62–61 Day? Go back 33 years ago.
I wrote about my experiences at the WIAA state basketball tournaments in this space last week. (Including, of course, my junior-year experience that ended with a big gold trophy and bigger plaque on the wall at my high school.)
After last week’s excellent experience (two teams, two state titles), I get to add another today and perhaps Saturday, because I am covering undefeated Mineral Point at 7:45 tonight on www.superhits106.com. (And Saturday if the Pointers win.)
This will be the first time I’ve announced the boys tournament since 1989, when the Class C field included three unbeaten teams, the first of which won when a 60-foot shot at the buzzer rimmed out. My game was a wild 81–79 win for Glenwood City over Iowa–Grant.
I also did a Class B game the same day featuring Cuba City and Clintonville. I didn’t know this at the time, but I would later end up living in Cuba City, getting to know the all-time-winningest boys basketball coach in Wisconsin history (whose memories of state can be read here), and covering Clintonville as an opponent of Ripon later. (In the space of a few days last week I interviewed said all-time-winningest boys coach, the all-time-winningest girls coach, and the coach who has the most gold trophies at Cuba City High School.)
Cuba City and Iowa–Grant are answers to a strange trivia question — in which tournament were all the state champions from Grant County. The answer is 1981 — Iowa–Grant won Class C, Cuba City won Class B, and Class A was won by … no one. Milwaukee Madison beat Wausau West to win the Class A title game, but Madison’s title was vacated for use of an ineligible player. The WIAA chose to not award the title to Wausau West, so officially there was no 1981 Class A champion.
(I just remembered the first time I’d ever heard of Cuba City, and it wasn’t at state. In the late 1970s I was part of an Explorer post hosted by WHA-TV. One of the things we did was to push a WHA float in a Madison Christmas parade the same year as Fidel Castro’s emptying of his prisons into boats for Jimmy Carter to deal with. Behind us was the Cuba City band, which spent much of the parade chanting: “Gimme an R! Gimme an E! … What’s that spell? REFUGEES!” Really funny, and of course you could not possibly do that today.)
The 1989 games (and 1981, and all of them between the move from the Big Red Gym and the move to the Kohl Center) were at the UW Fieldhouse, great for atmosphere and little else. The radio broadcast positions were at the front of the upper deck, great for visibility except for those with vertigo. The Kohl Center was built to follow the Fieldhouse’s sight lines as much as possible, which is why it’s a great place to watch basketball, though much larger than the Fieldhouse.
Mineral Point is making its first appearance since 1974. The Pointers that year won their first Class C game but lost to another unbeaten team, McFarland. If the Pointers win tonight, their next opponent is either third-ranked Eau Claire Regis or, more likely, three-time defending Division 4 champion Whitefish Bay Dominican, led by the state’s most sought-after senior, Diamond Stone. (Rumored to be choosing between Wisconsin, Maryland, Connecticut or Oklahoma State for college.) If Dominican and Mineral Point play Saturday, I will have to learn how to pronounce the last name of one of Stone’s teammates, Kostas Antetokounmpo, brother of the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Wisconsinites might remember Gary Bender, who went from WKOW-TV in Madison to CBS-TV. He announced this state tournament, in addition to the Badgers and the Packers: When I was an intern at WKOW-TV, there was a black-and-white photo of Bender and some other people at state. Bender wore a white turtleneck, a blazer, plaid polyester bell-bottoms, and white shoes. I wonder if channel 27 still has that photo.
If you read this immediately upon publishing (and why wouldn’t you?), assuming I’m not running late I am on the way to the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon for the WIAA state girls basketball tournament.
I have two games to announce today — Barneveld vs. Fall River in Division 5 at 1:35 p.m. (to which you can listen here), and Cuba City vs. Fond du Lac Springs in Division 4 at 6:35 p.m. (to which you can listen here). If either wins, I announce their state championship game Saturday (to which you can listen here).
(It’s a bit illogical that given that creeks are smaller than rivers, Fall Creek is a bigger school than Fall River. I’m not sure what the over–under will be of my saying “Fall Creek” when I mean “Fall River” and vice versa.)
Next week is the 100th annual WIAA boys basketball championships, or at least the 100th anniversary of the tournament (held by Lawrence College, now University, in Appleton) that the WIAA recognizes as the first state tournament. That is not this …
… that is the 1966 WIAA quarterfinal between Grafton and number-one-ranked Madison East at the UW Fieldhouse. (It’s too bad there’s apparently no sound. I’m not sure about this, but given the rarity of the last name I’m pretty sure I covered the son and daughter of one of the East players, both of whom played for La Follette two decades later.) There was only one class in those days, and there was no girls tournament at all. And I’m sure I watched this, though I was nine months old. Other than the Packers (and my father’s swearing at the ineptitude of the post-Glory Days Packers), state is the first sporting event I remember watching, every March without fail.
State is sometimes called The Dance because, well …
Just as state is the pinnacle for a high school basketball player, announcing state is the pinnacle for a high school basketball announcer. (The trick is to get people to watch the game, but turn down the sound and listen to your broadcast.) I’ve done two state basketball games, one involving the boys counterpart to the Cuban girls. Earlier that day I announced two undefeated teams, 10 days after I announced one of those undefeateds against another unbeaten team in their regional final.
Readers know about my second trip to state, the excellent adventure that was the 1982 state championship. Since then I’ve gotten to watch state, cover state as a newspaper reporter and editor, and announce state. And I’ve covered teams that got to state and lost (which means they still got to state), and got to state and won.
