College football broadcasting roundtable; best of 2013

Monday December 23rd, 2013

Brent Musburger (right) and Kirk Herbstreit (left) are a great team even when visited by odd guests.

With the college football bowl season underway, I invited three of our college football writers -- Stewart Mandel, Andy Staples and Martin Rickman -- to join me for a roundtable on a number of television-related topics. The group also offered thoughts prior to the season, which you can find here. For this panel, we look ahead to issues that will arise in 2014. Hope you enjoy:

1. Brent Musburger turns 75 in May and his current broadcast contract ends three months later. If you were charged with staffing next year's four-team playoff for ESPN, what would you do?

Mandel: Joe Tessitore and Sean McDonough as play-by-play on the semis, Brock Huard and Chris Spielman as the analysts. Brent and Kirk [Herbstreit] for the championship game. Brent's still very much on his game. If he wants to come back, he should.

Rickman: I'd keep the title in the hands of Musburger and Herbstreit. ESPN might overcomplicate things and want to add a third person in the booth, but that two-man team does just fine with the big games all year. Fans are familiar with them, and it shows continuity. When it comes to the two semis, I'd go with the Rece Davis and Jesse Palmer combo (keep David Pollack if it's a package deal, but consider dropping him in favor of simplicity) because I think Davis is continually one of the better play-by-play guys at ESPN. Then for the other I'd consider Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge. Don't go with an eight-person booth or simulcasts or any of that. Just have a two or three-person booth and stay out of your own way.

Staples: If ESPN is really planning on moving on from Brent -- which I'm not sure is the best move because he's still very sharp -- then here's how you do it: Team Chris Fowler with Kirk Herbstreit. That way, Kirk won't get lonely on the jet from the GameDay site to the site of the primetime game. (Or, if Fowler is too busy, make Rece Davis the GameDay host and have Fowler call just the Saturday night game.) So Fowler-Herbstreit would be one team. For the other, reunite Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore. I know Tessitore will be busy during the season with his SEC Nation duties, but he'll also be calling games. He and Gilmore were an excellent team when they were on Friday nights. Forget the Joe Tess Magic Effect -- which is undeniably huge -- there wasn't a smarter, better prepared team working. These two would be fantastic calling huge games. Plus, the mere presence of Tessitore in the stadium guarantees some sort of odd, thrilling finish. So this is the rare crew that can actually make the game better without saying a word.

Deitsch: I've always liked the Musburger-Herbstreit team -- and I particularly like the chemistry the announcers have with producer Bill Bonnell and director Derek Mobley. To me, Brent has earned the call of the first College Football Playoff title game next year and I hope he gets it. I reported a couple of months ago as part of a long interview with Chris Fowler of Fowler's desire to call the college football playoffs. Rece Davis clearly wants in and I imagine Joe Tessitore does, too. All are deserving. I like what Staples proposed regarding split teams. I'd rotate the games among the top college football play-by-play announcers at ESPN, whomever they may be. So Brent calls it one year, then Fowler, then Davis, then Tessitore, and I'd have zero issues if Herbstreit was the analyst for each title game regardless of existing partnerships for the year. Analysts who are as good as Herbstreit can switch partners with no issues and his quality is such that any of the other analysts would understand why management assigned him the title game.

2. What would you like to see added or eliminated (or both) regarding college football television coverage next season?

Mandel: The "Field Goal Range" green bar that ESPN added was a bit clunky. Who determines what a team's field-goal range is? Why does it appear on some drives and not others? I'd ditch it. Bigger picture, I'd love to see more game broadcasts and studio shows start embracing advanced statistics. Gary Danielson cited Adjusted Sack Rate during an Alabama game. That was pretty cool.

Rickman: I think I'd like to see the halftime interviews with coaches taken out of the equation. The coaches hate doing them and very rarely do you get any substantial or relevant information out of it. Typically, when there's a usable sound bite, it's something that's making a coach look grumpy (see Bo Pelini or Mark Dantonio earlier this season) and very rarely is it a funny offhand comment like Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey saying "He's a kicker, he'll figure it out." Plus, it puts the person asking the questions in a tough spot. They can't ask anything too specific. The interview is already perceived as unnecessary. I'd rather broadcasts spend an extra five minutes before the game with coaches and do a longer spot than see the quick-fire halftime mess continue.

