Monday, June 1, 2015

College Playoffs

There is a big problem with college playoffs. It is the sheer number of games. I don’t mean a problem with finding teams, I mean the problem of finding competent announcers for all the games. The college baseball tournament is now underway and we are in the final stages of the softball championships. Both sports have 64 team post-season fields as does basketball plus a couple of extras. Football only has a four team playoff bracket, but they do have almost 40 bowl games although not in as condensed a timeframe are the other sports. Wait, the bowl games do have a problem finding enough eligible teams.

A 64 team bracket means there are 32 first round games usually played at 16 locations. So we need at least 16 announcing teams. That is 16 play by play guys or gals and 16 analysts. Most also have a field reporter which is often the token female on the crew. That doesn't count all the talking heads that populate the studio shows. 

There may be 16 competent announcing teams in the country, but it's not that simple. The analysts or color commentators are almost always specific to one sport. Sure, an NFL football or MLB baseball guy can probably commentate on that college sport but you will never see a baseball guy doing a football game. The play by play guys are often more generic and can cover multiple sports but not always. Some strictly stick to their niche. There are also the top guys who although capable only do pro games. Another limiting factor is that most college playoffs and bowl games are broadcast by ESPN with the exception of basketball. Some of the best announcing teams work for other networks. You will never see Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth or Joe Buck and Troy Aikman doing a football game on ESPN. Same for other sports. Let's not even bother with the onfield/sideline reporters. 99% of them are useless.

So, you have those 16 announcing teams from a limited field. Let me assure you, there are not that many competent ones. You get Mr. Cliche, grating voices, over and under talkers, people who point out the obvious or maybe worse don't recognize the obvious, know it alls (although they were never that good), the in my day ones, the over critical, the under critical, the homer who may try to disguise it and multiple other things that grate on sports fans.

Same problems for the studio personalities. The network needs to have enough talking heads for 12 or 16 hours of coverage per day. These folks actually are usually worse because they have no live game action to break up their inane blabber. 

Let me give you an example of the lack of competence and stupidity I heard in the last couple of days. I was watching a regional baseball playoff game. I don't remember who was playing and don't know who was announcing. It was the last inning and the team at bat was down by five runs, bases loaded, two outs. This alleged baseball expert analyst said that the at bat team didn't want the batter to hit a grand slam home run, they wanted a base hit so they could get more base runners. They needed baserunners. Well you know what, they also needed runs and a home run would have produced four of them. Next guy up has a chance to tie it with a dinger or become one of those precious baserunners. Last I checked the winner of a baseball game is not who has the most baserunners but the team that scores the most runs. 

I know, a solution is to turn the sound off. I sometimes do. I also sometimes, especially during playoff times, have more than one game on at the same time (TVs, PC, tablet, phone) so obviously I don't have the sound turned up on all of them. Still, if I am listening to the game I like competent commentary. It can add to the experience. The announcers can give you a heads up that something important is happening, as can the crowd noise, if you are not watching the screen. They can give you info on an injury or an official's ruling or rules interpretation. Maybe insight into a lineup decision or substitution. 

I am not hopeful that this situation will improve. The few times a year there is a need for all these announcing teams does not allow the networks to keep enough dedicated folks on payroll. There is also the trend where hype and sensationalism trumps competence. 

Soon the first round of the baseball tournament, the regionals, will be over and we'll be down to eight locations and then comes the College World Series. Eight teams in one location, probably two announcing teams. The featured network announcers are often pretty inane too but they are usually a little more polished and have added network support. I do wonder how some have kept their jobs.

I am a sports fan and I am grateful that so many games are broadcast on TV, cable and the internet. I'll keep watching with or without the sound on.


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