When Notre Dame and Alabama kickoff on Monday night in Miami shortly after 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN executives will have numbers on their minds, but it won't be ones appearing on the scoreboard at Sun Life Stadium. The key number for that suit-and-tie crowd is 35.6 million.
That figure represents the most-viewed national championship game of the BCS era, the thrill-a-second title game in Jan. 2006 when No. 2 Texas and Heisman Trophy runner-up Vince Young slipped by No. 1 USC (and Heisman Trophy winners Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart) in the Rose Bowl. The game was the perfect storm of star power and a dramatic game-winning touchdown (Young's touchdown scamper with 19 seconds remaining) and it produced the most-watched NCAA championship football game since 1991, when Nielsen records began for college football.
Will Notre Dame-Alabama top USC-Texas in total viewers? It's unlikely, but a close game late will produce a mega-audience. What can viewers expect from ESPN's coverage on Monday night? Here's a broadcast primer on the BCS National Championship Game:
The game broadcasters include Brent Musburger (announcer) Kirk Herbstreit (analyst) Heather Cox (sideline) and Tom Rinaldi (sideline). Musburger and Herbstreit have called six national championship games and are best in class for college football. Bill Bonnell will produce the game (his fourth national title game as the lead producer) and Derek Mobley is the game's director (Mobley has directed five national title games including Texas-USC). ESPN has roughly 500 staffers in Miami between the game broadcast, College GameDay and its 3D telecast.
"The whole season you go to a college stadium where there is a big college atmosphere and a huge student section, and then you come to bowl games and the student sections are not defined," Mobley said. "Students are scattered everywhere, and the stands have more corporate feel to it. So it's a challenge to draw out that college atmosphere. Plus, at Sun Life Stadium, the sideline is further away from the stands than the other bowl sites. The fans are much further away."
Heather Cox has been assigned to Notre Dame. Tom Rinaldi has Alabama.
"Brian Kelly is the son of an Irish politician, and no one works a room any better than Brian Kelly," said Musburger. "He loves to see you, loves to have your company in the room, and then pretends that he's telling you everything that's going to happen, and he always keeps something in the saddlebags. A very, very savvy coach. With Nick Saban, he kind of wears his emotions on his sleeve...Both are very open about practice. Both like to have announcers come to practice unlike [LSU coach]Les Miles, who kicked us out last year for 30 minutes, then let us back in. We [he and Herbstreit] looked at each other in the second half, and we said, 'Miles locked us out for this?' Both [Kelly and Saban] are very open coaches, very easy to deal with. You can reach them whenever you want to."
Flexibility on the fly. "You go through your plans over and over again and what you think is going to happen always ends up not happening," Bonnell said. "For the Texas-Alabama game [in 2010], we had no idea [Texas quarterback] Colt McCoy would be knocked out in the first series. In every championship, something happens and you just have to be flexible."
ESPN has 39 cameras (in both 2D and 3D) for the title game including eight robotic cameras, two mounted jib cameras, multiple high-motion camera systems, and SpiderCam, which flies over the field for wide-angle shots and overhead replays. Surround microphones have been added throughout Sun Life Stadium, including microphones in the parking lot, fan areas in the end zones, the hallways outside player locker rooms, and on the SpiderCam above the field. Bonnell said ESPN management challenged his production crew to amp up the audio so the network will use 5.1 surround sound for this game.
"Notre Dame is such a polarizing team where everybody, no matter when you grew up, you either loved Notre Dame or you just couldn't stand Notre Dame," said Herbstreit. "There are a lot of people out there that I think are going to have to make a tough decision on who to pull for, and I really believe that outside of the SEC, most people, even if they aren't big Notre Dame fans in this case, because of the six straight national titles, I think they're going to be pulling with all their hearts to see Notre Dame end that streak.
The 2010 BCS title game (Alabama over Texas) drew 30.8 million viewers on ABC. That's followed by the 2003 title game (Ohio State over Miami) with 29.1 million viewers on ABC. Last year's Alabama-LSU title game on ESPN averaged 24.2 million viewers, down 11 percent from the previous year.
I think if the game is within 10 points heading into the fourth quarter, ESPN will hit the 30 million viewers mark. And though you didn't ask: Alabama 24, Notre Dame 17
The Noise Report
When his interview with Costas concluded that day, Valentine was approached by NBC Sports executive Rob Simmelkjaer who came armed with a suggestion:
How would you like to host your own radio sports-talk show?
Valentine liked the idea.
The NBC Sports Group and Dial Global will formally announce Monday that Valentine has joined the NBC Sports Radio lineup as a Major League Baseball contributor. He will call in weekly to NBC Sports affiliated stations over the next two months before co-hosting a daily sports-talk show on NBC Sports Radio starting in April. (His co-host has been picked but NBC says they will not announce the name until March.) "I think in my years here on earth, I have let people know I have an opinion about pretty much everything," Valentine told SI.com. "I think I will remain true to that."
Valentine hosted radio shows while managing in Texas and New York and is a former analyst for ESPN's
How opinionated will Valentine be about players and coaches he either managed or coached against? "I don't know that you have to be negatively biased to inform people of what is going on, or to keep them listening," Valentine said. "I think you have to be true. If I have a fault, it's that I tell the truth. You can't dictate to the customer what they want and I think a good host feels his audience and understands what they want and need and tries to provide it."
As for returning to television, Valentine said he would see how the year played out and whether an opportunity opened up in the future. His answer was the same regarding a return to baseball in either an on-field or management capacity. "Anyone would be a fool not to be open to that," Valentine said.
Last September, as things grew miserable on the field in Boston, Valentine told WEEI-AM host Glenn Ordway that he'd "punch" him "right in the mouth" after the host suggested he had "checked out" on the season.
"I think the only time I had a problem with someone on the other side of the microphone is when they crossed over the personal line or they were totally incorrect in whatever they were representing," Valentine said of sports-talk radio spats. "I am going to try and not get personal. And I'm also going to try to be correct as often as possible."
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