that “I don’t try to indoctrinate my kids with my values or my opinions” and “these are young men that can make their own decisions” are weak.

You’re a coach. This is your team. You can’t rule with an iron fist, but you have to steer the ship and make it clear to your unvaccinated players that they just cost their team the chance to play for a national championship. Saying that is not akin to saying that Avent is a bad guy or that the NC State school seal is now the official logo of the anti-vaccination movement.

Look, for all I know, maybe that happened in private. Elliott has been in that role for a long time. I have interacted with him several times. He is a good guy and a smart guy. I can’t imagine that it hasn’t dawned on him that this was totally preventable.

Now, on the other side of the fence, let’s put the NCAA under the microscope. Do you want to talk about a bad PR month? This is an organization that just had a US Supreme Court Justice say its entire business model is essentially illegal. It was not at all prepared for states making their own laws regarding players being compensated for the use of their name, image, and likeness, despite the fact that many of these bills were passed months ago. Now, in the middle of the night, it decided to give the boot to the best underdog story in the College World Series.

To make matters worse for the NCAA, it was absolutely embarrassed by the Douglas County Health Department. The NCAA tried to throw the health department under the bus. The official story is that Douglas County said NC State had to go and there was nothing the NCAA could do about it. The health department was quick to say that was not true.

How anyone can argue that this organization shouldn’t be burned to the ground is beyond me. Everyday the NCAA does something new that is indefensible. If, by now, you haven’t realized that players in all NCAA sports are exploited at the whim of university presidents across the country, who clearly know their decisions are indefensible, then you are a moron and a bad person.

Look at that! We just did a little topic tree action and now have turned a story where all you can really do is go to the phones into multiple conversations. Bruce Gilbert must be beaming!

Present this topic with some rage if you want. That is a totally valid way to talk about this story if it is relevant to your audience, but rage only offers one conversation. Thinking a little deeper has now gotten us to a place where we can discuss the role of a coach and the morality of the very existence of the NCAA.

Nuance doesn’t always play well on sports radio, but that is largely because presenting nuance alone isn’t all that interesting. Nuance’s value to sports radio is in the prep process. Stop, breathe, and think a little deeper. That is how new, more interesting topics reveal themselves.

BSM Writers

Your Football Conversation Has To Be Different

I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Brian Noe

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Radio

Rejoice! Ball is back, baby. Life is just better when football season is included; am I right? (That was a rhetorical question because I know I’m right in this case.) Like many people in this country, I’m all about the pigskin. Outside of my family and friends, there aren’t many things in life that I love more than BALL.

With all of that being established, a simple question still exists: is there such a thing as talking too much football on a sports radio show?

I think it isn’t as much what you’re talking about; it’s how you’re talking about it. For instance, it isn’t good enough to lazily say, “Ehh, we’ll start off by talking about the game last night.” Well, how are you going to talk about it? Do you have anything original, interesting or entertaining to say? Or are you just gonna start riffing like you’re in a jam band hoping to accidentally stumble onto something cool after six minutes of nothing?

Talking about football is like opening a new burger joint. Hang with me on this one. There are so many options — Burger King, McDonald’s, Five Guys, Wendy’s, In-N-Out, etc. — that you can’t expect to have great success if you open a run-of-the-mill burger joint of your own. Having an inferior product is going to produce an inferior result.

It comes down to whether a topic or angle will cause the show to stand out or blend in. Going knee-deep on a national show about the competition at left guard between two Buffalo Bills offensive lineman doesn’t stand out. You’ll get lost in the shuffle that way.

A show needs to constantly be entertaining and engaging. One way to check that box is with unique viewpoints. Don’t say what other shows are saying. Your burger joint (aka football conversation) needs to be different than the competition. Otherwise, why are you special?

Another way to stand out is with personality. It’s impossible to have unique angles with every single topic that’s presented. A lot of hosts recently pointed out that the Dallas Cowboys committed 17 penalties in their first preseason game against the Denver Broncos. But Stephen A. Smith said it differently than everybody else. That’s what it comes down to; either say things that other shows aren’t saying, or say them differently.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh made a comment recently that too much of anything is a bad thing. So back to the original question, is there such a thing as too much football talk on a sports radio show?