Staples: I say this every year, and I'll say it every year until it goes away: Now that we have seven million cable channels, there should never be a split telecast going to different regions. Every game should have its own place. You paid a lot of money to show the game, so show the game. When ESPN can reverse mirror on ABC and ESPN2, this isn't an issue, but when that isn't the case, the games need to have their own dedicated channels. This isn't 1985. We don't need to ever see another coverage map. And I know NFL fans deal with split telecasts all the time, but it isn't the fault of college football fans that NFL fans are suckers. The college fan has been spoiled by single-game telecasts, and that genie is never going back in the bottle.

Deitsch: Two things come to mind: First, I'd like to see CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC include a referee analyst for its major game each weekend. As Mike Pereira has proved for Fox's NFL coverage, it is an immense resource for viewers. Second, I'd like to see much more discussion among studio analysts about concussions in college football, which is a woefully underreported issue.

3. How would you staff SEC Nation in addition to announced host Joe Tessitore?

Mandel: I would resist the urge to make it all ex-SEC coaches and jocks. There are plenty of people qualified to comment on SEC football besides Tim Tebow. Not that he'd be bad at it. Or Greg McElroy, for that matter.

Rickman: I'm a fan of getting Scott Van Pelt as involved as possible, although maybe this isn't the right spot for him since you run the risk of spreading him too thin. Kaylee Hartung has done a really good job this year, and I'd like to see her in a bigger role. This might also be a good place to look outside the Worldwide Leader and go with a former coach. Gene Chizik has been really solid in his SiriusXM deal. It could drive some people crazy and might not be cost-effective to bring him over, but he'd be a good place to start. Hey, Lane Kiffin also needs a job.

Staples: I've already presented a programming plan for the SEC Network, so it only seems natural that the network heeds my advice for its flagship show. The big rumor is that Tim Tebow will be on this show. I have no idea what this means. I've seen Tim in unguarded moments and I've seen him fired up. If they get either of those Tebows, it should be good television. But you never know how a person will react to talking on TV for a living. If they're looking for a coach's perspective on the panel, I have to once again recommend Gerry DiNardo. I'm biased because I worked with him for a season on a panel show on the Big Ten Network, but the guy always did his homework, always had something funny to say and was never afraid to challenge an assertion by anyone on the panel. The fact that he served as the head coach at LSU and Vanderbilt makes him perfect for this role. I have no idea what DiNardo's contract situation is with BTN, but if he's available, he's perfect. As for other former players, I'd love to see ESPN make a run at Hines Ward. He may not want to give up a role on NBC's Sunday Night Football. That's the highest rated show on TV, after all. But he'd have a bigger role on the SEC Network, and he's a great talker who would bring the gravitas of a guy who starred at Georgia and in the NFL.

From the casting-that-might-interest-only-me department, I'd love to see former Alabama center William Vlachos breaking down line play for an audience that appreciates great line play. When he played for the Tide, there was no player better at breaking that stuff down in a language that casual fans could understand. He also has the dry, world-weary sense of humor that you'd expect from an undersized offensive lineman who started for two national title teams. Unfortunately, Vlachos has one of the highly coveted graduate assistant spots on Nick Saban's staff at Alabama. He probably won't give it up for a TV career.

Deitsch: I wrote 500 words on this subject last week so you'll get a sense of what ESPN is thinking if you click here.

Tessitore gives SEC Network production head Stephanie Druley plenty of ways to go because he'll be very good as a host. They've also got a huge advantage over Fox College Saturday in that they'll be on site weekly. Given that this is a regional network, I think you'll need to find either a coach or player with serious SEC ties. I'd also include an information-gather on set to show your audience you are serious about providing them with things they don't know. Hiring Tim Tebow would be an immediate viewership home run, but he'll likely be very vanilla as an analyst early on. Something I'd swipe from GameDay is bringing in a famous alum or alums every week to either pick games or do a similar segment.

4. Fox College Saturday struggled ratings-wise against College GameDay. Would you keep the show on a similar track? If yes, why? If no, how would you change it?

