Highlighters & Headsets: Reviewing the Marathon

Posted by rtmsf on November 19th, 2010

Highlighters & Headsets is an occasional look at the coverage of college basketball – from television to print (they still make paper?), blogs to bracket busters, and Gus Johnson to Gameday – written by RTC contributor Steve Moore. He welcomes your comments, column ideas and Dickie (V) jokes at smoore71@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @smoore1117.

Hoops Marathon Tests ESPN’s Bench Depth

ESPN catches a lot of flak from a lot of people – much of it deserved. But as almost any college basketball fan will tell you, the College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon is one of the best things on the ESPN calendar. It’s unique and quirky, without being overly gimmicky. We get to see teams and players we won’t see again all season, and have an excuse to stay up until all hours of the night.  For me (and I hope at least a few others, or else no one will be reading this), part of the allure is also keeping an eye (and ear) on how ESPN performs during its annual test of endurance and depth.

The WWL Nailed This Event

Personally, I think this is the kind of thing that proves why ESPN is the gold standard. Its resources (read: dollar bills, y’all) are endless, and, for the most part, its announcing crews are professional and entertaining. Unlike some people here at RTC, I couldn’t make it through the entire 24 hours without the help of Red Bull, Four Loko or some other delicious energy beverage. But I did catch enough to put together a quick rundown of the ups and downs of ESPN’s effort on what was, overall, an incredible day for hoops fans everywhere.


Nearly all of ESPN’s announcing teams on Tuesday – and the general attitude of the network’s promotion – seemed to understand the event. By that, I mean the network seemed to understand that the whole concept of playing basketball at 2, 4 and 6 a.m. is a little strange, and it’s OK to increase the off-beat goofiness and drop the life-or-death mindset that is more appropriate during Championship Week or UNC-Duke.

As the hours got later, the announcers seemed to adapt with the late-night viewers watching at home. Sean McDonough and Bill Raftery (Memphis-Miami, midnight) always sound like they’re sitting at the bar talking about the game, but Carter Blackburn/Mark Gottfried (St. Mary’s-St. John’s, 2 a.m.) and Todd Harris/Mark Adams (Hawaii/Central Michigan, 4 a.m.) lightened the mood and didn’t take themselves too seriously. We got much less in the way of X’s and O’s, and more basic information about teams and players we may not know too well.

The prize, however, goes to the duo of Rob Stone and Jay Williams, who called two games in two different states, 12 hours apart (Monmouth-Stony Brook, 6 a.m., and Villanova/Marist, 5:30 p.m.). Stone’s lighthearted style, and the fact that he’s not a college hoops specialist, just seemed to work well with a ridiculous 6 a.m. tip in a high school-sized gym at Monmouth. Part of the allure of the 6 a.m. game is wondering what the atmosphere is like and whether the players and coaches are into it. The duo kept me interested, and also seemed completely on board with their early wakeup call. It would have been easy to tell if the pair felt like it was forced into the ridiculous assignment. Stone and Williams seemed to embrace the absurdity of it all, and even filmed their trek from Monmouth to Villanova. The clip of Stone rocking out to Journey was one of the day’s highlights.

Jason Williams Has Really Improved Over the Years

In fact, I would even suggest a few more of these quirky announcing journeys during the marathon. Maybe let McDonough and Raftery start and finish the event, or send Dickie V to Monmouth or one of the smaller schools. God knows he sees the ACC enough.


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A College Basketball Fan’s Guide To Watching The World Cup

Posted by jstevrtc on June 10th, 2010

In less than 48 hours, our televisions will be taken over by the biggest sporting event the world has to offer.  Your TweetDeck (or whatever Twitter application you use) will be lousy with friends, celebrities, and sportswriters tweeting about it.  Your Facebook friends will be centering their status updates about it.  And, for the next five weeks, when you walk into your favorite sports bars, as you peer at the flat-screens you’ll notice an increased presence of a game to which you might not be accustomed.

