Hopefully, one day this won’t be news: First active D-1 basketball player announces he is gay

I’m not trying to diminish what Derrick Gordon did today in coming out about his sexuality. It took a lot of courage for the UMass player to announce that he is gay on ESPN’s SportsCenter and SB Nation’s Outsports this morning.

My hope, though, is at some point an athlete coming out won’t be a story that lights up Twitter and requires extensive interviews.

Here is Kate Fagan’s story and interview at ESPN.com.

Here is an interview Gordon did with SB Nation’s Outsports.

Gordon talked about how he was inspired by Jason Collins and Michael Sam. Hopefully, other gay athletes will be inspired by him and won’t feel as if they need to hide any secrets.

If that happens, an athlete’s sexuality becomes a non-story. All that should matter is whether he or she can play.



Phelps’ contract not renewed by ESPN; Is network looking to get younger?

Digger Phelps announced Monday that last night was his finale at ESPN and in TV.

It likely wasn’t his choice. According to sources, Phelps’ contract wasn’t renewed by ESPN.

Phelps, 72, tried to put a positive spin on the situation.

“I spent 20 years at Notre Dame as a coach and now 20 years here at ESPN doing a great job with all you people. And now it’s time for me to move forward, and this will be my last time on TV,” Phelps said.

Phelps added: “It’s been a great run. Twenty years is always my target for everything, and it’s time to move forward.”

However, when I talked to Phelps in November for a column in the Chicago Tribune, he didn’t sound as if he wanted to move forward from ESPN. From the column:

Phelps, though, has no intention of stopping. Even though he doesn’t like that college basketball has turned into a 3-point shooting contest, he still loves getting to dissect the big moments at the end of the games.

After all these years, Phelps still is a showman at heart. He pulls out a green highlighter and holds it up against the green tie he is wearing. Somewhere along the way, the matching highlighter-tie combination “became my M.O.,” much like the green carnation he wore as coach of the Irish.

“Everywhere I go, people say, ‘Where’s your highlighter?'” Phelps said.

Phelps appears to be having too much fun to think about retiring. His work at ESPN takes him to college campuses throughout the country. That’s where he truly is in his element.

“I’ve lived at Notre Dame for 42 years,” Phelps said. “I still go to the dorms and speak just like I did 40 years ago. People say, ‘Why are you still living (in South Bend)?’ Well, I’m not a Florida guy. I’m not a Palm Springs guy. I’m a campus guy.”

Listen, 20 years is an eternity in TV. Phelps did well to last that long at ESPN.

In this business, new executives come in and want to leave their mark. Changes get made all the time, and Phelps’ number might have come up.

However, given what happened to Brent Musburger, who at 74 got moved over from the being the main voice of college football on ESPN to a lower profile role as lead play-by-play man for the new SEC Network, and now with Phelps, it does beg the question of whether the network is looking to get younger?

I have been told not to read anything into the moves involving Musburger and Phelps. It is “timing” as much as anything else.

For my piece on USA Today on 70-year-old announcers still going strong, John Wildhack, ESPN’s executive vice-president for programming and production, said of the age issue:

“We always want to improve and get better,” Wildhack said. “It’s never been a case of, ‘We’ve got to bring in so-and-so to get younger.’ We’re looking to have a mixture of great veterans and young people who have the potential to grow.”

As I said, people in this business, young and old, get shifted and/or moved out all the time. Still, the “timing” is interesting.

As for the old Notre Dame coach, congratulations on a fine run at ESPN. He was a valuable asset to the network’s college basketball coverage.

And don’t be so sure you have seen the last on Phelps on TV. Once a showman, always a showman.



Rutgers AD is an idiot: Wants Newark Star-Ledger to go out of business

Rutgers technically doesn’t join the Big Ten for another three months. Still, I would expect Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany might have a conversation with Julie Hermann over her latest comments about the Newark Star-Ledger.

Delany has a keen PR sense. He knows it isn’t good PR to wish for the death of a major local paper, as the Rutgers athletic director did with the Star-Ledger.

