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ESPN's Colin Cowherd Is Spot On About Sports Commentators

Friday, December 4, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 12:40 PM, under ,

ESPN's Colin Cowherd is like the Dallas Cowboys. People either love him or hate him. Most bloggers hate him because he hates bloggers. Even so, through his often times bombastic musings (or rantings) come some very simple truths. His "attack" last week on people who criticize on-air play-by-play commentators and/or analyst commentators was spot on. It is the reason that it is very rare to see criticisms of these people on this site: until you have put the headset on and done the job yourself, you have no idea how hard the job is to do.

I Don't Care If You Disagree With Me: Colin Cowherd looks out at fans assembled
to watch his live broadcast from the University of Georgia's Tate Student Center
in November 2007. 2008/Eye on Sports Media

Let's set the scene for and look at a college basketball game.

The on-air talent has done their homework, has met with team staff and their producer, and has all of their notes in front of them. The home school has their timing sheet from the network and everyone hopes they are in sync. The time-out coordinator has made sure that the school clock and truck clock are in line, and the assistant director has called up to the network broadcast center to make sure their clocks agree.

Game Prep: ESPN's Pam Ward works on her preparation for a women's
college basketball game. 2008/Eye on Sports Media

The producer for this game has decided that he likes to do the show open as a live stand-up. At some schools, that means setting up the cameras, the lights, and the stick microphones up in front of the table that serves as the broadcast position. The challenge, you have to get down press row and go around the table to get back down to your half-court position.

Time To Make Changes: CBS Sports' Craig Bolerjack makes a change to his opening
segment notes while analyst Steve Beuerlein talks to the producer during preparations
for a Southeastern Conference college football broadcast. 2008/Eye on Sports Media.

Setting that up is easy, but getting back in the 60-90 seconds after the open can be more challenging. The talent are hoping that the audio technician (the A-2) is ready to hop right in and unwire them so they can move back into game position. Then they hustle around the table to get back, invariable interrupted by fans who want to say hello and do not understand that they are working and are in a rush.

They get back to the table while the stage manager is making sure that the iso monitor is put back in place and that the headsets are ready. They get the headsets on and immediately hear the producer telling them that there have to be immediate changes in the first segment because of unanticipated line-up changes or because the pre-game countdown got whacked somehow.

The game tips off and the broadcast is fully underway underway. But wait. There was no budget to travel an experienced statistician, so the host school's sports information department provided someone. Unfortunately that person has never done stats for television before and does not understand the flow of the game for television. All of the sudden, the stats monitor goes dead, nothing is coming from the statistician, and the play-by-play commentator is left high and dry.

Focus, Focus, Focus: Fox Sports Florida/Sun Sports Play-By-Play Man David Steele
focuses on the call of a college basketball game for then Lincoln Financial Sports.

2008/Eye on Sports Media.

Of course, during this time the stage manager is throwing cards in front of you for promotional reads or special sponsored package information that has to be read without interrupting the flow of the broadcast. As you finish the read, you go to commercial. The producer, who has been talking in your ear the whole game, sets you up to comeback and have the analyst go through a replay.

Ten, nine, eight...we are back, but the replay monitor has gone dead or the video tape operator cued up the wrong replay. Cue the cussing...

And this is the way the whole game can go most every game, and these things can and do happen.

So the next time you want to be quick on the trigger to criticize a mistake, think about how hard the job is. Think about those three plus hour football games they are calling, the fact that it may be their third game in four days on opposite coasts, or the fact that the night before they may have had a four or five overtime game.

Then ask yourself if you could really do the job better.

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