It’s World Cup time.

Like the Olympics and the Fields Medal, this is an every-four-year event.  It pits nation against nation in the sport that still stirs up the most passion among its fans on a worldwide scale.  Imagine if we only got one NCAA Tournament every four years.  Well, this is the one summer in four that soccer (the word we’ll use for this article, though we’re aware that most of the world calls it football) lovers get to enjoy their chance to crown a champion.  If you follow RTC on Twitter (if you don’t, shame on you, and go click our logo at right), you’ve probably been impressed by our occasional tweet about other sports or even current events.  It’s not exactly a long limb we’d be going out on for us to assume that if you’re a college basketball fan, you’ve probably got an interest in other sports, too — though international soccer might not be one of them.

Want to talk to her? Know your World Cup. Yeah, we thought that'd keep you reading.

Worry not, our fellow college hoopheads.  We’ve got you covered.  We want you to be able to hang in those conversations at those sports pubs.  We want you to be able to approach that lovely blonde bespectacled German girl wearing her Deutschland jersey in the supermarket (this actually happened to us a week ago).  We want you to impress your friends with your world vision and increased overall sports knowledge.  You think those kids in the stands at Duke or Xavier or Utah State are both well-prepared and berserk?  Wait until you hear the crowd at a World Cup soccer match.  We want you to enjoy that vital aspect of it all, as well.  We’re by no means experts on the subject, but to those ends, we give you — trumpet flourish — Rush The Court’s College Basketball Fan’s Guide to Watching the World Cup.

If this England squad is like Kentucky, then Wayne Rooney is their John Wall.


First, let’s list some of the participating  teams and define those squads in terms familiar to college hoop fans.  As you’ll see, by the way, national soccer teams have some of the best nicknames you’ll ever hear.  The best?  Cameroon.  The Indomitable Lions.  I mean, COME ON…

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Backdoor Cuts: Vol. IX

Posted by rtmsf on February 9th, 2010

Backdoor Cuts is a weekly college basketball discussion between RTC correspondents Dave Zeitlin, Steve Moore and Mike Walsh that occasionally touches on relevant subjects. This week the guys turn the volume up in their heads and listen to their favorite fake basketball broadcasters.

DAVE ZEITLIN: Seeing Barack Obama in the broadcast booth for the Duke-Georgetown game last Saturday got us thinking. What other non-basketball people would we like to see call college basketball games? Since my esteemed colleagues seem to hate when I set criteria, I won’t make any. I just hope, like me, they’ll try to pick someone as funny, likable and basketball-savvy as our president. (I think I just made Glenn Beck cry).  After careful consideration (actually, I’ve hardly thought about it all), my No. 1 choice would have to be Will Ferrell — if only because he could switch between Ron Burgundy and Harry Caray, and maybe even throw a little Jackie Moon in there. Just picture a Kentucky-Duke game with Ferrell on the mic alongside Jim Nantz:

Ferrell as Harry Caray: Hey everybody! This should be a fun one as Coach Mike Shacklestein tries to figure out a way to stop John Wall. Hey! What if the world was made up of only walls? How would anyone walk? Oh, and there’s a fly ball to deep center…

Jim Nantz: No, no, no, this isn’t baseball, Will. It’s a basketball game. And I didn’t know you’d be doing voices…

Ferrell as Ron Burgundy: Did you just interrupt Harry? If you were a man, Jim, I would punch you! Right in the mouth! That was great analysis from Harry — compelling and rich. And now we turn our attention to Brian Fantana on Panda Watch.

Jim Nantz: No, there are no pandas here. Can we just talk about the game, please?

Ferrell as Jackie Moon: Sure thing, Jim. I know a lot about basketball. Some would even say I perfected the game. And there’s John Wall performing the play I invented as he leaps and forces the ball in a downward direction through the net off of a high arching pass.

Jim Nantz: I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Billy Packer.