Writes Steve Politi:

Clearly, it wasn’t for Julie Hermann. She must have been tickled, because this is the same woman who stood up in front of a class of journalism students a few weeks ago and said it would be “great” if the newspaper died.

No, really. Great. That was her word. The Rutgers athletics director, in a wide-ranging discussion with the class, was talking about her own rocky introduction with the media in New Jersey when … well, here is the exchange:

“If they’re not writing headlines that are getting our attention, they’re not selling ads – and they die,” Hermann told the Media Ethics and Law class. “And the Ledger almost died in June, right?”

“They might die again next month,” a student said.

“That would be great,” she replied. “I’m going to do all I can to not give them a headline to keep them alive.”

Later, Politi gives the requisite statement from the school:

In a statement from Rutgers, Hermann did not apologize or explain her attack on the newspaper, instead stating that she was sharing her experiences “in an informal way and out of the glare of the media spotlight.” Because who would have imagined that journalism students would have recording devices?

“Her comments were in response to a broad array of student questions on a number of different subjects and were reflective of her own personal experiences,” the statement read. “She had no knowledge of the impending reorganization of the Star-Ledger and drastic changes that the newspaper would announce several weeks later, in April.”

Later, he writes:

She has declared war on the largest news gathering organization that covers her athletic department. What could possibly be gained by that? This was another excerpt from her classroom discussion:

“Keeping in mind that salacious sells, keeping in mind that we are a lot of people’s favorite topic, keeping in mind that there are people – I’ve got one guy over at the Ledger and he has one mission, that’s to get any AD at Rutgers fired. That’s his hobby. How soon can I get the new AD fired?”

If that “guy over at the Ledger” is yours truly, then I should make two points: 1. My hobby is gardening. 2. I hope the Rutgers AD gets out of her own way long enough to turn Rutgers into a thriving Big Ten power, because that is much, much better for business.

Does a UConn-Kentucky final do it for you? Two sides to semifinal ratings

I admit as an Illinois alum, there is some jealousy involved here. I mean, even in off years, UConn and Kentucky still go to the NCAA final.  C’mon.

Their regular-season records seem more in line with the NIT. Yet one of them is going to win another title tonight. The rich get richer, right? It doesn’t seem fair.

It will be interesting to see if the country embraces a No. 7 vs. No. 8 seed final. The big-name appeal of the programs likely will help aid CBS’ rating tonight. If you are going to have two low-seeded teams, better to be UConn-Kentucky than let’s say,  Kansas State-San Diego State.

However, CBS can’t play up the Cinderella factor tonight, not with the history of these programs. And the star power also is lacking. There won’t be a consensus No. 1 or 2 pick on the floor.

I don’t think CBS is expecting to do a big number tonight, especially based on the semifinal ratings.

There are two sides to that story. CBS and Turner Sports proudly boasted that Saturday’s Kentucky-Wisconsin game was the most-viewed non-football event in cable history with 16.7 viewers.

However, Sports Media Watch has the other side of the story.

Despite the record, Kentucky/Wisconsin ranks as the lowest rated (tie) Final Four game in the late window in five years and the least-viewed in four.

Obviously, being on TBS, TNT, and truTV instead of CBS was contributing factor; fewer TV homes on cable.

However, I also think there also was a lack of appeal for this Final Four. It wasn’t a sexy bunch, even with UConn and Kentucky.

I’ll watch tonight, but I won’t be happy.








Yes to home team calls: Networks should do more Teamcasts

Yes, there was the inevitable confusion, as CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus predicted.

Viewers were bewildered by pro-(UConn, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Florida) calls on Saturday, depending on where their remotes took them. Adding to the problem was that this was Turner Sports’ first coverage of the Final Four semis.

You could hear people’s brains grinding: What Turner channel? TNT? TBS? Doubt that anyone went to truTV.

If they turned to TNT, a Teamcast outlet, they probably wondered what happened to Jim Nantz and objectivity.

Fortunately, Charles Barkley was on hand to clear things up as only he can.

“You people are all idiots,” Barkley said.

