Sunday, February 10, 2008

Off Topic: Football Telecasts

Dr. Z has put out his annual TV Commentator Rankings. After getting in some jabs at Ron Jaworski all season, Dr. Z skewers him and the ESPN announcing team. I think the good Dr. overstates his case a bit. Jaworski did a great job at dissecting plays and providing insights. It might not have been as much as hoped for, but given the limitations of the rest of the crew and, more significantly, the atmosphere ESPN/Disney seemed to be forcing on them (what with all of the celebrity guests who wasted time and talked over the action), Jaws did what he could to improve the show. Here's to hoping ESPN lets him do more next year. In general, though, Dr. Z's criticisms of how NFL broadcasts go down is spot on. Here are seven steps to improve the telecasts:

1. Eliminate some of the commercial breaks. Not sure this is an issue that can be addressed because of the economics. But, if there were somehow a way to sneak the ads in more efficiently and not interrupt play so much, it would be most welcome. It could also help expand the demographics: it's anecdotal, but as an example, my wife's main reason for not watching is the constant interruptions.

2. Eliminate some of the penalties. Relax some of the recent rule changes and points of emphasis. Super Bowl 42 proved that you don't need explosive offense to hold fan interest. Stellar defense can be exciting, too! (Duh.) We don't need flags for celebrations and spiking the ball after a play. If the teams are playing sloppily or taking cheap shots, don't let it go; but otherwise, let the players have fun, and let the game move along at a crisp pace.

3. Eliminate the talk in the booth that's not about the game. There's too much pimping the next big network event, and, as Dr. Z points out, too much nonsense about pre-determined storylines and things that have nothing to do with the action on the field. Play-by-play announcers have all but forgotten how to call a game. Most fans, even the most dedicated ones, don't recognize every player on every team. The calls must include who made the tackle, who had the coverage, who made the key block. The color analyst must take those basic facts and examine them: what was the strategy, how did the receiver get open, what technique did the pass rusher use, how did that key block get made.

4. Eliminate the yelling on the pregame shows by “analysts” who spout the same old football cliches and trot out the same old meaningless traditional stats. What's the answer? This past season I had to record Monday Night Football because I worked late. I recorded the pregame for one reason alone: Bill Parcells. I fast forwarded through everything that wasn't Parcells speaking. Parcells is known to be a gather of information and not a divulger, but as a pregame analyst it was his duty to share some of his knowledge. You need a guy like that. Then you add an insider (e.g. Charley Casserly, Chris Mortensen, etc.), a couple of analysts, and a professional host. My Platonic ideal pregame team: James Brown, Ron Jaworski, Merril Hoge, Bill Parcells, and Jay Glazer. Oh, and I would add a hardcore stat guy for a segment or two, someone like Aaron Schatz or KC Joyner.

5. Show the freaking replay. It's stunning, in this day and age, how few plays have the replay shown. It's one thing if a team is running, or known to run, a hurry-up offense, but that's not usually the case. And, no matter what, make sure to show the full overhead view at the snap: don't be late. If you are late and miss part of the play, there must be a replay. I'm dumbfounded as to why this isn't automatic. Don't show the coach's wife or the running back's mother in the stands. Don't even show the coach on the sideline for more than a couple of seconds unless it's truly informative (e.g., in the Dallas-New England game when Bill Belichick huddled with his linebackers along the bench to demonstrate a play on a dry-erase board), and for crying out loud don't stay focused on the quarterback barking out his signals so long that you miss the snap.

6. Name and number please. First the Networks got rid of the hang time counter for punts, and now one of them (Fox) doesn't even list the starters? Seriously, just a simple listing will do. I'm all for getting rid of the flashy graphics that mean it takes 30 or more seconds to convey this information. We don't need an introduction, especially at the expense of missing the start of a play. But knowing the starters is helpful. Better yet, why not also quickly list each teams' inactives for the day? That would be a nice small gesture to the diehard fans who form the sport's base.

7. Don't bombard the screen with fantasy football info. Fantasy “owners” can track that stuff online more efficiently anyway. Let the rest of us enjoy the game we're trying to watch.

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