You’d watch that game, wouldn’t you? What’s that? You’d watch anyway because it’s Duke-Kentucky? Shut up, reader.  Also, just because a week can’t go by where I don’t mention Penn (the same way Mike can’t not mention Jersey Shore), I’d like to see Quakers point guard Malcolm Washington’s father call a game. You may have heard of him. His name is Denzel and he sometimes acts in movies. That would be fun.

Finally, there was this bald guy I met once at a game that I think would do a pretty good job behind the microphone. I think his name was Richard Vitale or something, but some people called him Dick. Anyway, he seemed to really love basketball and had a lot of energy so he might be fun to listen to for one half — or one game at the most. After that, you’d probably get sick of him.

MIKE WALSH: Way to name drop, Dave. We’re all very impressed.

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Silent Knight? I’m Not Buying It.

Posted by jstevrtc on February 3rd, 2009


John Stevens is a featured writer for RTC.  His column appears on Tuesdays throughout the season.

So of course now there’s speculation that Bob Knight is headed to yet another school where all he’ll have to do is change the logo on his red sweaters and he’s good to go.  I obviously don’t know if he’ll end up taking the position, but despite Knight’s feeble attempt to downplay the issue, I think we can say for sure that he’s considering it.

Questions, Indeed… (photo credit: daylife.com)

Note how the initial reports stated that “a friend” of Knight’s stated that he was interested in the job.  Ok, fine.  But the General’s response to this?  He didn’t say anything about whether or not he’s talked to friends about the job, he never said anything about how his friends would NEVER talk to local media about Knight’s speculation over a job, he never said anything about how he flatly didn’t want that job.  In fact, he’s made it a point to reiterate his previous statement of “I never said I wouldn’t coach again, I’d be interested if the right situation came along,” though he adds that he hasn’t had any contact with anyone “at Georgia” about that particular vacancy.  “I haven’t talked to anyone from Georgia about it” is not an answer to the question. “Are you thinking about taking a job that an alleged friend of yours said you were interested in?”  Woodward and Bernstein would call that a non-denying denial.  Seems like Knight’s had contact with SOMEONE or else he’d be angrier and more direct in his lack of interest.  And he’d most certainly have this “friend” publicly flogged.
Another interesting wrinkle is the timing of this Pat Summitt situation, with her 1000th win coming up sometime soon.  Summitt didn’t get it on Monday, but as you likely know, they had Knight, as the all-time-winningest NCAA men’s coach, calling that game with Brent Musberger for ESPN.  I wonder how easy that is for Knight to be around.  I’m not saying he begrudges Coach Summitt anything, but the worship for the Tennessee coach has increased so much lately ahead of that pending 1000th win.  You don’t think a competitive guy like Knight wouldn’t mind a little of that reverence and adoration, himself?  To go down as the ONLY NCAA men’s coach to get into the quadruple-figures, and therefore don the implied “best-coach-ever” mantle that comes with a number like that?  I think Knight would consider that to be an absolute acquittal and justification for everything he’s ever done, and that might be to tasty a legacy to pass up.

It was either this, or a shirtless Bruce Pearl. (photo credit: afrothunder.wordpress.com)