Thanks, Charles.

My view: More Teamcasts, please.

Perhaps due to being a serial channel flipper, but I enjoyed having more options Saturday than the conventional national call. It was refreshing to hear different perspectives and see different presentations.

When Florida went down in the second half, I turned over to the Gator Teamcast to see how their announcers were handling the situation. I liked being able to listen to old pal Wayne Larrivee, one of the true pros in the business, being all-in with Wisconsin.

Richard Sandomir of the New York Times wrote on Rex Chapman being a Teamcast analyst for Kentucky:

“I don’t want to sound like a complete homer,” Chapman said late in the game as he criticized a foul call. Very quickly, he reversed himself. “I guess I do want to sound like a complete homer,” he said, glee in his voice.

I would listen to Chapman tonight if I could. Alas, CBS isn’t using the Teamcast concept for the title game. However, it probably will next year.

The bottom line: Innovation is good. Thinking out of the box is good.

It’s 2014, and TV executives know they can’t give viewers the same old thing. They have the platforms and resources to give viewers something different.

Whether it is Teamcast or ESPN’s Megacast for the BCS title game, or something else, the days of one game-one network, at least for the big games, are likely done.

If it results in some confusion early on, and if Barkley calls you an idiot, well, you’re in good company there.

Ernie Johnson: First Final Four will be landmark moment for Turner Sports

I caught with one of my favorite people in sports media, Ernie Johnson. Here’s an excerpt from my interview with the Turner Sports veteran that I wrote for Awful Announcing.


Ernie Johnson goes so far back with Turner Sports it actually pre-dates the start of his broadcast career. His father, Ernie Johnson Sr., was the announcer for the Atlanta Braves when Ted Turner had the outlandish idea to air their games nationally on his WTBS Superstation.

The “Crazy Ted” talk died down once the Braves became “America’s Team.” Ernie Johnson’s son learned early on never to question the drive of his father’s boss.

“It seemed like the more people told (Turner), you can’t do something, the more he wanted to do it,” Johnson said.

So that’s why this year’s NCAA tournament holds extra meaning for Johnson and other long-time employees of Turner Sports. For the first time ever, TBS will carry the Final Four games on semifinal Saturday. They had been exclusively on CBS since 1982.

It will be a landmark moment for Turner Sports. Even though Turner himself isn’t involved in the operation of the networks he founded, Johnson knows what it means to everyone with ties to the man whose name still is on the door.

“It’s huge,” Johnson said. “The reality of it isn’t lost on any of us. You watch this tournament your entire life, but you’re never a part of it. Then to be in that mix and to know that everyone is watching this event. It’s not just sports fans. It’s about fringe fans. They’re not sports fans, but they’re March Madness fans with their brackets. The tournament is one of those events that bring everyone together for a few weeks.”

He’s right: Jay Bilas changed my mind on pay-for-play for college athletes

After being married to a lawyer for nearly 21 years, I learned a long time ago that it is fruitless to debate people who argue for a living. You never win.

So when I talked to Jay Bilas, who is a lawyer, a couple of times earlier this year, I didn’t expect that I would alter his view on the pay-for-play issue in college sports. However, I didn’t anticipate that he would change mine.

Below is Bilas’ appearance on the Keith Olbermann show last night to discuss the ruling in the Northwestern union case.

Bilas argued many of the same points in an interview I did with him in February prior to the hearings on the Northwestern case. In wake of what happened yesterday, his comments are worth reviewing.

After covering college sports for nearly a decade at the Chicago Tribune, I had been in the camp that a scholarship was sufficient compensation for playing college sports. Also, like many others, I bought into the notion that the majority of college athletic departments were losing money. There is no additional cash to pay these athletes, or so I thought.

Well, Bilas changed my mind of a couple of fronts:

The money is there. However, Bilas points out how it is allocated: significant seven-figure salaries for coaches and administrators. Heck, even in coordinators in football are making more than $1 million per year.


