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Just Shut Up, Please

Go read Chad talk about sports announcing. Hell, read some here and then go:

Take yesterday's Maryland-UNC game, for example. After all, it's what prompted this rant.

On at least five occasions, play stopped because of a whistle, and they went to commercial without telling us what had been called. This is the most basic and fundamental job of a play-by-play announcer: to let us know what's going on on the court. Musberger couldn't be bothered-- they just went into the commercial break, without any explanation of why play had stopped to allow the break. Was it a foul? Who was the foul on? Who knows?

On several occasions, Musberger got plays flatly wrong. In the most egregious example, he attributed a Maryland basket to by Landon Milbourne to Marcus Ginyard, who plays for the other team. He didn't even appear to notice, and certainly never corrected it. On one play, he was confused about who was supposed to get the ball, and spent an entire thirty-second timeout talking about strategy for Maryland inbounding the ball, while an on-screen graphic informed the viewers that it was UNC ball.

The problem is a very simple one. Announcing sports, like presidenting, is hard work. Sure, there's a small army of employees supplying you with reams of information, but there's still a lot of responsiblity on the announcer's shoulders. You have to do quite a bit of preparation to be familiar with the teams on the court, you have to be damn observant to correctly identify what's going on in a fast-paced game, and you have to be quick-witted enough to say interesting things about the play in front of you.

"Observant" and "quick-witted" aren't the first things that come to mind when you think about ESPN employees. So with all the money they have to throw around, why aren't they hiring people who can do the damn job?

Because it's not in ESPN's financial interest to select observant and smart people. The announcers aren't there to add value to the game the fans are watching - they're fans, there to see their favorite team, and the network already has their eyeballs. The announcers are there to grab channel flippers, and thus have one of two qualities, a good, familiar voice or a "personality."

The good, familiar voice is what keeps Musberger and Mike Patrick rolling in the dough. There job is to convey that this game is important, becuase they're there talking about it. They're reasonably well-prepared, but know what they're going to say in advance. The "Williams name" annoying shtick was obviously something prepared beforehand with the thought that UNC would be blowing Maryland out by the second half. Alas, that was not the case,  but that bit of time-filler was already written, so ESPN would be damned if they let something as trivial as an exciting basketball game get in the way of that.

Patrick has the same problem with advance preparation, but with him it's more of an inability to realize what's happening in front of him is not what he thought it was going to be. Hence his assurances that Terrence Oglesby was shooting the lights out of the UNC game last week when he was 1-10 from the field, or his fervent belief that Greg Paulus and Jon Scheyer are the second and third comings of Jesus, repsectively. He'll also continue to stress his first view of everything, as when he continued to bemoan the horrible treatment Paulus was recieving at the hands of FSU's Reid despite he new replays that showed otherwise.

The "personality" - typically the color announcer - is of course, exemplified by Dick Vitale, although Steve Lavin is trying his hardest to step up to that level (He's used that beep-beep-roadrunner comment in the last three games I've seen him discuss, trying to turn it into his version of Vitale's "diaper dandies" if it kills us all.) Again, their job is to get people who normally wouldn't watch the game to leave the remote on ESPN, and the advantage there is that they can talk. A lot. About anything. Never again do the airwaves have to be filled with the sounds of basketball, pleasing only to fans of the game. Instead, we get to hear that annoying guy at the party who just won't shut up talk without that filter in his head the rest of us seem blessed with. Hearing his voice in the three seconds as you're flipping through the cable channels lets you know that it's an imortant game, and believe me, you'll hear his voice because he never shuts up.

The ironic thing is that the excesses of announcing have become so great that people don't watch as many games they're not personally invested in as they used to. Ratings for sporting events drop, and are replaced with talking head discussions of sports, which more fans wach because more teams are mentioned, which gives more airtime to personalities and voices, which puts them on more games, which continues the spiral into miserable TV. An we're all the worse for it.

Now if you excuse me, I have to go yell at kids to get off my lawn or something. Crotchety old man by-laws, dontchaknow.