Mandel: From the limited times I got to see it they have a good crew with good chemistry. Erin Andrews does a nice job teeing up the panel. But it's such a tough sell asking people to watch a studio show instead of the campus atmosphere, the signs and the mascot heads on the other channel. They should probably take their show on the road, too, but in a way that's not a complete GameDay clone.

Rickman: Focus on features. The few times I flipped over, I saw something on Twitter alerting me to a longer piece they were doing. I would get five minutes in and flip back to GameDay for the rest. Fox isn't going to win this thing with a desk and talking heads. Take all that money they're already spending and devote it to professionally done pieces on stories, players, coaches and angles that aren't being explored anywhere else. Don't be afraid to run a 10-minute spot if it's compelling. Then "go back to the booth" and loosely organize the rest of the material around the games of the week. They could also spend a bit of time on betting lines. ESPN tiptoes around it, but there's certainly a market for it. What do they have to lose?

Staples: I'm not sure blowing up the Fox pregame show would help. It started at a severe disadvantage because College GameDay is the best show ESPN produces and neck-and-neck with TNT's Inside the NBA for the best sports show in America. It hasn't helped that Fox decided to go cheap and didn't hire any sort of newsgathering department for college football. Most college fans are creatures of habit. They aren't going to click away from College GameDay unless the competition can tell them something they don't already know. This was a thin year for news on Saturdays, so it's tough to judge on that aspect, but another way to tell people something they don't already know is by producing insightful features. Tom Rinaldi, Gene Wojciechowski and their teams do this regularly for GameDay, and Fox hasn't produced anything to compete with that. Those stories are expensive to produce, but Fox is going to have to invest a little more into the product if it expects to make a dent. ESPN already has a huge newsgathering operation in college football, and Fox has next to nothing. If Fox wants to compete, it has to beef up. Having some knowledgeable and insightful segments with plugged-in people might give that show a chance.

Deitsch: First, let's talk about metrics. Fox College Saturday averaged 73,000 viewers (compared to GameDay's 1.83 million) this season and the numbers dropped from September. The show's most-viewed program came on Sept. 7 with 120,000 viewers and failed to crack the 100,000-viewer mark for the rest of the season. That's a very bad trend and it tells you viewers didn't buy in to what this show was offering. Staples hit it on the head with one major issue and those who follow me on Twitter already know it: Fox Sports management has shown zero interest in finding a college football reporter (or, heaven forbid, multiple reporters) with journalistic bona fides who can either break stories or offer reported analysis the way Ken Rosenthal does in baseball. ESPN's newsgathering apparatus is a juggernaut and FS1 attacked this with voice-oriented personalities. It's a losing blueprint for a show that has a major structural disadvantage: The show airs from Fox's Los Angeles-based studio. College football is driven by the traditions that thrive outside the stadium, which is why GameDay is an inclusive experience every Saturday. It lets the fans in. Fox College Saturday does the opposite. I'll contend Erin Andrews is not the right fit as a host here but if you are going to invest in her for the long haul, I'd give her some better assets to work with on set. I'd also make it a point to get the show out to a site at least twice a year, where Andrews can interact with fans, given that Fox presumably hired her for her star power in college football. If you asked me to predict today, I'd predict SEC Nation will have more viewers than Fox College Saturday within two years unless Fox re-evaluates its strategy for this show.

5. Would you retain Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson as the lead team on CBS if you were charged with making that assignment? If yes, why? If no, why?

Mandel: Maybe not for the long haul, but I don't know how you could make a change now coming off the most exciting season of games they've ever had. Verne botches some names, Gary says some strange things, and yet it's hard to picture the Auburn tipped pass or field goal return without them.

Rickman: I would. Danielson is schmaltzy at times, but I can't imagine any other team would've done a better job with the ridiculousness of the games on CBS this year. Lundquist was at an all-time high this year. He seemed to be having more fun than ever. I said back when we did this during the preseason that there was something beautiful in the fact they're not perfect and they know it. I really enjoyed watching games on CBS this year. Start searching for another team in the meantime to make a move in the next couple years, but give Gary and Verne a bit more run.