My most unexpected state basketball trip (which weirdly paralleled my most unexpected state baseball trip two years later) was the 1987 Madison La Follette girls team that finished the regular season 9–11. But after an easy regional semifinal win, a regional final win in overtime (the third overtime win over Madison East, which finished above La Follette in the Big Eight), a win over conference champion Madison Memorial, and a win over the team that beat La Follette to go to state the previous year, there I was on Thursday afternoon (which was about 30 degrees colder than the previous Saturday) in the Fieldhouse covering a state game I never expected to cover.
I’m old enough to remember when state had three classes, with Class C starting Thursday and Friday daytime sessions. Then they created Breakfast at the Fieldhouse, moving all of Class C to Friday morning, with the first game tipping off at 9:05 a.m. Then they expanded to four divisions, with Division 3 Thursday and Division 4 Friday starting at 9:05. And now they have five divisions, with fewer state games (and thus lower gate receipts) than the old four-division days, because Division 1 had eight teams and the other divisions four teams each.
The format doesn’t matter, because thanks to what the WIAA calls the Magic of March (because “March Madness” is copyrighted), you get moments like these:
The term “March Madness” describes the college basketball postseason and high school state tournaments.
It could also describe figuring out your own schedule if you’re a basketball announcer.
Last week, I announced two college conference tournament games and two high school girls’ regional games. My first game of this week was Tuesday, which went to overtime. I will be in Monroe for a girls’ sectional semifinal, followed Friday by a trip to Spring Green for a boys’ regional semifinal. Saturday will include one of three potential night boys’ games, possibly preceded by a girls’ sectional final game, the winner of which goes to state.
I am done announcing college basketball for the year, but Division I March Madness kicks in next week with conference tournaments, followed the week after that by the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments.
Sports Illustrated’s and CBS’ Seth Davis used the week before conference tournaments to bring up an issue it says is getting worse — pace and scoring, or lack thereof, in the college game. Davis’ story begins with the 2000 Final Four, in which Wisconsin trailed Michigan State 19-17 at halftime of one national semifinal. From there:
The more things change, the more they … get worse. College basketball is slower, more grinding, more physical and more, well, offensive than it has been in a long, long time. The 2014-15 season is shaping up to be the worst offensive season in modern history. Through Feb. 22, teams were averaging 67.1 points per game. That is the lowest average since 1952. The previous low for that span was set just two years ago. This more than reverses the gains that were made last season, after the rules committee made adjustments to clamp down on physical defense and make it harder to draw a charge. Thanks to lax enforcement by officials and a foolish decision to reverse the block/charge modification, scoring declined by 3.79 points per game. That is the steepest single-season drop on record.
Millions of people are preparing set their sights on college basketball for March Madness, but the sport is not ready for its close-up. All season long, there have been games where the winning team struggles to reach 50 points. Halftime scores in the 19-17 range have been a nightly occurrence. And because too many coaches use too many time outs, games become interminable during the last few minutes. As a result, this game is in danger of turning off casual fans while losing ground with the younger set, who have more choices than ever before.
“I have great concerns,” says Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s vice president of men’s basketball championships. “The trends are long-term and unhealthy. I think some people understand the urgency of it, but there are others who think the rhetoric is sensationalized and that it’s not as bad as people make it out to be. There are enough people concerned that there is movement to get things done.”
That concern prompted the NCAA to announce earlier this month that it will experiment with a 30-second shot clock (instead of the current 35) and a bigger arc under the basket (to make it harder to draw a charge) during the postseason NIT next month. That is a hopeful sign, but the approach is still too cautious, too incremental. If we’re going to summon the requisite urgency to reverse the tide, we have to start by calling the situation what it is.
College basketball is facing a crisis. It’s time for an extreme makeover.
First: Let’s be honest about why this is a “crisis.” It is not because one style of basketball is preferable to another, or all the others. It is because of a fear of dwindling fan interest, which means fewer eyeballs watching games in person and on TV, and thus less money being spent on each. College basketball is a business because all sports past the high school level that charge admission are business sectors within the entertainment world.
Davis suggests five rules changes because …
For a long time, the attitude among college basketball’s cognoscenti has been that the game should look distinct from its professional counterparts. That is reasonable, but right now the game is too distinct, not just from the NBA but also from other sports like football and hockey. Here are five rules changes that would push the pendulum back in the right direction:
1. The shot clock should be shortened to 30 seconds.
Some prominent coaches, like Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Villanova’s Jay Wright, who both have extensive international experience, would like to see the clock reduced to 24 seconds, which is the case in the NBA and FIBA. Reducing it to 30 would speed up the game while allowing college basketball to remain distinctive. “Why wouldn’t we go to 30? That’s a better question,” asks Dukecoach Mike Krzyzewski. “We didn’t go to 30 in the first place because the women had it. People wanted to be different. It’s not hard to figure out. A shorter clock means more possessions, and more possessions means more points.”
History shows that to be the case. When the 45-second clock was trimmed to 35 for the 1993-94 season, scoring went from 73.6 points per game to 75.0. Those gains were short-lived, but it supports the idea that a shorter clock helps.
2. The arc under the basket should be extended to four feet.
It wasn’t until the 2010-11 season that the rules committee established a secondary defender could not take a charge under the basket. At first, the committee declined to put down an arc, and when it did in 2011, it was placed at three feet. That is one foot shorter than the NBA’s circle, and it is obviously insufficient. “That thing is like a bee bee on a four-lane highway. It’s a joke,”Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says. “That’s the NCAA and our coaches saying we are not going to be the NBA. I look at it as, the NBA plays a hundred games a year. Let’s learn from them.”
