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Sunday, June 11, 2006

NCAA broadcast review

The upside: The meet was on live TV, the first time in 24 years. Team scoring was the feature, and every event was analyzed in that context.

The downside: Little else was done right. These people did not do their homework.

My constant complaint with track on US television, especially live broadcasts, is that the meets are not scheduled tightly enough. Often times there are ten minutes between events. I can accept that there are reasons this is done, but you'd think a sport that's constantly complaining about lack of visibility and attention would actually consider spectator interest when planning its championship. The issue some people have with baseball is that they cram eight minutes of action into three hours of game time; sprint-heavy TV coverage has the same problems. You get three minutes of pre-event hype, less than a minute of action, three minutes of (over-) analysis, and a commercial break. Yawn.

It does not have to be this way. A track and field meet is a three-ring circus. The NCAA meet has 42 events over four days. Some of that down time can be used to update the viewer on current field events or play tape of races that didn't get on the air live. There's no shortage of action at the NCAAs.

Did we see any of this? Sort of. Yeah, they gave us some field event updates. We saw Garret Johnson put the shot twice and got told he moved from fourth up to first. Were we kept up to date on this while it happened? No. Was any drama or suspense about the outcome built? No. Did we even see any shot put standings listed on the screen (you know, the way they figured out how to do on TV some 40+ years ago)? No. Shot coverage was two clips of tape and Dwight Stones reading some results off a piece of paper. The other field events got even shorter shrift; it was the basic "here's who won and their winning attempt" crap that US television has done for decades.

And then there was the men's triple jump; during the men's 1500 meters, Florida State clinched the team title with Rafeeq Curry's TJ win. CBS, to their credit, gave us the picture-in-picture format to show us his final attempt live. But we got no event standings or the mark he just made, just him on the runway, followed by Michigan's Michael Whitehead taking the last attempt of the competition. Again, we weren't told what distance Whitehead needed to overtake Curry, it was just some guy running and jumping. And while we're getting this, the TV screen misses FSU's Tom Lancashire making a huge break in the 1500. Arrrgh!

Now, I understand that Friday's action was on CSTV, and CBS might not have retained the rights to show that action on Saturday's broadcast. But for cryin' out loud, give us what you have! The men's and women's 800 meters were run just before the broadcast began, and while CBS did show them, it was only the last 120 meters and in slow motion. Christ, it would have only taken two minutes each to show the whole damn race! Then, CBS skips showing us the women's 1500 and heptathlon so they could have their talking heads interview winning coaches and drone on and on and on....snore....

Taken in aggregate, the way CBS covered the NCAA championships was almost apologetic. You get the impression that they thought the viewer doesn't actually like watching track. "We're sorry you turned your TV to this. We'll try to avoid showing you a track and field meet. We know you'd much rather see some talking heads and interviews with people with nothing to say other than 'Winning feels great! I worked so hard for this!' Maybe if we suck balls at this we won't have to come back and do it again."


jen said...

Hey, to be fair, sportscasters are terribly annoying no matter what sport they're covering. I might actually watch sports if you could turn the announcers' voices off and actually hear the action. But the announcers think we'd rather listen to some hokey "personal interest" story or some dumb cliche about "it's all about who wants it most" than hear the people cheering in the crowd and pay attention to what's going on.

The Track & Field Superfan said...

So you mean people who talk for a living have an overinflated sense of importance? Surprise, surprise. But the producers are paid to make an interesting show, not keep the bigmouths happy!