Staples: I'm usually at a game on Saturday, so most of my exposure to Verne and Gary comes from people complaining about Verne and Gary on Twitter. I don't think they need replacing. I just think they need to dial back the SEC propaganda. The league doesn't need any cheerleading. The product on the field speaks for itself. This also is something the ESPN folks crafting the SEC Network should consider. Even if you are somewhat of a house production, it turns off viewers if you have the tone of a house production.

Deitsch: I bring them back. First, full transparency: I am in the tank for Verne. His voice means for me that a major event is on the air, and I thought his calls for Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Auburn were sensational, especially the final play of the Iron Bowl. Like Staples, I see the hate for Danielson every week and I think part of it is that it's become a bit of a sport for an SEC fan base to dislike Danielson. Complaints of him selling the soap for the SEC are probably closer to the truth and he and Lundquist clearly fall in love with certain players and coaches yearly. But I'm not a hater. I'd keep them.

6. What college football coach would you most want on Twitter and why?

Mandel: I don't think there's any actual coach that could top FauxPelini, including Bo Pelini.

Rickman: It has to be Steve Spurrier, right? Les Miles and Mike Leach are already on there and most of the younger coaches are as well. Spurrier's possible interactions and random photos from on the job would be great. He also seems like the type to use the medium in the right way. He wouldn't tweet with volume; he'd pick his spots. Another fun one would be Nick Saban. He'd be a compelling follow off the bat.

Staples: Bret Bielema is already on Twitter, so I'm pretty happy. But an unfiltered Steve Spurrier on Twitter would melt the Internet.

Deitsch: San Diego State coach Rocky Long. Straight shooter. No B.S. All fire. He'd be cool.

7. Finish the sentence: Mark May ...

Mandel: ... is my cue to turn off the TV and go to bed.

Rickman: easily ignored.

Staples: ... is a guy who gets paid to say outrageous things, and this bothers a lot of people. I get a lot of tweets from readers asking why ESPN keeps him employed, and I always answer that their angst is exactly why he remains employed. If you're complaining, it means you're watching. It also means you're engaged. That's gold for a television network. I tell the anti-May crowd the same thing I tell Deitsch and the rest of the anti-First Take crowd: If a TV network puts something on that you dislike, don't complain about it. Ignore it. The quickest way to knock something off your television is to not watch it. If you watch and complain, then you're doing exactly what the network wants you to do.

Deitsch: ... is too bright to consistently offer Baylessian opinions designed to get attention for himself and his partner in nonsense, Lou Holtz.

The Noise Report examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.

1. This column has hammered ESPN management for months over its decision to move Outside The Lines from ESPN to ESPN2. The move was a de facto burying of the network's best sports journalism asset, with ratings dropping more than 60 percent for the program after it moved channels. But a combination of factors has prompted the network to move the show back to ESPN starting in February and that is great news.

What were those factors?

For starters, ESPN took a brutal public relations hit from its dissociation with Frontline on the "League of Denial" documentary and the implication that the network capitulated to the NFL's wishes. ESPN's top management hated the public look that the NFL had pawned them (which they did) and no amount of spinning or PR practitioners lecturing reporters changed that fact.

What else? Though officially announced last week, ESPN management has known for a couple of weeks that OTL was one of the winners of a prestigious duPont Award from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Along with a huge honor for the show, it was a public reminder that OTL was not receiving the same internal support as the other duPont winners. There have also been plenty of journalists and bloggers who blasted ESPN's decision to move the show, and no doubt ESPN management has read plenty of those words.

OTL Sunday will return to ESPN (likely on Feb. 9) in a regular 9:00 a.m. ET timeslot. The show will be followed by The Sports Reporters and SportsCenter (10-noon). The daily Outside The Lines program will now appear at 3:00 p.m. ET weekdays on ESPN followed by a half-hour episode of NFL Insiders.

"ESPN's commitment to journalism is as strong as ever and with these schedule changes we will increase the overall exposure of our award-winning Outside the Lines franchise," said ESPN president John Skipper, in a statement to this week. "Regardless of the schedule, we will continue to support OTL's multiplatform efforts."