Izzo is so opposed to the charge call that he refuses to teach his players to take them. He believes it is dangerous, and he does not want to be hypocritical. There is a place for this play—charges are called regularly in NBA games—but there is broad consensus that too many collisions reward the defense. Plus, it’s the toughest call a referee has to make. Says Adams, “A four-foot restricted arc would help unclog an area that’s an officiating headache.”
3. The lane should be wider.
The college lane is 12 feet wide. The NBA’s is 16 feet. FIBA’s used to be shaped like a trapezoid, but in 2010 it adopted the NBA’s 16-foot rectangle. The college lane should have that same width, but even an increase to 14 feet would be an improvement. A wider lane would push post players away from the basket, which in turn would force them to learn to shoot with touch as opposed to just backing down and powering to the rim. That’s what players do—they adapt. A wider lane would also create more space for drivers, allowing players to showcase their athleticism better.
4. The three-point line should be deeper.
The goal here isn’t to make the shot more difficult; it’s to create more space. That’s why the line was moved in 2008 from its original distance of 19′ 9″, to the current 20′. With a wider lane, the college line will need to be extended again. If the committee pushed it to 22′ 2″, which is where FIBA has it, that would preserve some distinction with the NBA’s distance of 23′ 9″.
5. There should be fewer time outs. …
Even before a coach calls a single time out, he is guaranteed nine stoppages of play—four media time outs per half, which last 2 minutes, 15 seconds each, plus a 15-minute halftime. That’s 33 minutes, or almost another entire game, to talk to his team. Yet, on top of those breaks, a coach is also granted four 30-second time outs and one 60-second time out. One of those 30-second time outs is referred to as the “use-it-or-lose-it” time out because teams only get to call three 30-second time outs in the second half. In other words, the rules actually incentivize a coach to call a time he out he wouldn’t otherwise take.
Sure, the refs need to speed up their replay reviews, but reducing the number of time outs is the best way to shorten the game. Former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese complains that “the college game in the last two minutes is absolutely awful.” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who heads a competition committee that studies these issues, agrees. “We’ve got to find ways to expedite the last few minutes,” he says. “The games are slowing down to the point where the only people who are going to watch are diehard fans of those two teams.” …
Unfortunately, the men who call all those time outs are the same ones who write the rules. College basketball coaches are fierce competitors. They’re under a lot of pressure. They are not about to relinquish control. “Coaches have always felt that if you take time outs away from them, it’s like taking their first born,” says Art Hyland, the rules committee’s secretary editor.
Which brings us to the heart of the issue. The primary reason college basketball faces a scoring crisis isn’t the rules. It isn’t the refs, it isn’t the players, it isn’t the officiating coordinators, it isn’t the conference commissioners, and it isn’t the television networks. It’s the coaches. …
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to legislate offensive creativity. The only way to spur more people to coach that way is to create rules that force them to. …
No wonder the game is stuck in reverse. Though the people who serve on the rules committee are no doubt earnest and diligent, they are naturally protective of their own interests. A slower, rougher game benefits teams with lesser talent. Byrd, for example, says he likes the shot clock where it is because “I don’t think you can really run your offense in 30 seconds,” even though most of the planet seems to be able to do just that.
And what do you do if you’re a coach whose players aren’t quick and tall enough to prevent the gazelles at Kansas and North Carolina from driving through the lane and finishing at the rim? You manipulate the rulebook so it’s easier to push a driver, bump a cutter, shove a post player or draw a charge.
There is a place for upsets, of course, but they should happen because underdogs executed better, not because they were allowed to grab their speedier opponents. “I hear people complain and say, well if you do these things, the teams with the better players are going to win,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas says. “And I’m thinking, did you really just say that? That’s like saying if we took all the sprinters and let them run in a straight line, the fastest guy would win. That’s the whole point.” …
When it comes to solving intractable problems, we are often told that where there’s a will, there’s a way. But the way out of college basketball’s mess is clear. The question is, do the people who run the sport have the will to come up with a plan and see it through?
Plenty of other sports have done it. Over the last two decades, the NFL and college football have greatly diminished the degree to which defenders can impede the progress of receivers, and they have outlawed excessive hits on quarterbacks. That begat the spread offense and the wide-open, pass-happy, no-huddle, high-scoring games that electrify football fans every fall weekend. Likewise, the NHL instituted a slew of new rules following the 2004-05 work stoppage, including clamping down on obstruction, the elimination of the rule against the two-line pass, and installing a trapezoid behind the net, which limited goalies’ abilities to play the puck. The changes have been widely praised for improving the aesthetic of the game, but scoring has flatlined due to improved goaltending. As another effort, the NHL before the 2013-14 season enacted a rule limiting the size of goalies’ equipment.
The NBA offers the best blueprint. Before the start of the 2000-01 season, then-commissioner David Stern tapped Jerry Colangelo, the general manager of the Phoenix Suns, to chair a special committee that was assigned to eliminate “all the muggings,” as Colangelo puts it. They devised prohibitions against hand-checking and other tactics that had tipped the advantage too far to the defense. There were many games that got bogged down in fouls early on, but eventually the coaches and players adapted.
