Having watched the national championship some 20+ times now, I have reached the point of saturation. I am ready to unveil my rankings of the national championship MEGACAST. First, I will note what is absent. ESPN stumbled into a brilliant new mode of watching football games (and sports in general) when they unleashed the Coaches Room. This was available for both of the semifinal matchups to mixed results, but it always depends on the coaches personalities (I think the problem was not having someone who could help manage the flow like Chris Spielman used to do brilliantly or even Griese—also nice if someone knows how to run the technology, looking at you Mack Brown).
We also lost the HomerCast, which was fun if you were a fan of the team and produced some memorable exchanges, but was difficult to watch for an entire game when the ‘Homers’ were often just watching the game themselves and not trained in broadcasting. I also wasn’t really a fan of ESPN Voices where non-football, random people were lumped together to watch the game as a party. The most irritating thing was people just leaving as if they had somewhere better to go and voices distracting, not even watching or respecting the game.
Alright, let us get on with it. Ranked from best to absolute worst:
- FIELD PASS—This might not be at the top for everyone, but I felt overall this was the best mixture of commentary and a different, enjoyable game experience. And I don’t even particularly care for Steve Levy. Chip Kelly was masterful—I could listen to that guy give live commentary for any game. He had some nice dialogue with Tim Tebow and I was sad when he left after the first quarter. Adam Amin did as good a job as anyone could with maintaining conversation and jumping between all the different guests. It can’t be easy to continually be walking up and down the sideline, and keeping things moving. I wish Desmond Howard stuck around longer to see Bama further unravel. I really liked Vilma talking about the play on the field. He picked Clemson and defended that pick throughout the week. Chizik was surprisingly fine. Jim Mora didn’t want to give up his microphone he was having so much fun. Rod Gilmore and Levy know each other well and had a good chemistry.
- COMMAND CENTER—I’m using this as the spot where I put the traditional broadcast as well. The Command Center is fascinating because they have a dedicated camera stick with the head coaches in two little boxes. I was fixated on Dabo and Saban responses, rewinding to read the lips of Saban as interceptions were thrown or fake kicks imploded. Quality television. Herbie and Fowler are fine. They are professionals. They do a good job. They are polished and know their stuff, but they aren’t transcendent or iconic. I wouldn’t change them with anyone else, but they aren’t in that elite level. For example, Fowler’s call of ‘little man’ two years ago when calling one of the great moments in the history of the CFB playoff was lacking, especially when compared to McDonough. I’m not complaining, however, since CFB thankfully avoided Joe Tessitore as its voice (and after all, Herbie is now part of the #ClemsonFamily).
- TECH CAST—I think Todd Blackledge and Sean McDonough, along with Holly Rowe, (I can take or leave Ian Fitzsimmons) are the best in the business. Their radio call was the best version of championship game and the reason this version is ranked so high. I’m not sold on the Tech cast itself. You must watch it on the biggest screen possible or the small camera angles give you nothing. There are 12 smaller windows on the top and bottom with two large split screen views.
Four of the smaller views go to the pylon cams that are basically useless for actual viewing unless there is a TD and four are given to Ref cameras. The ref cameras are an interesting idea and could be used better if commentators, for example, went to the ref camera to see why a penalty was or wasn’t called on the field. I tried to check some of that myself with the PI non-calls (could you see the AJ Terrell grabbing jersey?). Unfortunately, some of the ref cams kept glitching and needing to be reset throughout (they would freeze, which was distracting). It was unique to see the refs interacting with each other (I was trying to read some lips) and with coaches/coaching staffs or see the refs get chewed out (DO YOUR JOB!).
The All-Cam and High Sky views are great, especially for breaking down film. The last two cameras were the first down marker and the first down pylon. I don’t know if these are worth the trouble. The Marker camera doesn’t do much for showing on the field play—it shows some sideline coaching craziness (BV being pulled back) and the first down pylon shows a bunch of ref and coaches feet. Yeah, I’d scrap that one unless you put in a camera that can zoom in across the field and see the ball.
So the Tech is interesting, but needs tweaking. It gets ranked this high because they had the radio broadcast.
4. Thinking Out Loud/SEC Network—this is just glorious. Perhaps rated a bit too high, but this is pure enjoyment. Have you ever seen that Simpsons episode “I Love Lisa” where Bart replays over and over Ralph Wiggum getting destroyed by Lisa saying, “You can actually pinpoint the second when his heart rips in half”? This happens to Greg McElroy on this broadcast (right after Ross scores his TD).
Spears and McElroy are joined by Alyssa Lang and don’t do an awful job of commenting on the game. They start by obviously being bothered by the decour and set up for the game—some cheap shack looking thing with a surfboard and fake grapes (that get referenced over and over as frustration with the game mounts). The two start the game completely expecting Bama to win and by the fourth quarter Spears is on his cell phone, totally checked out. It is fun to watch their continual faith that Bama will get back into the game at some point...very soon...but it never happens.
