As ESPN embarked on its coverage Saturday night of No. 1 Alabama vs. No 3. Florida State, there was predictably a lot of focus on the coaching matchup: Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher, friendly rivals and former colleagues (Saban and Fisher worked together at LSU, where Fisher served as the offensive coordinator for Saban). Lead announcer Chris Fowler noted that Fisher had “modeled his program after Saban,” and there was the usual focus on the Alabama and Florida State star players.
What did not receive focus was a New York Times story published on Friday which highlighted allegations of academic favoritism and fraud involving a half-dozen of its leading players in 2013. The story was convincing on the plagiarism allegations and had a tragic ending: the death of a teaching assistant at Florida State who said she felt pressured to give special breaks to athletes. The author of the piece, Mike McIntire, has a book coming out this week on college sports and corruption: "Champions Way: Football, Florida, and the Lost Soul of College Sports.”
It needs to be noted that ESPN’s on-air crew was far from the only group that did not discuss the story in-depth. The story found little traction nationally outside of a few outlets offering an abridged version and Florida State’s response to the piece. SI.com ran a seven paragraph pickup from the Associated Press that included Florida State’s response.
Once upon a time, such a piece would have dominated the sports media conversation for a news cycle. What has changed, if anything? It was something I thought a lot about on Saturday. Was it fatigue from such stories of academic fraud and major college sports? Is the sports viewing public no longer moved by such stories unless the transgressions are awful as what happened at Baylor Football? Is it an acceptance that major college sports is corrupt at its core? A distrust in journalism? The piece running up against the start of the season where fan bases mostly care about the play on the field? A reduction of investigative reporters across the country? Something else?
Neil Best, the longtime sports media and NFL reporter from Newsday, suggested “there has been a continuous flow of such stories for over a century—it's fatigue.” There’s truth to that, obviously. There’s also incentive for rights-holders to stay away from this stuff during a broadcast given they are financial partners in the system. (Make no mistake, discussing such stories during a broadcast is where these stories would have impact given the audiences compared to studio shows.)
Would ESPN have covered this more if the story came from E:60 or Outside The Lines? Probably. But I still think it would have been low-keyed on the air during the broadcast. (ESPN, by the way, is the only major college football rights-holder I have faith in even doing these kinds of stories on a regular basis. Two ESPN reporters, Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach, currently have a book out on the sexual abuse by members of Baylor's football team and the university's attempt to silence the victims).
I listed the on-air people who will bring you college football in 2017 below. It’s up to each individual viewer to determine how much they should be discussing and reporting on issues away from game action. I love watching college football and I will continue to do so. But I find college football announcing groups as a whole to God-up coaches the most of any of the major sports broadcast. They also are by-in large pro-university and pro-conference over players. It is not something I expect to change anytime soon given the money in the game.
2017 College Football Announcing Guide
The list of those calling ESPN college football this season would fill the rosters of at least six NBA teams. The majority of the teams have the same construction with one major change on the top team: Maria Taylor has replaced Sam Ponder as the sideline reporter for ABC’s Saturday Night Football package, the most-watched college football franchise on any network last season. She joins announcer Chris Fowler and analyst Kirk Herbstreit. Tom Rinaldi also is on the sidelines for selected Saturday night games.
The two most notable analyst adds are former college coach Tommy Tuberville and Dusty Dvoracek. Tuberville will join the Mike Patrick team; Dvoracek will work with Adam Amin.
On Thursday nights, ESPN says it will rotate analysts with play-by-play voice Dave Flemming. ESPN3 games use dozens of announcers, often contracted on a per game or one-off basis.