Colangelo, who is now the chairman of USA Basketball’s board of directors, believes college basketball needs to go through the same transition. “Basketball ultimately is a game of fluidity,” he says. “It took about two years for everyone to adjust, but that dissipates over a period of time. You pay that price, but in the long-term that’s what was in the best interests of the game.”
Those who have coached American college players for Team USA in recent years swear that when our kids play in FIBA tournaments, they score points. They make shots. They’re rewarded for beating their man off the dribble. Turns out all they need is a shorter clock, some more space, and a tighter whistle. “Anything you can do to increase freedom of movement is going to increase scoring,” says VCUcoach Shaka Smart, who has served as an assistant coach for USA Basketball’s under-18 and under-19 teams the last three years. “The players just kind of figured out how to play with the 24-second shot clock. We as coaches did, too, because you can’t run too many multiple sets. If you really want to increase scoring, you have to make the rules more to the advantage of the offense as opposed to the unbelievable advantage the defense has right now.”
College and high school basketball in Wisconsin is dominated by two styles of play — the Bo Ryan school, and the Dick Bennett school. They’re not dissimilar, but there is one important difference. Bennett’s approach is based on defense as the first five or so priorities. Ryan’s approach is based on defense and offensive efficiency — essentially, score as close to every time you have the ball, regardless of your tempo. That means working the swing offense (which by now I think every team in the state runs), getting good shots, and limiting mistakes, meaning missed shots, turnovers and allowing the defense to rebound a miss.
Wisconsin is leading the country in offensive efficiency, though the Badgers are nowhere near the top in offensive points per game. Bennett is retired, but his son, Tony, coaches at Virginia, which has been in the top two in the nation in defensive efficiency all season. (Should Wisconsin and Virginia meet in the NCAA tournament, bet the under.)
I support all five of Davis’ proposed rule changes. (I would like to see at least two timeouts replaced by quarter breaks instead of two halves, since it is not logical for high school and the pros to have four quarters but college have two halves.) I firmly believe those moves will only temporarily speed up the game, because good coaches will find out ways within the rules to neutralize their own talent disadvantages (see Bennett, Dick).
I firmly believe those moves will only temporarily speed up the game, because good coaches will find out ways within the rules to neutralize their own talent disadvantages (see Bennett, Dick) and maximize what they have. If the NCAA is serious about entertaining fans (and again, college basketball is a business), it needs to commit to a continual process of changing the rules, similar to the NFL.
Some may claim that rules changes aren’t necessary, pointing at the popularity of March Madness, when even casual fans fill out brackets using scientific and, well, less-scientific approaches (blue uniforms, mascots you like, etc.). The issue isn’t getting people to pay attention to March Madness; it’s getting people to pay attention to the regular season, when everybody plays, not just the top 68 teams in the country, and to keep fans watching games besides your favorite team’s games.
At our house, we’ve been eating the fantastic chili left over from what we ate during Super Bowl XLIX.
There are other leftovers from Super XLIX, including speculation about Seahawks coach Pete Carroll’s inexplicable last play call.
NFL Nation’s Rob Demovsky asks WWMD:
Perhaps you’ve asked yourself what the Green Bay Packers would have done if they had been in the Seattle Seahawks‘ shoes at the New England Patriots‘ 1-yard line with the final seconds of Super Bowl XLIX ticking way.
History tells us either option would have been in play.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers had 19 goal-to-go plays from their opponents’ 1-yard line during the regular season. They threw the ball on 10 of them. On those 10 plays, quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed five passes — all for touchdowns.
On the nine runs, they scored five touchdowns. Lacy carried in six of those nine plays, and scored four times. Kuhn got the ball twice and didn’t score on either one. Rodgers took it once, on a sneak against the Detroit Lions in Week 17, and scored.
In the playoffs, the Packers had two more snaps with just 1-yard to go for a touchdown. They ran on both, and failed on both — once by Kuhn and once by Lacy. They came on consecutive plays — second-and-goal from the 1 and third-and-goal from the 1 — in the first quarter of the NFC Championship Game at Seattle. They tried Kuhn up the middle on second down, and the officials initially ruled he scored. However, upon further review from the replay booth, Kuhn was ruled down just short of the goal line. On the next play, Lacy ran off left guard didn’t come close to the goal line. On both plays, the Packers were in their jumbo package with seven offensive linemen, two backs and a tight end.
The Packers’ final percentages looked like this: Including playoffs, they ran the ball on 52.4 percent of their goal-to-go plays from their opponents’ 1-yard line and threw it on 47.6 percent of those plays. Their success rate was 45.5 percent when running the ball in those situations and 55.5 percent throwing it.
This is interesting, but an imperfect analysis because there was no comparable situation to having the ball on the opponent’s 1-yard line with seconds remaining. It seems obvious with one time out remaining that you have time to run the ball, and if, in Sunday’s case, Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch doesn’t get in the end zone, you can use your last time out and set up third-down and fourth-down plays.
The bigger issue to me isn’t necessarily passing instead of running. The Seahawks have a mobile quarterback in Russell Wilson. They could have run the read option with Wilson. They also could have (and this would have been my choice had I been in Carroll’s shoes) run a run/pass option play, where Wilson would roll out and, depending on what was available, run it in himself or thrown it into the end zone.
If you think you have to pass, the number one priority, with one time out, is do not turn over the ball. (If you don’t have a time out, that’s priority 1A; priority 1B is to make sure the clock stops, by going or throwing out of bounds.) So throwing the ball into the middle of the Patriots defense — which, remember, has only 11 yards to have to defend, the 1-yard line and the end zone — is the worst possible play call.
