Friday, November 25, 2005

Off-Topic: Televised Basketball

Forgive me this aside on a Nationals blog, but I need to make this statement, very clearly: ESPN's coverage of college basketball is abysmal. It has been abysmal for years and ESPN appears to be unable or unwilling to correct it. Specifically, the in-game coverage on almost every game they show is insulting to the viewers -- the announcers, the graphics, and the camera angles all fail to convey information about the game that is essential to understanding and enjoying the game.

We can start with the obvious, Dick Vitale, but I want to be clear on this: this is an endemic problem that goes beyond him. He is the best example of the main problem, however -- the announcers do not tell you about the game going on right in front of them. They rarely tell you how many team fouls the teams have. They rarely tell you how many personal fouls the players have. They often don't tell you about substitutions.

But the most frustrating lapse comes with about 10 minutes left in a close game. After 30 minutes of basketball, when plot lines and themes have been developed (some hot shooter is cold, a bench player is hot, a strategy is working or not working, etc.), they insist on talking about things in the media guide. Vitale is the worst at this. Instead of providing any analysis, he just continues to BS about factoids he knows, often the same factoids he's told you 15 times before in this very game, and 100 times before in previous games. You might as well be sitting in the stands with two blabbermouth fans who simply want to prove how much they "know" while not paying attention to the game.

Vitale's been doing this for over a decade. I vividly recall a game in 1992 when Duke was playing Virginia at Cameron, and Virginia was keeping the game very close late in the second half, despite being outmatched by what turned out to be one of the best college teams in history. If you could only listen to Vitale, however, you would never know this. He barely mentioned UVA's surprising run, let alone try to explain why it was happening. It was so frustrating I had to turn down the sound. And I'm a Duke graduate.

Plus, the directors completely fail to make up for this with good use of text and graphics. Is there any excuse for them not to constantly display team fouls, and whether teams are in the bonus? The arena scoreboard does, why not the TV board? And for every foul -- every one -- the player's personal foul total should come up. Similar for points, assists, etc., as they happen. There is simply no excuse for not providing this kind of information graphically in real-time.

I can recall only one game in over 25 years of watching college hoops where the announcer provided valuable information that complemented the pictures. It was in a 1997 second-round NCAA game between Iowa and Kentucky. The announcer filled all the dead space during free throws and fouls with stats (both current game and yearly), trends and keen observations. Who was he? Gary Thorne, the excellent hockey announcer, who makes the full-time college hoops broadcasters look like amateurs.

Finally, camera angles. Why do directors insist on switching to the under the basket angle during a live shot of a fast break? Don't they know that this will only serve to ensure that the fans at home won't actually see what happens? Can't they save those shots for the replay of the thunderous dunk which only happens about 10 percent of the time? Basketball is too fast a game to try to switch cameras on the fly, so directors shouldn't even try.

I should also not single out ESPN. CBS is pretty lousy too, suffering from the same shortcomings. It does make me appreciate how good many of the baseball radio and television announcers are, and wonder how much better college hoops would be with decent telecasts.


At 6:27 PM, Blogger Nate said...

Dicky V's capacity to talk non-stop without saying anything almost makes one appreciate Ron Darling's 3-minute silences.

At 1:06 AM, Blogger Yuda said...

The sad thing is that CBS is probably the best of a bad bunch in terms of overall sports coverage among the major networks plus ESPN.


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