ESPN has studio teams across ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 led by the trio of Adnan Virk, Joey Galloway and Jesse Palmer who appear on ESPN on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The Saturday ABC crew consists of Kevin Negandhi, Mack Brown and Booger McFarland. (Negandhi’s role on ABC was occupied by John Saunders for many years prior to his passing before last season). The ESPN2 includes host Chris Cotter, Jonathan Vilma and former NFL and Oregon coach Chip Kelly (on Saturdays)
This is a major transitional year for CBS’s college football coverage given it is the first time since 2001 that Verne Lundquist will not lead its most important CFB broadcast package. Brad Nessler is now the voice of the SEC on CBS, alongside analyst Gary Danielson and Allie LaForce. The No. 2 team for CBS college football is play-by-play announcer Carter Blackburn, analysts Aaron Taylor, Rick Neuheisel and John Schriffen (sideline).
Blackburn, Taylor and reporter Jenny Dell return as CBS Sports Network’s lead college football announcing team. Newcomers to that network (as analysts) include former NFLers Aaron Murray and David Diehl. Erik Coleman also joins the CBS Sports Network team as a sideline reporter. The CBS studio team is Adam Zucker, Brian Jones and Rick Neuheisel. The CBS Sports Network college football studio team includes hosts Brent Stover and Dana Jacobson, and analysts Houston Nutt and Christian Fauria.
The CBS and CBS Sports Network Broadcast Teams:
• Brad Nessler, Gary Danielson and Allie LaForce.
• Carter Blackburn, Aaron Taylor, Rick Neuheisel and John Schriffen.
CBS Sports Network
• Blackburn, Taylor, and Jenny Dell.
• Rich Waltz, Aaron Murray and Cassie McKinney.
• Jason Horowitz, David Diehl, and Erik Coleman
• Dave Ryan, Corey Chavous, and Melanie Collins.
• John Sadak, Randy Cross, and Tina Cervasio or Sheehan Stanwick Burch.
• Ben Holden, Jay Feely, and Schriffen
Feeling a tad hubristic, the network sent out a press release in May that it would be “owning the fall” with its college football schedule. That’s marketing on steroids of course, given ESPN’s inventory but Fox does have its best-ever college football schedule thanks to its partnership with the Big Ten (Fox owns the Big Ten football championship game every season and has game selection advantages over ESPN) and existing deals with the Big 12. It also has one of the signature games of any college football season: Ohio State at Michigan on Nov. 25 at noon ET on Fox.
Fox made a slew of talent moves on the remote side including adding former coaches Mark Helfrich and Les Miles and bringing on former ESPN CFB analyst Danny Kanell. Miles will make his debut on Sept. 16 for Northern Illinois at Nebraska alongside play-by-play announcer Tim Brando, analyst Spencer Tillman and sideline reporter Holly Sonders. Kanell debuted Saturday with play-by-play announcer Eric Collins and analyst for Liberty’s win over Baylor on FS2.
Fox and FS1’s main studio team remains host Rob Stone and analysts Matt Leinart, Robert Smith and Dave Wannstedt. The rules experts are Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino.
The Fox and FS1 Broadcast Teams
• Gus Johnson, Joel Klatt and Jenny Taft.
• Joe Davis, Brady Quinn and Bruce Feldman.
• Tim Brando, Spencer Tillman and Holly Sonders
• Justin Kutcher, Mark Helfrich, Petros Papadakis and Jennifer Hale.
• Kevin Kugler, Matt Millen and Lisa Byington.
• Brandon Gaudin, Glen Mason and Kyndra de St. Aubin.
• Brandon Gaudin, Chuck Long and Michelle McMahon.
• Eric Collins, Danny Kanell and A.J. Hawk.
• Mark Followill, Brian Baldinger and Lesley McCaslin.
• Joe Beninati, Glen Mason and Elise Menaker,
• Brian Custer and Ben Leber.
Despite having a small college football presence compared to CBS, Fox and ESPN, NBC had an eventful offseason when it came to talent changes. The network announced that Mike Tirico would replace Dan Hicks as its lead broadcaster of Notre Dame Football, alongside analyst Doug Flutie and sideline reporter Kathryn Tappen. Chris Simms was added as a studio analyst. He joins host Liam McHugh for pre-game, halftime, and post-game coverage on-site at Notre Dame Stadium for every game this season. For a production breakdown of how NBC will cover Notre Dame, check out this Sports Video Group piece.