The Seahawks’ decision to pass instead of run seems even stranger when you consider that none of the Seahawks’ receivers are nearly as good as the Packers’ Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Wilson may become as good a quarterback as Aaron Rodgers, but Wilson isn’t there yet. It’s hard for me to imagine Rodgers throwing the pass Wilson threw; he would have fired the ball into the seats instead of throwing into all those white shirts.
The Super Bowl now is watched almost as much for the commercials and halftime show (which featured a lion-ish-looking thing, which prompted the observation that that is the first time a Lion has gotten into a Super Bowl) as much as for the game. The Federalist picks apart two of those commercials:
1) Nissan “With Dad”
This ad was the first really bad one to air. It’s about a father missing all of his child’s milestones because he was at work (as a race car driver) and then showing up at the end in a shiny red car as if this makes up for it. To make matters worse, the ad used Harry Chapin’s “Cat in the Cradle,” as the music. That’s a song about how fathers too busy to be with their sons end up having sons too busy to spend time with their fathers. It’s horribly depressing.
If one assumes that Nissan has a goal of selling automobiles with this ad, one must assume that the ad executives thought they were portraying this absentee father sympathetically. And with 24 million children in America living in homes without fathers, this isn’t a great idea. The Nissan child wouldn’t even qualify as a child living in a home without a father, he just has a father too busy to spend time with him. But father absence plays a significant role in poverty, emotional and behavioral problems, infant mortality, incarceration, crime, teen pregnancy, child abuse, sexual abuse, alcohol and substance abuse, and educational lags. Showing up one day with a new red car isn’t really a solution to all of these problems.
The worst part of the ad? He doesn’t even let his son drive. Worst car ad ever.
2) Nationwide “Make Safe Happen”
Easily the worst of the Superbowl ads was Nationwide insurance’s ad about how your kid is going to die and it will be your fault and so you should buy insurance for when that happens. It’s just as bad as it sounds. A kid starts talking about how he won’t ever learn to ride a bike, kiss a girl or fly because he will be killed. And then it goes to the tub where he drowns. And the sink where he swallows a bunch of poison.
What’s the problem? Insurance is all about the fact that bad things happen in life, right?
Sure. But the tagline of the commercial is “Make Safe Happen” and Julia Roberts, I believe, says “Together we can make safe happen.” This is not true. We will never be safe and we need to understand that. Parents, in particular, need to grasp this. They are trying so hard to keep anything bad from happening to their kids that they’re willing to sacrifice any amount of childhood to obtain it. The very worst thing that could happen is for parents to become more obsessively concerned about keeping their kids safe from all risk. …
This helicopter parenting mentality is what causes Child Protective Services to be called when fully functioning children walk a short distance home from the park. This is what leads neighbors to fret over children mowing lawns. This is why playgrounds have become boring and why young adults know next to nothing about proper decision-making and calculation of risk.
This ad is everything that’s wrong with childhood in America. Although it did lead to some funny tweeting:
OK, that’s rather tasteless, but if it doesn’t cut too close to home to you, that would be funny. As for the Nissan ad (which some claim was misread), the use of Chapin’s maudlin dreck made me think of how Chapin died. Yes, a car crash, because Chapin was a legendarily bad driver and didn’t have a driver’s license during his last drive.
A comment added:
The sentiment is probably not unique to Packer fans, but Packer fans are convinced Fox announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman hate the Packers.
The reason probably has to do with (1) Aikman’s having been the Cowboys’ quarterback, who engineered all the Packers losses to the Cowboys in the 1990s, and (2) some people’s belief that saying anything negative about your team means they hate your team.
Buck and Aikman will be announcing Sunday’s NFC championship, as they have done all of the Packers’ playoff games since Aaron Rodgers first got the Packers into the playoffs. (Including all four 2010–11 playoff games and the final two must-win home games before those.)
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel interviewed Buck and Aikman before last weekend’s NFC playoff game:
Let’s get this on the record right up front: Joe Buck loves Green Bay.
Fox’s top play-by-play football announcer enjoys coming to Wisconsin, even when the weather is less than hospitable. He respects Packers coach Mike McCarthy. He admires quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
His father, the legendary Jack Buck, was in the broadcast booth at Lambeau Field on that wretchedly, wickedly cold day 47 years ago when the Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship Game.
“I was indoctrinated in the Ice Bowl and the Packers at a very young age,” Buck said in a telephone interview.
So why do a lot of Packers fans think he has an anti-Green Bay bias?
“It cracks me up,” Buck said. “It’s equal parts funny and frustrating. It’s just baffling to me. I’ve said that McCarthy is the coach I would start a franchise with, and (Rodgers) is the quarterback I would start a franchise with.”
Buck and his partner, analyst Troy Aikman, will call the NFC divisional game between the Packers and Cowboys at 12:05 p.m. Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Aikman, the former Cowboys quarterback, beat the Packers regularly in the 1990s and won three Super Bowls. So maybe there’s some guilt by association?
“I think that’s part of it,” Buck said. “He had success against them. But Aikman feels the same way. Troy loves Aaron.”
Aikman said he took the criticism from Packers fans in stride.
“It’s just the nature of the business,” he said. “It’s not isolated to me or Joe or one crew. There was a petition for Phil Simms not to do Denver games. It’s part of the job. Joe probably said it best: Fans say, ‘We want you to be unbiased,’ but they really don’t. They want you to be biased toward their team.”
