New ESPN Crews not Great News for SEC Fans

When the Southeastern Conference announced its fifteen year deal with ESPN, most fans were looking forward to a giant leap forward in the overall quality of the league's broadcasts. The announcers for the conference's two full time packages with the network were announced Thursday, and it appears our hopes may have been in vain.

ESPN is taking over the former J-P/Lincoln Financial/Raycom 12:30 over the air game, and will now have a studio pregame show beforehand. That show begins at noon and will be hosted by Rob Stone and former Georgia and NFL lineman Matt Stinchcomb. As for the game itself, as the Who sang it's "meet the new boss, same as the old boss". That's right, Dave Neal will be the play-by-play guy for the ESPN package, a carryover from the J-P days. Why ESPN would choose to maintain a tie to the most mocked broadcast crew in recent college history is anybody's guess, but they did give Neal new partners. The 1989 Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware will be the full-time color analyst with Cara Capuano as sideline reporter.

Out of the five announcers tied to the early game, only Stinchcomb and Neal have any direct ties to the SEC. Ware has worked an occasional game involving an SEC team for ESPN. Capuano is a Californian who's spent the past five years working for Fox Sports Northwest in Seattle.

There's a new weekly SEC primetime game on ESPNU. The announcers for that will be play by play man Eric Collins and former Washington QB Brock Huard. Collins does part time play by play for the L.A. Dodgers and is from Chicago. Like Ware, he has done a couple of SEC games for ESPN. Huard is a sports talk show host in Seattle and occasionally is a studio analyst for ESPN.

Out of seven announcers ESPN assigned to the SEC packages, was it really a stretch to hope the number with SEC ties would be larger than the number of Seattle residents? It's not that these people aren't capable broadcasters, but they have zero feel or understanding for what makes the league special. They'll be learning about conference traditions as they visit a place like the Swamp for the first time.

There are plenty of talented people who actually know about the SEC ESPN could have hired, but the network has continued its inexplicable practice of largely excluding conference alums from their announcing teams. Florida has Jesse Palmer, known more for his reality show than his college career, and Erin Andrews at the network. Rece Davis is an Alabama grad. That's it. More Canadians cover college football for ESPN than do SEC alums (yes, Palmer counts as both).

There will certainly be positives from the new broadcast package. The early telecasts are expected to have a vastly improved picture, be better produced, and have score updates and highlights that were missing when Raycom had the rights. The weekly ESPNU game will help make sure that almost every conference game will get significant exposure. The Saturday night ESPN game will often also be from the SEC and when it is will feature a top notch crew of Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge and Erin Andrews.

ESPN could have said during negotiations with the conference that they would broadcast the games in Farsi and the deal still would have been so good for the SEC financially and in expanded reach that they would have taken it. We already know how great SEC football is - it's unfortunate most of the announcers who'll be broadcasting it to us don't.

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