Bill Raftery is the accidental Final Four analyst. His ascension in 2015 to the top color position in college basketball came only after Steve Kerr left Turner Sports for the head coaching job at Golden State and CBS suspended Greg Anthony following his arrest in Washington, D.C. for soliciting a prostitute. (The story of how CBS opted for Raftery over others can be found here.) On Monday night he’ll join Jim Nantz and Grant Hill on TBS to call the national title game between North Carolina and Villanova. I cannot think of any other sports broadcaster who landed the top job in his or her sport in their 70s.
“I always assumed Billy Packer would be doing it forever,” Raftery said this week on the SI Media Podcast. “Then there were changes. But I had no interest in going to someone and suggesting me [for the job]. It was never the way I would do something, to get something from somebody else. To me it was pretty simple: Do your own job, mind your own business and hopefully people will appreciate what you are doing and the best way they appreciate you is to re-sign you. … I’m glad I did not have to change my way of doing things to achieve something or to attain something.”
I asked Raftery if there was any part of him that felt odd that he landed the Final Four job because of a personal transgression by another broadcaster (Anthony struck a plea deal with prosecutors and completed his community service; the case was officially dismissed).
“I felt badly for him and did not consider they would consider me,” Raftery said. “I reached out and left a message on (Anthony’s) phone during his difficult period and when I did get the job one of the nicest calls I got was from Greg Anthony. … I covered him [when he was at UNLV] so I have known him, though not on a daily basis. This was more feeling terrible for him and the situation that he was in. When [CBS Sports chairman] Sean McManus called and asked if I wanted the job, I didn’t think twice about how it opened up. It was not a hard decision to say yes.”
For more from Raftery, here’s our 52-minute SI Media podcast with the college basketball analyst.
In this episode, Raftery discusses how he prepares for games, the most memorable games he’s called, his longtime relationship with Verne Lundquist, when and how he uses the lines he’s most known for, such as “onions,” whether he thought about returning to coaching, how he got into broadcasting, the last time he saw Jerome (“Send it in, Jerome”) Lane, whether his legendary drinking stories are myth or truth, his Jim Boeheim impression and much more. I think you’ll enjoy it.
THE NOISE REPORT
SI.com examines some of the week's most notable sports media stories
1. Sports Business Daily assistant managing editor Austin Karp reported that CBS and Turner Sports headed into the Final Four this weekend averaging 8.9 million viewers for their NCAA tournament coverage, down 12% from last year’s record-setting figure of 10.1 million viewers. SBD said the average was tied with 1994 for the sixth-best average since ’91, when CBS acquired the rights to the event.
1a. Episode No. 49 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features WNBA point guard and ESPN analyst Kara Lawson, who will be in the studio for the women’s title game in Indianapolis on Tuesday night, alongside analyst Rebecca Lobo and host Kevin Negandhi. Lawson, who’s a point guard for the Washington Mystics, also calls men’s college basketball games and NBA games for ESPN.
On this episode, Lawson talks about the difference between preparing to call NCAA games vs. professional games, the challenges of playing in the WNBA and broadcasting at the same time, her crazy schedule on Selection Sunday (she worked the men’s and the women’s show), how she became the first woman analyst to call a nationally televised NBA game, whether she thinks UConn’s success is good or bad for women’s college basketball, her thoughts on women coaching and much more.
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1b. FS1 has lost a ton of talented people over the past couple of months—I’d expect more on-air talent names leaving the network to leak soon—and something that should concern you as a sports consumer is the talented feature producers who were let go by a sports network that at one time appeared to be serious about news and editorial.
Last week the Sports Emmys announced its 2016 nominations, and while that organization is generally a clubby institution that is often out of touch with the viewing public (e.g. Skip Bayless was once nominated for a Sports Emmy), it does reward behind-the-scenes people for their work. It’s an important notice for those in the business who make their bosses and talent look very good.
