Shooting from the lip/Feb. 4th edition
The latest from the world of televised sports ...
Conflict of the day
Earlier this week, former Gators football coach Urban Meyer cut financial ties with the school because his new role as an ESPN analyst could have led to an NCAA violation, especially when Meyer talked about high school recruits. Meyer had remained on the Florida payroll and planned on working closely with the school and athletic director Jeremy Foley. Florida had no choice in the matter, and the only reason Meyer resigned from the university was over concerns for Florida. But it's bothersome that ESPN did not have an issue with Meyer working for the network while having financial ties with Florida.
Look, every analyst of a team sport on television played or coached somewhere. They're analysts because they played or coached, and they had to play or coach somewhere. Kirk Herbstreit went to Ohio State. Jay Bilas went to Duke. Troy Aikman played for the Cowboys. Charles Barkley played for the 76ers. On and on it goes, and many viewers perceive a bias even when there isn't one. (It's a perception usually based on the viewer's own bias.) But the difference is those analysts are not still being paid by their former teams. It's disturbing that ESPN had no objection in employing an analyst who might be in a position to analyze the very school that is paying him. Just the appearance of a conflict undermines the credibility of an analyst and the network, and there's no bigger conflict than an analyst being paid millions by the program they occasionally analyze.
Sadly, ESPN has shown little regard for conflicts of interest in the past. The network just signed a multimillion dollar deal to start up a network for the University of Texas. Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch recently pointed out tennis analyst Mary Jo Fernandez often is in the position to interview Roger Federer, whose agent happens to be Fernandez's husband. And then there's the whole LeBron James fiasco.
It's reasonable to assume that if Florida wasn't worried about the NCAA, Meyer still would be on its payroll and would have a job at ESPN.
The good news out of all of this is Meyer no longer has financial ties to Florida. It would have been nicer if ESPN had been the one who made Meyer cut those ties with Florida before hiring him.
Announcer of the day
Surprisingly, Meyer was the star of ESPNU’s national signing day coverage. I say surprisingly because many were unsure if Meyer, with his rigid personality, was a fit for television, but he highlighted ESPNU's coverage with strong analysis, interesting stories about recruiting and, yep, even a little humor. His best story was recalling that he was convinced the Gators were going to get star running back C.J. Spiller in 2006 and, thus, did not go after a highly rated running back from New Jersey. So when Spiller shocked everyone by choosing Clemson, it was too late for Florida to chase the back from New Jersey. And who was that back from New Jersey? Knowshon Moreno, who went to Georgia and was the 12th overall pick by the Broncos in 2009.
Thought of the day
It’s likely that Sunday's Super Bowl on Fox will become the United States' most-watched show in television history. Last year's Super Bowl between the Saints and Colts drew 106.5 million viewers, breaking a record set by 1983's M*A*S*H series finale.
Could there be a day when the biggest sporting event in America is on cable instead of network television? Just last month, the college football national championship game was, for the first time, on cable (ESPN). Fox Sports president Eric Shanks believes the Super Bowl could end up on cable but not any time soon.
"I don't think in the foreseeable future. But who knows 10, 15, 20 years down the line?'' he said. "The line is being blurred between over-the-air broadcast and cable. There's a generation growing up today who probably has no idea what over-the-air television even means because they or their parents just get a bill in the mail every month and they pay it. I think the economics for the foreseeable future will keep it on broadcast television.''
Golf network of the day
Who has television's best golf coverage? According to a poll of fans done by Golfweek.com, it's CBS. Nearly 1,500 people participated in the poll, with CBS collecting 38.5 percent of the vote. In addition, CBS's Jim Nantz (anchor), David Feherty and Gary McCord (tower/on-course reporters) were voted as fan favorites. My issue with CBS is how it seems to suck up to the PGA, the players, the tournament directors and to whichever course is hosting that week’s event. Give me NBC's coverage, especially analysts Johnny Miller and Dottie Pepper. That's the network with television's best golf coverage.
* ESPN will start daily editions of Baseball Tonight on Monday at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN2. The daily show will stay in that time slot until opening day, when it will move to 10 p.m. and midnight Monday through Saturday and 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays.
* Stephen A. Smith is returning to ESPN. Sort of. The former ESPN television commentator and host of Quite Frankly With Stephen A. Smith will be a local radio host and ESPN.com columnist. Smith will host two weekday talk shows — one on ESPN Radio 1050-AM in New York and the other on ESPN Radio 710-AM in Los Angeles. He’ll also contribute regularly to ESPNNY.com and ESPNLA.com.
* There has been a major shake-up at the top over at Versus after the merger between NBC and Comcast. (Versus was owned by Comcast.) Most viewers don’t know the names or really care, but they might care about this: NBC Sports Group chair Dick Ebersol said he hopes to bolster Versus by acquiring the rights for more sports. He also said he wants to change the name of Versus to reflect the NBC brand, but a name change likely won’t happen for a few months.
* Speaking of Versus, the exclusive negotiating period between the NHL and Versus for cable rights in the United States ended earlier this week. But the sides are continuing to talk. What makes it complicated is NBC currently has an exclusive window to deal with the NHL for network rights and NBC now owns Versus.
Three things that popped into my head
1. You could make an argument that the Lightning's Marty St. Louis is the best professional athlete ever in Tampa Bay.
2. Last weekend proved it again: Watching golf on TV is not as good when Tiger Woods is not in the hunt.
3. If the Lightning goes .500 the rest of the season, it will finish with 99 points. That would be the second-most in team history, behind the Stanley Cup team that collected 106 in 2003-04.