ESPN said the move is only for the NFL offseason. That's not entirely satisfying, but the switch back to ESPN does let viewers know that ESPN is committed to a show that represents the highest editorial quality at the network. OTL and the quality reporting you see on SportsCenter and elsewhere serve as a reminder to the public that everything in Bristol is not about embracing debate, self-promotion, or a contest among seven-figure monorail salesman to see who shouts the loudest. I give Skipper credit -- and it was his call -- for signing off on the decision to put OTL where it belongs on the schedule. Welcome home, Bob Ley. At least for a couple of months.

2. ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden, relating a story from when he was an assistant coach for San Francisco in 1990: "When the 49ers beat the Giants on Monday Night Football at Candlestick in 1990, I had this old beat up car, a Delta '88. I bought it for $500. It was the worst car you've ever seen. The players all made fun of me. They called me 'Uncle Buck'. This Giants game is huge and before we leave for the stadium from the team hotel Charles Haley says to me, 'I need to ride over with you in that car to the stadium. I've got to get in the right state of mind.' I told him my car might not make it -- it was that bad a car. He insisted on riding with me. He didn't take the team bus. It's the biggest game in my life, and my car's going to break down on the way to the stadium. I don't have a parking pass or anything. So, Haley is out the window yelling at security to let us in. I am a nervous wreck. I think Mike Holmgren and George Seifert are going to fire me -- my coaching career is over. Even when we got to the stadium, I was scared to go in the locker room. Fortunately, we won 7-3 and Haley played his tail off."

2a. CBS Sports Network NFL analyst Amy Trask on the possibility of Gruden returning to the Raiders: "Jon Gruden is beloved by Raiders fans. Looking at this from a business standpoint, what a bonanza for the club if Gruden were to come back. The season ticket base would grow, the fan affinity would grow. From a business standpoint, without even regard to the X's and O's, he is simply beloved. The love the fans have for Jon can move the needle in all of those business areas. Unless and until he steps out of that broadcast booth and takes a job, there is always going to be a rumor and the question, will he go back to Oakland? That is out there now. It is going to continue to be there unless and until he ultimately says, 'I'm going and here's where I'm going.'"

2b. Fox NFL analyst Terry Bradshaw on Cowboys coach Jason Garrett: "Garrett in Dallas is no head coach. He never should've been hired in the first place. He's just a yes man for Jerry [Jones]."

2c. The NFL Network's 13-game schedule of Thursday Night Football broadcasts averaged eight million viewers in 2013, up 10 percent from 2012.

ESPN's Beth Mowins (left) possesses an impressive range of versatility in the broadcast booth.
Porter Binks/SI

3. The 2013 Media Awards were published last week with ESPN's Jay Bilas, TNT's Inside The NBA, NBC Sports Network's Rebecca Lowe, ESPN's Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Doris Burke and ESPN Radio's Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo taking top honors. Check it out here if you missed it.

4. NBC says it will air approximately 1,270 of live hours of Olympic programming from Sochi, up from 710 for Vancouver in 2010. One of the biggest changes comes in NBC's approach to figure skating. The network said NBCSN will air every figure skating event live (pairs, men's, ice dancing and ladies competitions), beginning Saturday, February 8 at 9:30 a.m. ET with the team event, which makes its Olympic debut in Sochi. NBC will then re-air figure skating in primetime on NBC, using its usual narrative approach to the competition. A smart move and a win-win for viewers.

4a. NBCSN's Olympic coverage begins February 8 at 3 a.m. ET/midnight PST with a U.S women's hockey game against Finland. NBCSN will air at least one gold medal final live each day through its 16 days of coverage. Most days, live coverage on NBCSN will begin at 3 a.m. ET and continue for 12 hours.

4b. Of major interest: NBCSN will air three U.S. Olympic men's hockey games qualifying-round games, including Team USA vs. Russia on February 15 at 7:30 a.m. ET.

4c. The official NBC Olympics release on its Sochi programming can be found here.

5. People who read this column know how much I respect the work of ESPN multi-sport play-by-play broadcaster Beth Mowins. Once again, Mowins exhibited her professionalism and talents last weekend with her call of the NCAA women's volleyball semifinals and title game. I was particularly struck by how Mowins, like Dan Shulman, Mike Tirico and others, smoothly transitions from one sport to another. She's spent most of the last four months calling college football with analyst Joey Galloway.