Variety is the spice of life, but quality is the spice of sports radio. If a show provides quality, listeners will keep coming back. It’s really that simple. Sure, hosts will hear “talk more this, talk more that” from time to time, but you know what’s funny about that? It means the listeners haven’t left. The show is providing enough quality for them to stick around. If the quality goes away, so will the audience.

It’s smart for hosts and programmers to think, “What’s our strongest stuff?” If that happens to be a bunch of football topics, great, roll with it. I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick said something interesting last week while visiting Atlanta’s training camp. Vick was asked which team’s offense he’d like to run if he was still playing today. “The offense Tom Brady is running in Tampa,” Vick said. “Pass first.”

The answer stood out to me because throwing the ball isn’t what made Vick special with the Falcons. He was a decent passer and a dynamic runner. The run/pass blend made Vick a problem. I totally understand wanting to prove doubters wrong, but there are a lot of athletes that get away from what they do best while relying on something else that isn’t their specialty.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook is not an outside shooter. He’s brutal in that area. Yet Russ will keep firing threes at a 30% clip. Why? Attacking the rim and working the midrange is his game. You don’t see Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul bombing threes if they aren’t going in. He kills opponents with his midrange skills all day.

It’ll be interesting to see how Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa approaches this season. He’s received a steady diet of “can’t throw the deep ball.” Will he try to a fault to prove doubters wrong, or will he rely on what he does best? Beating defenders with timing and accuracy on shorter throws is where he finds the most success.

Working to improve your weaknesses makes sense, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of going away from your strengths. How is it any different in sports radio? If a host isn’t strong when it comes to talking basketball or baseball, it definitely makes sense to improve in those areas. But if that same host stands out by talking football, at some point it becomes like Westbrook jacking up threes if the host gets too far away from a bread-and-butter strength.

Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is the only player in the Baseball Hall of Fame that was unanimously elected. He relied on his cutter — a fastball that moved, a lot — about 85% of the time. Mo didn’t say, “Man, my four-seam fastball and changeup aren’t getting enough respect.” He rode that cutter all the way to Cooperstown and legendary status.

Rivera is a great example of how playing to your strengths is the best approach. He also shows that quality trumps variety every time. Let’s put it this way: if 85% of a sports radio show is football content, and the quality of that show is anywhere near Mo caliber, it’s destined to be a hit.

One of my buddies, Mike Zanchelli, has always been a hit with the ladies. I think he came out of the womb with at least 10 girls in the nursery showing interest in him. He had a simple dating philosophy: “Always. Leave them. Wanting. More.” That might work in dating, but I think it’s the opposite in sports radio. Most listeners don’t hear the entire show. If they’re in and out, wouldn’t you want them to hear your best stuff when they are tuned in?

That’s why I say screw variety. That’s why I wouldn’t worry about overserving your audience an all-you-can-eat BALL buffet. I think it’s much wiser to focus on producing a quality product regardless if it’s well rounded or not.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Has Gone From Playing Checkers to Chess In Two Years

Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different.

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In the days after the Big Ten news leaked regarding some of the details of their upcoming media deals, I was hankering for more information. I wanted more insight as to the “why”. Why did the Big Ten leave such a long-lasting and prosperous relationship with ESPN. I just couldn’t imagine it and it’s why I wrote about it last week.

It was in that pursuit of knowledge that I tuned into a podcast favorite of mine, The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast. The show’s hosts are deep into the weeds of sports media with John Ourand at the Sports Business Journal and Andrew Marchand at the New York Post. It was Ourand who was dropping dimes of news on the Big Ten deal last week. I wanted to hear him dive deeper, and he did on the podcast. But it was a throwaway line that got my wheels churning.

“This is about the third or fourth deal in a row that ESPN, the free-spending ESPN, to me has shown some financial discipline” Ourand said. “They are showing a bit of financial discipline that I hadn’t seen certainly when John Skipper was there and pre-dating John Skipper.”