So now, do they have a lot of salaries and all that?  Yeah, but they’re paying themselves.  It’s funny how they’ve got the money to pay themselves first, and they go, there’s nothing left over.  Why are the athletes at the end?

And then there’s this:

I don’t believe, nor does any reasonable economist believe, that this entire enterprise teeters upon the athletes staying amateur.  It doesn’t.  They say, well, if we pay the athletes we’ll have to cut other sports.  Says who?  Nobody says when they say, boy, you give the players more than a scholarship, you have to cut other sports.  Nobody has to say if you pay Rick Pitino or Coach K and Bill Self $5 to $10 million, you’re not going to have other sports.  Nobody says that.  And the money keeps going up.  We’re making more money, not less, and there’s not one economic theory that says that if you pay your employees, you’re automatically, it’s a zero sum game, you’re going to have less profit.

Indeed, if you slashed coach’s salaries by 20 percent, that would free up a couple of million bucks at most athletic programs. Then you could give that money to the athletes. Simple. Right? Imagine how that would go down with those coaches.

Bilas advocates for a free market system. When I countered that it would create an uneven playing field, he had a ready reply.

It’s uneven now. They don’t pay all the coaches the same thing, do they? Nobody said, ‘Hey, Oregon, you can’t build that $68 million facility. Kentucky, you can’t build that (basketball) dorm that’s nicer than the Ritz-Carlton, because it’s not fair to everyone else.’ Aren’t those competitive advantages? We’ve never had a level playing field in college sports, and we never will.

He added.

They don’t have to give scholarships if they don’t want to.  There’s nothing that requires them to give scholarships.  They don’t pay all their coaches the same thing.  They don’t pay the lacrosse coach the same thing they pay the football coach.  How did they make that determination?  Why isn’t that too complicated?  They come out with these ridiculous questions, are we going to pay the last guy on the wrestling team the same thing we pay the quarterback?  Well, do you pay the wrestling coach the same thing you pay Nick Saban?  The answer is no.  So do what you want.  You want to pay everybody the same, go ahead.

Then there’s the notion that it can’t be done simply because nobody has ever offered a workable formula.

It’s a lame excuse. Sometimes I like to take things to the absurd to make a point, but it’s really funny how nobody ever says, like when they started this playoff, this College Football Playoff, nobody said, it’s just too complicated.  How are we going to figure it out?  How are we going to figure out what venue to use and how are we going to play all the vendors?  Do we pay all the vendors the same thing?  Do we pay the parking attendants the same thing that we pay the announcers?  How do we do it?  Do we pay all the teams?  How do we pay the coaches?  Do we pay the assistants the same way that ‑‑ it’s funny how they can make all these decisions according to the free market, but the athletes, boy, you can’t do that.

Here’s larger point. Thanks to TV, the money has grown exponentially in the last 20 years. Millions have become billions. Big difference.

The money can’t be ignored any longer. There’s simply too much for the players not to get a slice.


I always felt like this was going to happen because the amount of money that’s in the game now, I think this is pro sports, and the only thing that’s not pro about it is the fact that they don’t pay their employees.  The tension between the amount of money that’s generated and the amount of money that’s paid to the coaches and the administrators and all that and the amount that’s provided to the players, which is basically just their expenses, that tension is only going to grow.  That’s not going to lessen.

And finally:

I think it’s the beginning of it rather than some sort of ending point, but to me the best news about it isn’t that the players are doing something.  It’s that it is starting a conversation where the logic, or lack thereof, of the NCAA is going to be tested and scrutinized, because to me, like they’re always telling us, no, this is a great deal for the players and they get more than they deserve, and they’re not worth it.  Well, if that’s true, then the deal should be able to stand on its own, and you should be able to justify your own policies, and I think now they have to do it.

Indeed, when it comes to this issue, I’m listening to Bilas. He is the smartest man in the room.

Why isn’t there more coverage of women’s basketball tournament? Response from New York Times

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan addressed the issue of the lack of coverage for women compared to the men in their respective NCAA basketball tournaments. Several women readers voiced their complaints.