One 12-minute film that received four Sports Emmy nominations—Outstanding Long Feature, Outstanding Editing–Longform, The Dick Schaap Outstanding Writing Award and Outstanding Music Interpretation—was an FS1 piece titled “Mr. 900: The Bill Fong Story.” It’s a brilliantly produced piece by Todd Kapostasy (also, major props to editor Jason Sanchez Rosa and director of photography Jonathan Belinski) on a Plano, Texas, man whose life is governed by bowling. (I highly recommend this amazing story by D Magazine’s Michael Mooney on Fong). Kapostasy also received Sports Emmy nominations for an outstanding short feature he produced—“Changing Lanes: The Siphiwe Baleka Story,” which was written by SI’s Jon Wertheim. He also received a nomination in the Outstanding Digital Innovation category. Last year Kopostasy had six features nominated, and was part of four Sports Emmys wins.
As of a couple of weeks ago, Todd Kapostasy no longer works at FS1. It says something that a talent like that no longer fits within your organization. And Kapostasy is just one producer I’m highlighting here. There are others with similar resumes who have also been jettisoned by FS1 as that network morphs into Opinion Over All television. Sports broadcast outlets would be wise to grab who FS1 has let go.
2. Last week Fox announced its MLB broadcasters for 2016. The play-by-play group: Kenny Albert, Joe Buck, Kevin Burkhardt, Joe Davis, Aaron Goldsmith, Len Kasper, Justin Kutcher, Don Orsillo, Matt Vasgersian and Brian Anderson. The game analysts will be Cliff Floyd, Mark Gubicza, Eric Karros, CJ Nitkowski, Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci. The reporters include Erin Andrews, Jon Paul Morosi and Ken Rosenthal. The lead MLB team will be Buck and Smoltz and they will call the All-Star Game and the World Series.
The network’s studio coverage will be anchored by Burkhardt and Chris Myers. Studio analysts include Karros, Nitkowski, Pete Rose (presuming he has no Vegas commitments), Frank Thomas and Dontrelle Willis. Fox will debut its MLB coverage this Thursday with the Rangers at Angels at 10 p.m. ET on FS1.
3a. CBS’s live third-round coverage of the Masters will air on Saturday from 3-7 p.m. ET. Final-round 18-hole coverage is scheduled for Sunday from 2-7 p.m. ET. ESPN and ESPN Deportes will air 4.5 hours of live Round 1 and Round 2 action on Thursday and Friday, from 3 to 7:30 p.m. ET.
3b. The CBS Sports Network will air Masters on The Range, a live show from the practice range of Augusta National Golf Club beginning Monday through Sunday. The show features player interviews, analysis and a preview of each day’s action. CBS Sports Network will also replay CBS Sports’ live broadcasts of the third and-final rounds of the Masters following the conclusion of coverage on CBS (8 p.m., ET).
3c. The Golf Channel’s Golf Central Live From the Masters will air 60 live hours throughout the week, and on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET, Golf Channel Films will present ’86, a documentary which will look back at Jack Nicklaus’s remarkable final round at the 1986 Masters.
3d. Craig Stadler, Hale Irwin, and Dave Stockton will each debut new SiriusXM shows during Masters week, joining Masters champions and SiriusXM hosts Ben Crenshaw and Larry Mize.
SiriusXM will air more than 70 hours of original talk programming, plus more than 20 hours of live play-by-play from Augusta National.
4. Non-sports pieces of note:
• Maybe the best piece I’ve read in 2016: Texas Monthly editor Pamela Coloff on how a bullet from a Texas sniper in 1966 changed the lives of so many. Amazing reporting.
• From Good Housekeeping: My son killed the town hero.
• An amazing Guardian story alleging the AP was part of the Nazi Germany propaganda machine.
• And the AP response.
• The invisible catastrophe of Southern California’s methane gas leak.
• From Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer: To my daughter with Down syndrome on her wedding day
Sports pieces of note:
• WTHR.com’s Bob Kravitz on love, basketball, breast cancer and the Pacers.
• Toronto Star columnist Bruce Arthur on the NHL concussion emails.
• Via Tyler Kepner: The Endangered Species of Baseball.
• Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone on Donora, Pa., the decaying town that produced Stan “The Man” Musial and the Griffeys.
• From Bruce Schoenfeld: What Happened When Venture Capitalists Took Over the Golden State Warriors.
• From SI’s Michael McCann: Why NFL won’t sue New York Times over concussion story.
• Interesting examination by Kevin Draper on the mainstream sports media’s coverage of D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young.
