One sideline reporter wrapped up her segment during the Final Four game with a hearty: ”We bleed blue, and in Ollie we trust!”
”We” is not a word heard in nationally televised sports coverage in reference to one side, but the ”TeamCasts” wanted fans to feel that the announcers were in their corner.
So the UConn-centric version featured former Huskies women’s star Swin Cash interviewing ex-men’s players Caron Butler and Jeremy Lamb in a conversation full of ”us” and ”our.” The new concept that debuted for the two NCAA semifinals celebrated ”homer” commentary for each team.
The production values on TNT and truTV matched the standard of the main broadcast on TBS, and the timing was generally sharp even though the announcers were just paired together and with their directors and producers a few days ago. Still to be seen is whether the TV ratings prove there’s an appetite for this approach pioneered by Turner Sports and CBS this year.
Fans love to complain that announcers are biased against their team. Of course, supporters of both squads tend to gripe in equal numbers, with the commentators accused of favoring either side at various times.
By necessity, national announcers are in a way bandwagon fans, swinging their coverage from the perspective of one team to the other and back depending on the momentum, the story lines. For a viewer fervently invested in the success of only one side, those moments when the commentary happens to focus on the opposing side can feel infuriating. Some, though, would still prefer a more balanced broadcast even if they zealously root for one of the combatants.
Saturday’s TeamCasts proved less about maximizing the exuberance for one school than minimizing it for the other. Donny Marshall, the former UConn star serving as an analyst on the truTV telecast of his alma mater’s 63-53 upset win over Florida, repeatedly lamented that referees seemed to be allowing the Gators’ big men to get away with physical play while their Huskies counterparts picked up fouls for similar contact.
Then again, it’s not unusual for national announcers to disagree with a call. On the main broadcast on TBS, analyst Greg Anthony opined ”not sure that was a walk” when UConn’s Terrence Samuel was whistled for traveling. The difference was viewers on truTV didn’t have to hear about it when a questionable call went against the Gators.
The announcers turned up the volume on big plays by their team, something network executives hoped would pump up viewers. ”Big fella, get on your trampoline!” bellowed Mark Wise, a longtime analyst for the Gator Basketball Network, when Patric Young swatted away Ryan Boatright’s shot.
Not that national commentators don’t get plenty revved up in major moments. ”And Napier’s on the board!” play-by-play man Jim Nantz hollered on the main broadcast when the UConn star hit a 3-pointer for his first basket after a slow start, with TBS cutting to a shot of UConn fans jumping up and down.
On the truTV telecast, the fact that Marshall played alongside Huskies coach Kevin Ollie was frequently referenced, though it’s not unusual throughout sports for analysts to call games involving their alma maters and former coaches and teammates.
The focus on one team does simply allow for more time devoted to discussing the intricacies of that program’s strategy and history. When Florida missed a second free throw in the first half, Wise noted that it prevented the Gators from setting up their press.
The telecasts featured touches such as Twitter posts by famous alums of that particular school. What they lacked was the familiar voices of the teams’ radio announcers, who were busy with their regular gigs. Play-by-play men David Steele for Florida and Eric Frede for UConn, who have each covered the programs, were knowledgeable if not as recognizable.