Sullivan writes:

The readers have a valid point about coverage so far: The women’s coverage has been minimal. Let’s look back over the weekend’s offerings.

Saturday: Coverage of the men’s tournament included one section-front article, and seven inside feature stories, a men’s roundup article and a notebook. There was nothing on the women’s tournament, which was to begin later that day. (By contrast, there was plenty of preview coverage of the men’s tournament.)

Sunday: Coverage of the men’s tournament included two section-front articles and a full-page photo display inside, along with two inside articles. For the women: an Associated Press roundup article and “agate” – the small-print game results.

Monday: For the men, one front-page article, four inside articles and a roundup, all written by Times staff members. For the women, an Associated Press roundup and the women’s agate. (A feature article on both men’s and women’s tournament travel was on the front page but did not involve substantial coverage of athletes, teams or games.)

Sullivan asked Times deputy sports editor Sam Dolnick for a response. Dolnick said:

By any and every measure, the women’s N.C.A.A. tournament attracts less general interest than the men’s tournament. If our job is in large part to gauge newsworthiness, then it wouldn’t make sense to allocate the same resources to both tournaments. That’s not to say that we ignore the women’s tournament — far from it. This year we will have five reporters fanned out across the country, including some of our best and most senior writers. That’s probably more coverage than we’ve ever had before.

Dolnick also added there are occasions when the Times actually gives more coverage to women’s sports over men. Namely in the Olympics where the women events are more compelling and have a larger following.

A side point — the N.C.A.A. tournament shouldn’t be used as a barometer for our interest in women’s sports in general. There have been times when we cover women’s tennis, and women’s World Cup soccer, and women’s figure skating, and women’s gymnastics, more closely than we cover the men. That’s simply because we found the women’s competitions there to be more compelling — and that’s the measure we always use in assigning coverage.

Sullivan’s conclusion:

But I also believe that there’s something circular here that is important and should be acknowledged: Intense media coverage of sports is one of the reasons that there is so much popular interest.

Does The Times need to bring the same resources to the women’s tournament as it does to the men’s? No, I don’t think so. But the level of interest has been disappointing so far. As a former high school and college hoops player myself (I sat the bench with considerable skill on Georgetown’s junior varsity team), I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing women’s coverage ramp up soon.

Sullivan has a point about coverage driving more interest in a sport. Clearly, though, there is a much greater following for the men’s game, even among women.

Would more coverage for the women’s tournament change that? Probably not.



Prediction: Bob Knight won’t be back at ESPN next year

Yep, that should just about do it for Bob Knight at ESPN. Yet another interpretation on the word “rape” by the former coach should end his broadcast run at the network.

I’m betting you thought it already ended.

Yesterday during an interview with Mike & Mike, Knight talked about how the NBA has “raped” college basketball.

“If I were involved with the NBA I wouldn’t want a 19-year-old or a 20-year-old kid, to bring into all the travel and all the problems that exist in the NBA. I would want a much more mature kid. I would want a kid that maybe I’ve been watching on another team and now he’s 21, 22 years old instead of 18 or 19, and I might trade for that kid. On top of it all, the NBA does a tremendous, gigantic disservice to college basketball. It’s as though they’ve raped college basketball in my opinion.”

Of course, the Knight file on rape still includes that famous Connie Chung interview.

”I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.”

The ESPN discipline police had to be brought out to have a chat with Knight. John Ourand of Sports Business Daily issued this tweet:

“We spoke with him. ESPN regrets the use of the word.”

I’m betting that’s the last straw for Knight at ESPN. The network is barely using him anyway.

When Knight was hired in 2008, he was all over ESPN’s coverage of the NCAA tournament. Now he is hardly seen. In fact, during the week of the Final Four, he will be an analyst on the NIT finals.

Perhaps it is because Knight doesn’t bring much to the table these days. Check out this clip that ran on Awful Announcing.

There have been several controversies involving Knight’s tenure at ESPN. When Knight is making news during the NCAA tournament for his use of the word rape, that’s a sure sign for Bristol to say, “Enough is enough.”

I would be shocked if he is back next year.