Buck gets it, too. He understands that the venom heaped on him in social media by a segment of fans comes with the territory. There’s even a “Joe Buck Sucks” Facebook page.
He isn’t a “homer,” an announcer who is paid by the team and therefore refrains from being critical. But he can’t recall anything he’s said that would make fans think he roots against the Packers or revels in their misfortune.
“I honest to God can’t think of anything critical we ever said except for maybe (kicker) Mason Crosby when he was struggling in 2012,” Buck said. “I think we’re in a different era and some of that stuff gets fanned by social media.
“I mentioned it to McCarthy the last time we were there and he was like, ‘What?’ It is what it is and it’s nothing anybody has lost sleep over.”
Buck said that when he visits Green Bay, people he meets in hotels and restaurants are unfailingly polite.
“When you walk around town,” he said, “people could not be nicer.”
But when he sits in the open-air broadcast booth at Lambeau, fans throw peanuts at him and Aikman and yell things that aren’t fit for print.
“What are you even listening to?” Buck said. “Did you hear my Week 17 call last year, when (Randall) Cobb caught the touchdown pass (that beat the Chicago Bears)? I almost pulled a groin on that call. That was raw emotion coming out.”
Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch interviewed Aikman:
How much do you currently enjoy broadcasting?
I’ll tell you a story: We did the Giants–Patriots Super Bowl in Arizona in 2008. It was a great finish, an unbelievable game. The Patriots trying to go for the undefeated season, the Giants upsetting them. I was staying at a different hotel from the rest of the Fox people and when the game ended I went back to the hotel. I was married at the time and my wife said, “Are we going to go to the [Fox] party?” I said, “No, let’s just go downstairs and grab some dinner.”
I was a little down, to be honest, a little depressed. So we are sitting there having dinner, relaxing, and [ESPN’s] Ron Jaworski comes over. He was eating at the other side of the restaurant. So he says, “Hey, man, what a great game! How about that catch from [David] Tyree!” He’s all excited. I was like, “Yeah, it was good.” He is going on and on and then finally says, “What’s wrong?” I said, “Nothing is wrong.” He said, “Why aren’t you excited? You just called this great game.” I said, “Ron, I didn’t do anything. I’ve played in that game. I won that game. I know what that feels like. All I did was talk about it. I didn’t do anything.” And he walked away and when he did, he gave me this quizzical look. It was like, “What is wrong with this guy?”
So he walks away and I said to my wife: “You know, this may be the greatest game that I ever call. I may have just called the biggest game that I will ever have the opportunity to call in this profession and I could not be more depressed right now.” It shook me up a bit. I thought, “Man, where does the joy come from broadcasting when you have already been the one out there doing it.”
But I will tell you since that time I have not experienced that low again. We did the Super Bowl last year in New York and I could not have felt a greater accomplishment in this business. I don’t know why I am all of sudden getting real satisfaction out of this job, but I am and that has really helped me. The preparation is extensive and I put a lot of time into it, but I enjoy it. As a former player I have a real appreciation for a guy like Aaron Rodgers and how much time he puts into his craft and how good he is doing it. I enjoy the relationships I have with coaches and players. I enjoy the process of getting ready each week. I enjoy my crew. I like the weekends and being at the site of the games, and we get to do great games.
I am so fortunate to have had a career like I had playing — I lived my dream playing in the league — and now to do a job where I get to be around the sport is beyond imagination. The only negative for me is I have my girls [he has two daughters, 12 and 13] and I am gone for six months out of the year. I miss a lot of their activities. I do get to see a lot of them during the week that a lot of dads don’t get to see and then I have six months where I am always there. But being gone on the weekends and missing some important moments in their life is really the only negative.
How did this professional fog lift? And how long did it exist?
You know, I don’t really have a great answer. I never felt it again. Of course it was three years until we did our next Super Bowl, which was the game in Dallas. But I didn’t feel that way after future playoff games. I have not experienced that feeling again and I’m not sure exactly why. I don’t want to say everything was fine the next season, but when we did our next really big game, I didn’t experience it. So because of that, I really have been able to enjoy the profession.
“At the time this was happening, I’ll admit I was thinking everyone wants to take pride in what they do and feel satisfaction and I was thinking, Do I need to go into coaching or something else to experience the highs and lows of winning and losing? That for me is real. You love the winning when you were playing but you just miss having so much invested and then not knowing completely whether we got it done or did not get it done. That’s how I felt in 2008 but I have not felt that way since.
You’ve been a broadcaster since 2001. At what point does a sports broadcaster reach his or her apex and why?
Good question. I feel that last year midseason is when the craft kind of clicked for me. I feel like I have been at my best since midseason last year. The one thing about being an athlete, say you are struggling with throwing a comeback route, well, then you go out and practice it. You throw it 100 times a day and you get better at it, and you see those improvements pretty rapidly. In this business, you don’t get the practice reps. You can’t work on it as much as you like to work on it. Your practice time is live. I find you have to do a lot of evaluating on your own. I’m asking myself, Why is this good? Why does this work? And not everyone agrees with that. We are in a business that does not give a lot of feedback and you just try to be a critic of yourself. Or you ask other people why something is good for them and try to incorporate it into what you are about but still remain authentic.
People who work in regular jobs get quarterly reviews or end of the year evaluations. How does you get your work reviewed?
