The state of TV broadcasting of college sports is abysmal!
At the start of the Kentucky-Tennessee game, the Cats got the tip, came down court and . . . something happened.
A whistle blew, the play stopped and Tennessee was given the ball. Do you know why? Me either! Because Joe Tessitore and Sean Farnham were still talking about the effect of Rick Barnes on the Tennessee program.
And still talking about it a minute later when Tennessee had to give the ball back, apparently another turnover. Who knows?
Tessitore struck me as a particularly lazy broadcaster who seemed more intrigued by the fact that it was Have a Glass of Wine day than by whatever was going on on the court. Complicating all that was the sideline reporting of Seth Greenberg, who's knowledgeable and interesting but whose frequent comments further interrupted the flow of the game on the court.
TV coverage of college basketball has become a cult of personalities, pet phrases, movie reviews, extraneous biographies, celebrity references, side conversations about who's in the stands, personal memories, best restaurants on campus, weather or traffic reports and, only occasionally, oh yeah the game.
I was watching the UK game in early December against Eastern Kentucky. And the patter of the announcers, Kara Lawson and some guy named Bob Picozzi, seemed particularly out of sync with what was going on on the court. It was the worst case of not bothering to follow the game itself I could recall in recent memory.
Only the next day did I find out that the announcing team had actually been stationed in an ESPN studio in North Carolina. They were watching on TV, like I was! How incredible is that??
In one sense, it was kind of a relief. I always like Lawson and so this breach of paying attention to the game in front of her was less her fault. The game wasn't in front of her.
But it clarified for me an attitude the sports networks increasingly seem to have about "covering" games. ESPN's explanation was that this was a money-saving move. Kentucky was, at the time, the nation's top-ranked team. Why would ESPN, with all its riches and resources, have to treat any Kentucky game like it was a Canadian football preseason match?
However, is was the announcing of the game that intensified the feeling I'm increasingly having about a total lack of connection between what I, the viewer, want to see and hear and what the network producers feel is good game "coverage."
When did it become the rule that every big play need be followed by a prolonged shot of people in the stands? (And those shots are often of people with their bodies painted and their shirts off. Plus, of course, everyone in the stands is holding an index finger up - "We're Number One!" Of course you are, even if your record is 8-12.)
Look, I love Ashley Judd. Who doesn't? But a shot of her in the stands, applauding the Wildcats, is no more informative than a shot of anyone else in the stands applauding the Wildcats. And the shot of anyone else in the stands applauding the Wildcats is no more informative than a shot of an empty seat. In other words, not very!
When did it become the practice that replays of the action take precedence over live action, even as the replay is going long and the live action has already begun on the court?
When did it become accepted wisdom that we, the viewing audience, care about the announcing teams' golf games, or net worths, or who picks up the checks at dinner?
When did it become acceptable that announcers spend a good deal of their time promoting the networks' upcoming TV shows, even the non-sports shows, during the action?
And when did it become the accepted practice that the so-called "expert analysts" - the once-called "color men" - have to have outrageous personalities or style quirks or pet nicknames for nearly everything, rather than a simple in-depth knowledge of the sport?
And even that wouldn't be so bad if the partner - we used to call him the "play-by-play man" - were doing his job. But doing play-by-play has clearly taken a back seat to being the partner's straight man, going along with every digression, humor attempt, personal reminiscence or quaint phrasing.
If you want to hear an extraordinary combination of solid play-by-play and analysis on TV, watch a hockey playoff game. NBC's Doc Emrick truly follows the play-by-play, his voice sliding around the rink along with the puck. He never seems to hesitate on a name, is never puzzled by the action, never misses a penalty or a player's mistake. And he never meanders to discuss his partner's golf game. But how could he? There's never a break in hockey's action.
When the game is over, he must be wiped out, because I know I am, listening to him. But boy, he has told me everything I've needed to know about what just happened, as if he were talking directly - albeit a little quickly - right to me.
So which would you rather have? Emrick's informative, detailed presentation of the game. Or Bill Raftery's string music or that little change of pace he does with his voice that now nearly everyone imitates? With a kiss!
However, I'm afraid too many people are opting for string music. Or onions. What does that even mean?