On Monday’s “Tirico and Van Pelt” program on ESPN Radio, the first question Mike Tirico asked Coach Knight was about the possibility of Knight taking the Georgia job.  You know Coach Knight’s response (as above).  But later on in that interview, in my opinion, came a more telling moment.  Mr. Tirico asked Knight about how he communicates with his son Pat after incidents like the one Pat just had down at Texas Tech, and specifically inquired whether the conversation more resembles that of a father-son interaction or if it is more like two coaches talking shop (a great question).  In his response, Knight hesitated for a moment, and then stated, “I just can’t stay away from it, Mike…” and explained that he basically let Pat consult him with basketball-related questions from time to time.  I don’t blame Pat Knight for this, of course — I mean, who wouldn’t occasionally call up their winningest-NCAA-men’s-coach-ever-dad for some coaching advice if they had the chance? — but does Bob Knight’s response to the Tirico question sound like a man who is ready to leave the coaching profession behind?  When your name comes up as a possible candidate for a coaching job and you’re saying things in interviews like “I can’t stay away from it,” no matter how you try to downplay your interest, I’m going to call you on it.
For what it’s worth, I totally agree with rtmsf’s earlier piece about Knight not being a good fit for Georgia (that second photo makes me think I’m personally a GREAT fit for UGA, but I digress).  He’d be a basketball coach going to a football school and I can’t see Bob Knight going anywhere where he doesn’t have the biggest office and, as Mel Brooks would say, the biggest schwartz, as it were.  And, as Mark Schlabach reported in a phone interview on ESPN.com on Monday night, the current president of the University of Georgia is Michael F. Adams.  And who is Dr. Adams good friends with?  Dr. Myles Brand, the current president of the NCAA…and the man who fired Knight from Indiana in 2000.  Methinks the current UGA administration and Mr. Knight might not see eye-to-eye on a few matters.

The Smiling General. (photo credit: lubbockonline.com)

But Knight has never been one to back down from a challenge.  It might not be the best idea for Knight to go to UGA.  It’s also not a great idea to throw chairs across floors, physically threaten your AD, or hurl plants in your office, but that didn’t stop him.  Listen, I have no problem with Coach Knight taking the reins at some program.  I can’t blame a man who think he still has it in him to achieve excellence — and indeed, further cement his “all-time” status by breaking that 1000-win barrier.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be known as the all-time greatest at what you do.  I’d miss his wit on the GameDay set, but who knows, maybe he’ll take this job and be reborn and make everyone forget about Dennis Felton and Jim Harrick.  I don’t think it’s the best fit, but he could certainly prove me and rtmsf wrong.  In my view, though, despite his attempts to downplay the issue and make it seem like he’s not interested, I think we have a lot of evidence to the fact that he’s either considering the job…or he likes the attention, and at least wants us to think he’s considering it.

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Beer & Circus, Indeed…

Posted by rtmsf on September 30th, 2007

Note: if you’re not predisposed to a healthy dose of introspection and self-immolation with respect to college athletics, please skip this missive. We hate ourselves and everything we stand for after writing this.

Consider the following quotation:

If you were giving the [athletic] scholarship to an intellectually brilliant kid who happens to play a sport, that’s fine. But they give it to a functional illiterate who can’t read a cereal box, and then make him spend 50 hours a week on physical skills. That’s not opportunity. If you want to give financial help to minorities, go find the ones who are at the library after school. (emphasis added)


Cereal Box

These words were uttered last week in the New York Times by Rutgers literature professor William C. Dowling, who now finds himself embroiled in a brouhaha over the intent and implied racism inherent in his statement. Both the Rutgers university president and athletic director have condemned Dowling’s remarks, and Dowling has shot back at both by accusing them of running an athletic program that openly exploits minority athletes for the university’s gain.

Were it that Dowling was just another old white guy who is completely out of touch with racial politics as it relates to sports in the 21st Century, we might summarily dismiss understand his statement here, but that’s not the case. In fact, Dowling was arrested in the sixties during the freedom rides in the South and his statement above was elicited from a question specifically about minority activity in college athletics (Do big-time college sports provide opportunities to minorities?) – this guy is no racist. For better or worse, if you read his online c.v., you easily find that this guy is about as socially liberal and/or progressive as they come.

William Dowling

Rutgers prof William C. Dowling

But what his statement does is once again expose the dirty little secret of big-time college athletics, a secret that nobody outside of a few academics such as Dowling, Murray Sperber, Andrew Zimbalist and others seem willing to broach. You’ll certainly never hear Dick Vitale or Brent Musberger on fall or winter Saturdays remark as to why Michigan football players average an SAT score of 834 vs. 1271 for the student body or why Duke basketball players average an 887 vs. 1392. Instead, you’re just as likely to hear them refer to players at these schools as quintessential student-athletes who do things “the right way.” After all, exposing the academic hypocrisy at elite institutions such as Michigan and Duke calls into question the integrity of the whole house of cards, and potentially weakens the cash cow on which Vitale, Musberger and others depend.