Fox began a few years ago using an anonymous person to evaluate each broadcast. We also get a report each week — things they liked, things they did not like, things they felt I could have added. Or this was a great anecdote, things like that. It is helpful. But the frustrating thing for this business, and I think everyone experiences it, I use the analogy that when I played, I would be watching a Monday Night game and if Joe Montana threw three interceptions, you would say, “OK, he had a tough day but he is still a helluva quarterback.” In this business, it just seems like really more opinion than anything else. One is only as good as what people think. There is no real measuring stick as there is in athletics. That part of it is frustrating for all us who played competitively and then have gotten into television. But I receive critiques from my bosses each week and the weekly reports.
So how do you view the Dez Bryant play now that a couple of days have passed?
When it happened I did not think for a minute it was not a catch. When it happened, I’m thinking it is an unbelievable catch. Then when we went to break, [Fox rules analyst] Mike Pereira said he thought the call was going to be overruled. I said, “Really? It looks to me like if anything is changed to the call it will be ruled a touchdown.” They ruled it the way Mike saw it. I’m not going to argue with Mike. After the game you hear from all sorts of people about the call and 99 percent of my friends who texted me are just fans and most don’t know the rules. But I did hear from some coaches and that got my attention. And they felt it was a poor call.
The question becomes about the whole football act and that’s why it ultimately was not a catch. If you said Dez made a football move, then it would have been down by contact. Since it was through the process of the catch when the ball was bobbled, then it was incomplete. I trust Mike Pereira and I trust the New York office had the ability to communicate with [referee Gene] Steratore. But I think in general there are way too many discrepancies in our rule book. I have felt for years they should blow the whole thing up and start over and make it simpler. What is a football act? There are just all kind of different exceptions and not just on catches but the rules in general.
Something that’s interesting to me is that I believe Pereira frees up you and Joe not to have to get in-depth about rules decisions. I see that as a positive because broadcasters can get in trouble with rules-based stuff in any sport. But you might view it differently. Does Mike free you up, or do you still feel you have to get an evaluation in?
I don’t feel he necessarily think he frees me up. I think he is great to have and I think everyone has seen the benefit of Fox having Mike Pereira on our network because now everyone has gone with someone like that. And it makes sense. It is great for the viewer. The rulebook is extensive. The league sends a video out every week to the broadcasters on all the various plays that happened the previous week and here is why it was ruled that way. You go back and forth on why things are being called the way they are being called. Mike and I have disagreed on calls. Go back to the NFC Championship Game [Jan. 2010] between the Vikings and Saints. Mike said a hit on Brett Favre should have been roughing the quarterback. I disagreed. I think when you have a call that helps determine the outcome of a game and you are able to go to the guy who was once the head of officiating, it is a great luxury for us to have. But that does not take away from what my job is. So I don’t know that it frees me up. I just think it is a great luxury for us at Fox. …
Do negative comments ever impact your broadcast?
It doesn’t impact me. It really doesn’t. I think it is because I was a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys for 12 years. I have been in the middle of the storm. I have thrown game-losing interceptions and had to deal with that for a week. Whatever is said, such as people saying I am hating on some team, it has no relevance to me.
As an athlete, you were trying to reach the top of your profession both individually and with the Cowboys. How important is it for you to be considered the top NFL analyst on television?
Well, that is what you strive for, that is what I work toward. But I don’t know that you ultimately ever achieve it.
Because it’s subjective?
Right. It’s like saying who is the greatest quarterback of all time? That’s what great about sports. It is a great debate. No one has ever ultimately achieved that unanimously. So if a fair percentage of people regarded me as the best at what I do, that would be a great complement to me and that is what I strive for.
Joe Buck is a strange case. He’s not a polarizing broadcaster with his content yet he draws emotion on both sides, especially from viewers who dislike his work. People always have a definitive opinion of him and, obviously, there are some fan bases that just don’t like him. Have you ever been able to figure out why a guy who is not provocative or a shock jock draws such strong opinions about him?
Yeah, that is a very good question and I don’t know that I have a good answer for you. I have worked with Joe for 13 years and the guy is phenomenal. He is so good at what he does. He simply does not make mistakes and with all that is going on, he just handles everything so effortlessly. I think Joe’s style is that he wants to come across as very casual, but the amount of time that he puts in for preparation is off the charts. He is a play-by-play guy who is not interested in just blending in. He has opinions and he is going to give them and people are going to take notice of him during a broadcast, And that is great. Beyond that, people just like something or they do not. To me, I think it speaks to how great he is, that people immediately have a reaction to Joe Buck. But as far as people viewing him unfavorable because of something he might have said or challenging this particularly fan base, nothing could be further from the truth. He is a great guy, cordial to everyone he comes across. I don’t quite get it and I don’t know if he is impacted by any of it. But there is no one I would rather be working alongside. …
Is there one game that you consider your best sports broadcasting performance?
There is usually two or three broadcasts a year that I come out feeling really, really good about. The game was great, we were really good, it was lively, and we had great conversation. Not that everyone agrees with that [laughs] but that’s how we [Buck and Aikman] assess it or how I assess what I did. But I will say I have never come out of a broadcast and didn’t look back and think I wish I had said something a little differently or pointed something else out. And I was like that as a player. I tend to think I will never have the perfect broadcast but when I am done I do think I will look back at one or two and say this was about as good as it got for me.
Part of this probably has to do with Aikman’s getting the biggest games, as part of Fox’s number one team with Buck. (Who gets complaints as well; Buck is Fox’s number one NFL and baseball play-by-play guy.) Their CBS counterparts, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms (who get complaints of their own — Nantz for being too vanilla, Simms for saying nonsensical things), apparently are setting a sports broadcasting record by announcing their 30th game of the season, the AFC championship, on Sunday.