I had to keep digging and folks, it’s true. ESPN is essentially Jimmy Pitaro in the above quote, the Chairman of ESPN. Since taking the role in 2018, he was put into an interesting position of being in the middle of a lot of big money media rights deals that would be coming due for renegotiation soon. The rights fees for EVERYTHING were going to balloon wildly. But in the last two years, he has comfortably kept the astronomical rates somewhat within shouting distance.

The big one, the NFL media rights deal agreed to last March, saw ESPN pay a very strong 30% increase for the rights. However, other networks involved had to pay “double” as Ourand so succinctly put it. He also personally negotiated with FOX to bring in Troy Aikman and Joe Buck to make their Monday Night Football booth easily more recognizable and the best in the sport. ESPN in that deal, that did NOT include doubled rates, got more games, better games, and more schedule flexibility. ABC gets two Super Bowls in the deal too. Simply put, Jimmy Pitaro set up ESPN to get a Super Bowl itself, but for now his network will take full advantage of the ABC network broadcast when the time comes (2026, 2030).

The recent Big Ten deal was massive because the conference spent forty years with ESPN and decided to reward that loyalty with a massively overpriced mid-tier package. ESPN balked at the idea. In their back pocket lies a lot of college football media rights deals with a lot of conferences including one that will be a massively profitable venture, the SEC package. ESPN takes over the CBS package of the “top” conference game. Yes, it paid $3 billion for it, but it’s a scant $300 million annually. Sure, that’s over 5X what CBS was paying annually but CBS signed that deal in 1996! I need not tell you all of the advancements in our world since Bob Dole was a presidential nominee. ESPN now gets to cherry-pick the best game from the best conference and put the game anywhere they damn well please to maximize exposure.

The F1 media rights extension is massive because of two things: one, they got it cheap before the sport littered your timeline on weekend mornings and two, when they re-signed with F1 this summer they paid way less than other streaming networks were reportedly willing to pay. The brand, the savvy worked again. ESPN takes a small risk for a potentially exploding sport and much like CBS did with the SEC for 25 years, can make massive margins.

I can keep going, and I will with one more. Sports betting. The niche is growing like my lawn minutes after the summer rainstorm. Pitaro has said publicly that sports betting “has become a must-have” and he’s full-frontal correct. ESPN is in an odd spot with their clear lineage to Disney, but it’s obvious something massive is going to come soon with ESPN reportedly looking for a deal in the $3 billion neighborhood.

Pitaro has been positioning this company from a position of strength. He pays big money for big properties, but knows when he’s getting taken advantage of and most importantly, isn’t afraid to pull his brand’s name out of the deep end.

ESPN may have an issue with dwindling subscribers, but that’s an everyone problem. The difference is ESPN is constantly trying to get you from one network ship you think is sinking into another network life raft. If you want to leave cable or satellite and go streaming, you can. ESPN+ is there to pick up the pieces. Or Sling (with an ESPN bundle). Or YouTube TV (ESPN is there too). Or a myriad of other ways. They are positioned so well right now to be where you think you want to go. Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN have been amazing at doing whatever they can to keep you paying them monthly.

The network has been aggressive with media rights deals but these newer ones have been diligently maneuvered by Pitaro. It was a choice to essentially back the SEC for the next decade, and to put more money into the potential of F1. The effort was a conscious one to keep a tight-lipped mission to bolster Monday Night Football’s booth. It was an understated strategy to reinvest in the NHL. Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different. The old adage of “pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered” may have applied to the network under different leadership, but these aren’t eating pigs. These are boars.

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BSM Writers

The Producers Podcast – Big Baby Dave, Jomboy Media

Brady Farkas

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Big Baby Dave has his hands in everything for Jomboy Media. He joins Brady Farkas to talk about how he brings a unique sound to each show he works with.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3A7FJ4a

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3bZ7NgG

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3dB4FrO

Google: https://buff.ly/3JVC5NG

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3STupzF

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