"I think the key to transitioning from sport to sport is to plan ahead," Mowins said in an email on Sunday. "I get basic game boards together for the volleyball matches and the football games a couple weeks before and set them all aside. Those boards would include stats, stories and coaches' comments. I don't spend much time with them until that game is 'on deck' and then I will take a couple of days to cram like it was an exam...Regardless of the sport, most of my prep is memorization of names and numbers and the most pertinent storylines. I also like to watch game tape and talk to my analyst about what he or she thinks is most important. A big part of my job is to help them be the expert that they are."

Mowins has called college football for ESPN and ESPN2 since 2005. She also calls women's basketball and softball and has previously called the NBA and MLB for ESPN Radio. If ESPN management is looking for an idea that would be progressive, as well as good for viewers, it would assign Mowins the back end of the Monday Night Football season-opening doubleheader one of these years. The assignment would make an impressive statement for a company that cares about diversity in the ranks. I asked Mowins of her interest in calling the NFL without passing on my idea.

"As for the NFL, I think all play-by-play people would relish that opportunity," she said. "It is one of the most sought-after positions in the industry and it would be a privilege for anyone. As a little girl I used to sit in front of the TV in the family room calling NFL games...I'm always looking to become a better sportscaster and I look for feedback regularly. ESPN is very good about getting me feedback. I visit with Ed Placey [the senior coordinating producer for college football coverage], Mark Gross [a senior vice president of production] and Patrick Donaher [who works in talent planning] from time to time, and in the offseason, we watch my football play-by-play tape and have discussions about a game call or mechanics. I want to know what I need to improve so that I can be better for the next broadcast, whatever level or sport that may be."

6. ESPN said it will offer viewers six different television platforms as well as audio and digital outlets as part of a "BCS Megacast" for the college football title game on Monday, Jan. 6, at 8:30 p.m. ET. The details are here.

6a. Here's how ESPN will cover the college football bowls, including commentator assignments. SiriusXM will air play-by-play of 33 bowl games.

6b. According to Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily, Fox averaged 3.1 million viewers for its college football games in 2013, up 10 percent from last year. (The net was down most of the season, but got a huge increase from the Big Ten Championship.) Karp reported Fox Sports 1 averaged 529,000 viewers for its live football broadcasts. Last season, a smaller package of college football games aired on FX, with those games averaging 611,000 viewers.

6c. Karp reported Notre Dame telecasts on NBC averaged 3.3 million viewers this season, down 24 percent compared to last year.

6d. Via Sports Business Daily: ESPN's College GameDay had its largest audience (2.11 million) on Aug. 31 while visiting Clemson University. The lowest (1.62 million) came on Oct. 12 while in Seattle for Oregon-Washington.

7. This week's sports pieces of note:

Omaha World-Herald sports reporter Dirk Chatelain wrote a beautiful piece (with great images) on the disappearance of small-town football in Nebraska.

•Grantland's Chris B. Brown on what really went wrong with Robert Griffin III.

•SI's Lee Jenkins deconstructed Ray Allen's game-tying three-pointer in last year's sixth game of the NBA Finals.

Golf Digest reporter Gabriel Thompson produced a special report on the everyday lives of the Latino immigrants -- both legal and undocumented -- who dominate the maintenance worker ranks on American golf courses. It's Golf Digest's first-ever interactive longform piece.

•'s Ryan Hunt compiled the 113 most memorable moments of 2013.

The Oregonian's John Canzano on new Texas athletic director Steve Patterson.

•Gary Myers of The Daily News on sports agent Leigh Steinberg's attempts to restart his life after alcohol abuse and bankruptcy.

•Yahoo Sports! columnist Dan Wetzel on the relationship between Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and retiring referee Ed Hightower.

Non-sports pieces of note:

The Boston Globe's Billy Baker: A bus ride, a promise, and a dream fulfilled.

•Via The Washington Post, how much teachers get paid, state by state.

• Via The New York Times: How powerless law enforcement can be when it comes to keeping firearms out of the hands of people who are mentally ill.

A father tapes his kids coming down the stairs during Christmas over a 25-year period.

Ohio State's student newspaper, The Lantern, examined the school's exclusive deals with Coca-Cola and Nike.