Whether that’s overexposure depends on whether you like the announcer. Buck is following the path (maybe not by choice) of Curt Gowdy, who was NBC’s number one announcer for football, baseball and most other sports (including the 1972 Winter Olympics) in the 1970s, and Al Michaels, who did the same for ABC in the 1980s.
It’s not easy to be the number one announcers. (Though one of the networks really should give me the opportunity …) In addition to the pervasive commentary about and criticism of the commentators, there is the fact that they have to sort of dumb down their commentary the farther in the playoffs they go, because the last two rounds of the playoffs are viewed by an increasing percentage of casual fans who may watch the playoffs and not much of the regular season. That’s probably why Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated often would rank announcers lower on the network pecking order higher in his announcer ratings, because Dr. Z was a football guy and wanted to hear about such inner details as line play. There will be many viewers of Super Bowl XLIX (carried by NBC in two weeks) who could not care less about the difference between an offensive guard and an offensive tackle, or a safety (the defensive player) vs. a safety (the offense’s ending up in its own end zone.)
But: Does this sound like someone who hates the Packers?
At least Aikman is willing to change his mind if the later evidence contradicts his first opinion.
I like Buck and Aikman (in the former case probably because we’re contemporaries age-wise), but regardless of your opinion, if you are from the ’80s or ’90s you should find this funny:
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports on Milwaukee’s two basketball schools and their respective arenas, which are in view of each other:
Marquette University, which has been at the BMO Harris Bradley Center since its inception in 1988, wants a better handle on what Bucks owners Wes Edens, Marc Lasry and Jamie Dinan have in mind. For now, the Bradley Center is an important asset to Marquette’s men’s basketball program. Recruits are told they will play in the same arena as the Bucks.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has a different challenge. UWM, which signed a 10-year, $3.4 million agreement last summer with the Wisconsin Center District for the naming rights to the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, as well as the right to stage additional programming, is concerned it will lose the arena to the wrecking ball.
The Bucks’ preferred choice is land now occupied by the headquarters ofJournal Communications, the UWM arena and, possibly, the Milwaukee Theatre. A source with knowledge of the site-selection process said Bucks officials are eager to get control of the Journal Communications building, which houses the Journal Sentinel and sits on the block bordered by W. State St., N. 4th St., W. Kilbourn Ave., and N. Old World Third St.
The Bucks are focused now on negotiations with Journal Communications and hope to have a site in place in a month. Should that fall through, the Bucks have other sites in mind, including land just north of the Bradley Center, a city-owned parking lot at the corner of N. 4th St. and W. Wisconsin Ave. and land at N. 2nd and W. Michigan streets.
If the Bucks secure the Journal Communications block, the team is expected to turn its attention to the UWM arena, first opened in 1950. Franklyn Gimbel, chairman of the Wisconsin Center District, which owns and operates the UWM arena, Milwaukee Theatre and the Wisconsin Center convention center, has been adamantly opposed to giving up the arena.
Marquette’s lease at the Bradley Center expires in March 2017. Brian Dorrington, a Marquette spokesman, said President Michael R. Lovell has met with the Bucks owners multiple times “to get a better understanding of their overall vision and plans.”
“These discussions haven’t dealt with one specific aspect of the project, but rather the comprehensive vision for the new arena, the overall development plan and Marquette’s prospective role,” Dorrington said. “President Lovell has often stated that he feels it is important that Marquette is at the table for the region’s most important discussions, and we are continuing to work to gain a better understanding of the Bucks’ detailed plans.”
The Bucks say many parties are involved in discussions over the effort to build a new arena downtown.
“Marquette is an important stakeholder in the arena discussion,” Bucks team spokesman Jake Suski said. “We plan to work closely with them and important stakeholders as we move forward for the benefit of the entire community.”
The Bucks also have met with UWM officials, and interim chancellor Mark Mone has said the university’s goal is to maintain a presence at the UWM Arena. If the UWM Arena is demolished to make way for an alternative facility, UWM has said it wants an alternative facility.
Francis Deisinger, a local attorney and a backer of UWM Athletics since the late 70s, says he is frustrated by the talks so far.
“My biggest frustration is it doesn’t have to be this way. Why does it have to be here?” he asked of the UWM arena site.
Deisinger noted there are other sites available in the downtown area.
“This would be very much like the destruction of the Chicago & Northwestern depot on the lakefront — the difference being that while the trains had stopped running to that beautiful building, the arena is still a living, working building,” he said.
The issue isn’t the Bradley Center’s size (at least from the Bucks’ perspective), it’s its lack of 21st-century accouterments. On the other hand, Marquette doesn’t come close to selling out the Bradley Center unless Wisconsin plays there. The Bradley Center is far too big for UWM. Marquette has the Al McGuire Center, and UWM has the Klotsche Center, but neither on-campus facility means NCAA Division I minimum capacity requirements.
Some schedule irony: Marquette is hosting Wisconsin Saturday. Marquette refuses to play UW-Milwaukee or UW-Green Bay, believing that that would be beneath the Warriors … I mean Golden Eagles … I mean Gold … I mean Golden Eagles. (Translation: A Marquette loss to Milwaukee or Green Bay would look really bad.) Wisconsin not only plays all the other in-state schools, but even plays road games against them.
Whether or not taxpayers should pony up the funds for a new Bucks arena, that decision has consequences on others.