This is a complex and difficult issue, and we don’t purport to know all the right questions to ask, much less the answers. But to paraphrase Lenny Kravitz, does anybody out there even care? Sure, the standard college fan’s MO is that our guys are solid, upstanding citizens who go to class and caress kittens in their spare time, while your guys are animalistic thugs who don’t even know where classes are held and spend their evenings involved in gunplay and misogyny that would make OJ (Simpson) proud. But it’s not simply a matter of folks caught unawares – what’s quietly whispered among other students and faculty is that the athletes as a general rule are treated differently than the rest of the student body. Class attendance usually isn’t optional, but certain departments and professors are considered amenable to the greater good of the university athletic department, and as such, athletes find themselves in Communications, PE and Sociology majors a disproportionate amount of the time. This doesn’t even contemplate the seemingly endless allegations of university-cum-enabler academic fraud, from Florida State to Tennessee to Minnesota to Georgia and many, many others.

Big House

Nobody Here is Worried about Beer & Circus

And yet… despite our knowledge of this institutionalized hypocrisy by the universities, and despite the internal dyspepsia we experience when watching various players in interviews struggle with the English language, and despite the intellectual and moral disconnect of passing judgment on other schools’ troubled players while minimizing and mitigating our own, we still watch the games. Michigan puts 110,000 fans into the Big House every fall weekend, and millions more watch from home. People like us write blogs devoted to the whimsy of whether Florida will win the SEC East or if Keven Durant will go pro. Yet it’s telling that we’re still waiting to hear where yet another incident of beer & circus mentality at a university has led to decreased fan interest to the point where they turn their backs on the athletic program. Incredibly, if anything, it appears that severe NCAA sanctions embolden fans’ ire toward the dime-droppers and the NCAA rather than those students, faculty and administrators perpetrating the crimes in the first place.

The simple truth is that while all of us love to announce to the world that this stuff bothers us, the truth is that as college sports fans, we just don’t care. Or put more specifically, we don’t care enough to demand change, and we say this to be honest rather than flippant. Like many things in life, such as our gender’s insistence that we value other characteristics in women besides attractiveness, the reality is that all of the other stuff is secondary to the girl’s hotness. Sure, we like it when she’s smart, caring, personable, etc., just as we hope our team’s players will behave responsibly on and off the field/court. But what we really want is to win games (and get with the hottie) so that we can exult in the reflected glory of our team’s success, and whether we do so in an ambiguously irresponsible or immoral manner is less important than the results measured in Ws and Ls. So while we completely agree with Dowling’s point that a better way to assist minorities would be to find true student-athletes who excel in both the classroom and the gym, the harsh reality is that such a priority shift would likely turn the teams that we love into Stanford football (1-11 last season) or Dartmouth basketball (9-18), and what alumnus living outside of the ivory tower wants that?


Update:  Dr. Sperber referred us to an article he recently wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education called “On Being a Fan.”  This article crystallizes the internal conflict of “doublethink” that we feel when we spend our time watching and rooting for college teams while recognizing the hypocrisy of the system.  Sperber states this much better than we can:

Such critics have always had logic on their side. But most have overlooked the inescapable reality that fan attitudes on college sports are beyond reason, even irrational, and that frequently they stem from childhood experiences and family bonding: Many of my students at Indiana said that their earliest memories included sitting on the couch with their family in front of the TV and rooting for the Indiana University Hoosiers. For many other fans, the attachment to a team connects to positive feelings about their college days — indeed, that is the basis of my own loyalty. To overturn such deep emotions with logic and reason is almost impossible.

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