• CBSSports.com columnist Jon Solomon on the the college athletes’ rights movement stalled.
5. Episode No. 48 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features WWE broadcaster Renee Young, who works in a number of on-air positions for WWE, including anchoring pay-per-view Pre-Show panels on the WWE Network and hosting WWE Unfiltered. Prior to her WWE role, Young—whose real name is Renee Pacquette—worked at the Score Network out of Toronto as an anchor and host.
In this episode, Young discusses how she became a WWE broadcaster, how much of her role is scripted vs. improv, the surreal nature of changing her name for a broadcasting job (including providing an alternate name while applying for her green card), auditioning for SportsNation after Michelle Beadle left ESPN for NBC, whether she fears getting typecast as a WWE-only performer, the blurring lines of having a relationship with someone in the company (she is currently dating the wrestler known as Dean Ambrose), why she considers Paul Heyman and Stephanie McMahon to be genius on-air performers, whether she hopes to be on WWE Raw in the future, if she would be willing to take part in an in-ring storyline, the best dishes to eat when in Canada and much more.
5a. I wanted to offer some individual episode podcast recommendations for you that I happen to have come across over the last couple of weeks:
• Outside Magazine had a fascinating podcast on the science of survival.
• Thought Bill Simmons and Keith Olbermann discussing the cost of the $125 million SportsCenter set (at 1:05.00) and its relationship to the rest of the company was very interesting for sports media readers.
• The Toronto Mike podcast recently featured longtime Canadian broadcaster Ron MacLean, who had some interesting things to say about his fall out with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
• This Men In Blazers Irvine Welsh (author of “Trainspotting”) podcast special.
• The Ringer editor-at-large Bryan Curtis hosted a really interesting feature podcast examining the media element of the O.J. Simpson trial. Given the high-quality production of this effort, serious props to producers Joe Fuentes and Tate Frazier for exceptional work.
• The Hot Takedown podcast (featuring Sue Bird) on the dearth of data in the WNBA.
• SI’s The Draft Season podcast.
• The Enough About Me podcast featuring Kirk Minihane with ESPN announcer Sean McDonough.
• This episode of The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani featuring CM Punk and Helwani discussing his exit from UFC on Fox.
5b. ESPN Radio has made significant changes to its lineup over the past 12 months and here’s another one: A new daily overnight show (First and Last co-hosted by Robin Lundberg and Mike Golic Jr. will debut on April 4, at 4 a.m. ET. The two-hour program will recap the previous night’s highlights and delve into the coming day’s stories. ESPN Audio said the show will be preceded by a two-hour edition of SportsCenter AllNight (2–4 a.m.), making ESPN Radio live 24 hours a day on weekdays.
5c. The seventh edition of the Blogs with Balls conference will be held on April 27 at Ovation in Chicago, the day before the 2016 NFL draft. Among the seminars: a panel on the treatment of women in sports media with Amy Guth (WGN), Andrea Hangst (Sports on Earth), Maggie Hendricks (USA Today Sports) and Sarah Spain (ESPN), and a group of writers at blog-oriented sites—Adam Best (FanSided), Kevin Draper (Deadspin), Ryan Glasspiegel (The Big Lead), Robert Littal (Black Sports Online) and Maurice Peebles (Complex)—discussing how to navigate a career in an increasingly changing business.
5d. Rare to see ESPN’s Mike Tirico criticize a colleague but he did so on ESPN Radio in Syracuse on what he felt was cheap criticism of Syracuse, his alma mater.
5e. NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Extra will air 76 hours of coverage of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, including more than 60 hours of coverage in primetime in the months leading up to the Rio Games. The trials includes swimming, track and field, gymnastics, diving, rowing, wrestling, water polo, field hockey and volleyball.
5f. Good to see longtime ESPN employee Gerry Matalon land a nice gig five months after getting laid off by ESPN.
5g. NBCSN said it averaged 258,000 viewers in primetime in the first quarter (Dec. 28–March 27), up 19% from the first quarter of 2015 (217,000).
5h. The longtime SportsCenter anchor Chris McKendry has left the show as part of a new deal that will reduce her air dates to focus exclusively on tennis coverage. McKendry is excellent as a host of that coverage.