•The 2013 Year In Pictures, Part I, Part II and Part III from the Boston Globe's The Big Picture.

•Longform offered an archive of terrific journalism on serial killers.

This image and short story about lost love will have some in tears.

8. ABC and ESPN will air five basketball games on Christmas Day, including ABC's first two NBA broadcasts of the season -- Thunder-Knicks (2:30 p.m. ET) and Lakers-Heat (5 p.m. ET). The coverage tips off at noon with Nets-Bulls.

8a. TNT's Charles Barkley on Kobe Bryant's recent knee injury: "Kobe Bryant shouldn't play any more this year. [The Lakers] should shut him down. He is never going to be the same again. There is no way you can blow out your Achilles and come back and be a great player. He can be a good, solid player, but age has nothing to do with will power."

8b. Really liked this Bill Simmons-narrated essay from last week (produced by NBA Entertainment) on the history of the Trail Blazers. Worth the watch.

9. Sports Business Journal media reporter John Ourand offered sports media predictions for 2014.

9a. The Sherman Report's Ed Sherman's recap of the Year In Sports Media.

10. Fox Sports renewed its media rights in the U.S. to the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa Leagues for three additional seasons from 2015-16 through 2017-18. Games will air on Fox Sports, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, Fox Deportes, Fox Sports Regional Networks and Fox Soccer Plus, as well as online via and on mobile devices through the Fox Sports GO app. Fox Sports is currently in the second of a three-season partnership with UEFA for both competitions.

10a. Fox Sports said in a release it will carry 146 UEFA Champions League games annually throughout the term of the agreement on all its platforms. Fox Deportes will air 122 matches live and on-delay, featuring 10 matches weekly.

10b. Showtime has renewed Jim Rome for a third season. The show starts new episodes on Jan. 15th at 10 p.m. ET/PST.

10c. Thanks to Awful Announcing for inviting me on their end-of-the-year podcast.

10d. ESPN and the Arena Football League (AFL) have agreed to a multi-year agreement beginning in 2014. The new deal gives ESPN rights to more than 10 regular season and postseason games on its television networks per year, including the ArenaBowl, one conference championship game and 75 or more games annually on ESPN3.

10e. Fox Sports 1 will air a college basketball marathon on Dec. 31 featuring two games called by Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery (St. John's-Xavier in Cincinnati at noon ET and Villanova-Butler in Indianapolis at 7:30 p.m. ET). Tiffany Greene and LaChina Robinson will call the Seton Hall-Providence men's game at 2:00 p.m. ET. Fox Sports 1 will also air eight consecutive hours of classic Big East basketball games on Christmas Day, including Villanova's upset over Georgetown in the 1985 title game (6:00 p.m. ET).

10f. Tessitore, in an email, on how he landed the SEC Nation hosting job: "I'm constantly in conversation with a lot of folks within our ESPN management. I like staying on top of things, both discussing our company priorities and my career path. From the moment they announced the SEC Network I was interested. In hearing how much it was a company priority and realizing the level of commitment on the production side, I found myself having more serious conversations. Over the course of this fall those talks ramped up quickly. Stephanie Druley, [senior vice president, programming] Justin Connolly, and [executive vice president of production] John Wildhack played a huge role. Everyone was excited about the thought of the Saturday morning SEC Nation role combining with my regular ESPN play-by-play duties. I never hesitated in letting them know how much I wanted to see if we could make this happen and they were just as enthusiastic. One night, just before a big SEC game I was about to broadcast, commissioner Mike Slive had a great talk with me. It was easy to see how much was being put into SECN. There's no doubt this network will be his legacy. To have those executives on the ESPN side committed the way they are and to know Slive's vision on the SEC side, it felt like it was an easy choice for me. I really believe the SEC is the most brand loyal entity in sports."

10g. William Taaffe was a pioneer in this space, a gifted writer and reporter who won a National Headliners Award for best national magazine column for his work covering the sports media as a Sports Illustrated staffer in the 1980s. He was also a staff editor at the New York Times sports desk for more than seven years. I learned today that Taaffe passed away at age 70 on Dec. 12. He will be missed by many at SI and beyond. Here's a piece Taaffe wrote on Dick Vitale in May 1984.

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