Again, this is good television overall from a broadcasting perspective. Spears and McElroy are good at calling and diagnosing plays. McElroy knows a lot about Bama and provides Saban insights, but both are knowledgeable about Clemson’s roster and break things down to a granular level. They also have some quality guests (who act like they are stepping down into the kids pool) like David Pollack and Tim Tebow (Tebow is hilariously eating a salad after getting off the big show with Field Pass). Tom Luggy is in a state of shock. Beautiful.
I guess some producer thought it would be a good idea to have a bowl of dumb questions to prompt conversation. McElroy and Spears do a good job of largely shooting those down.
5. ALL-22—I’m a big fan of the All-22 view (where you get to see all 22 players on the field every play). You get to see how routes develop and how defenses adjust. You can see thing the way a coach or player would watch film. The angle does get a bit hard to watch towards the goal-lines and you don’t have any commentary, but you do get some of the sounds of the game. I’m throwing the Sky Cam and High Sky Cam views into this section.
6. Hometown Radio: Alabama—Eli Gold is the distinct voice of the Crimson Tide and does a surprisingly good job of calling the game as he sees it, without too much bias. Gold is professional and level-headed despite watching the Bama implosion. John Parker Wilson, a former Bama QB, also provides solid commentary on the game and insight into Bama.
My only gripe with the radio is the emergence of the Bama doing this to themselves narrative that emerges (more from the sideline reporting) when Rashad Johnson and Chris Stewart continue to weigh-in as the broadcast progresses.
7. Hometown Radio: Clemson—Don Munson, Rodney Williams, Reggie Merriweather and Tim Bourret are fine. Munson has improved tremendously since taking over as the voice of the Tigers. Bourret gives this an extra level of depth with his research. This was also a really hard task because these guys had to have been ecstatic with this result. My only major gripe with Clemson radio these days is that I wish Munson’s calls on important plays were a bit stronger.
8. SOUNDS OF THE GAME—Meh. Not bad if you want to hear more of the roar of the crowd, but I could care less about hearing the public address announcer. Hearing and seeing more of the bands are fun up until a point. I wouldn’t mind incorporating more of these sounds into the actual main broadcast. Cutting to the endzone sounds and hearing the roar of the crowd before certain plays would be a nice augmentation of current broadcasting in big games.
9. DataCenter—Hard pass. I don’t need to see the same people tweeting about the game. Seriously, I can only see a tweet from (blank) so many times before it gets really annoying. If you have Twitter already up yourself, this is pointless. The running stats are fine, but they don’t do any real deep dive analytics. Its just basic stats and nothing novel. Do more with this of just get rid of it as a regular, dedicated broadcast. I do like listening to ESPN Radio on the call, however.
10. Monday Night Football Room (aka WHERE IS THE COACHES ROOM ESPN??, aka Joe Tess asks for Todd McShay to ‘Talk Football’ to me and we have to sit and watch it)
Monday Night Football is unwatchable with the crack squad of Joe Tess, Booger ‘Harkonnen’ McFarland (dubbed bc of his floating command center with giant screen blocking actual fans), Jason Witten, but to try and get the viewing public to accept them until their contracts run out, we get more! And lets throw in Todd McShay (?!?) since we are using this group for NFL Draft coverage too!
You know what—this shouldn’t be this low because Witten, when given time to analyze plays, does a pretty good job of diagnosing and explaining. It is way better than MNF. And Booger has some decent takes. This group actually knows a good bit about college football and when they are engaged, they aren’t awful.
But this gets ranked so low because what doesn’t work is Joe Tess. His schtick has grown sour and in an extended setting we get to watch him ordering around staff to bring him his Perrier water and just comes off as a jerk. He talks so much about being a kicking expert and then when he finally does give his grand kicking commentary, he makes a weird hand motion and weird sounds with his mouth and is like...ta da...what?? Talk football to me McShay.
Booger hilariously checks out at the end and needs to CATCH HIS FLIGHT? before the game is over? We cut to Booger with an entire spread of deli meats...haha (I actually don’t mind the eating and the snacks). McShay seems to have no training whatsoever with the teleprompter (there has to be a button to move this ten seconds forward and back people—and if not, invent it ESPN! You spend so much money on a million cameras but not a decent FF function?). Fun to hear McShay backtracking on all his early bad takes on the Clemson defensive lines draft rankings. Bring back the coaches and someone who can fast forward, please!
THE WORST: BLIMPCAST
Oh what a disaster. I actually watched the entire thing. If you have any masochistic tendencies—this is the cast for you. Apparently Marty and McGee were supposed to do this but needed to bail at the last second and I don’t really blame Matt Barrie or Elle Duncan. The two were placed in a cramped space with constant feedback that was hurting my ears (and their ears). They were also delayed in their viewing of the game and so their reactions were late.
They knew enough about cfb, but when the conversations slipped past prop bets to games they had invented about guessing snacks—it got bad. Plus, the entire concept is flawed and laced with corporate shilling. The hosts even showed a goodie bag. But why do we even care about blimp shots anymore in an era of drones that can deliver far superior shots? The blimp is a relic that is kept around because it has a giant corporate logo and stuffing two SportsCenter personalities uncomfortably close together to watch the game on a delayed screen is just bad television. Painfully bad.