One of the most common points of contention from opposing fans towards Notre Dame is the unique partnerships the Irish have with NBC for coverage of all their home games. Opposing fans don’t like that Notre Dame is able to “have their own network” and complain about it frequently. As NBC’s coverage continues to evolve, however, is the network going too far in ensuring coverage is fair and balanced?
Earlier this week NBC announced that recent ESPN defector Mike Tirico would be the play by play announcer for Notre Dame’s first three home games while Dan Hicks is on assignment. Great news. Tirico is a pro and renowned as one of the better play by play commentators in the business. Who cares that Tirico is a resident of Ann Arbor, Michigan. He’s one of the best in the business.
Then news broke that former Michigan linebacker Dhani Jones would be joining the NBC pre and post game coverage. Jones, unlike Tirico, isn’t really known in the industry as one of the best in business. Ok, still no big deal right? So NBC added a Michigan alum and an Ann Arbor resident/pronounced Michigan fan to their exclusive coverage of Notre Dame football. So what?
In a vacuum these latest moves from NBC would not be a big deal, but when you look back at NBC’s additions to the Notre Dame coverage over the last few years there’s a pattern: alumni/connection of Notre Dame’s most hated rivals.
- Pat Haden (USC Quarterback) – Left as the color commentator to become AD of USC
- Mike Mayock (BC Quarterback) – Replaced Haden and was in my opinion still one of the best from a pure football standpoint, but many Notre Dame fans didn’t like him.
- Doug Flutie (BC Quarterback) – Replaces Mayock after not having much of a background as a color commentator
- Mike Tirico (Ann Arbor native and Michigan fan) – Filling in for Hicks for the first three games of the 2016 season.
- Dhani Jones (Michigan Linebacker) – Added to the pre and post game show
Now, maybe all of this is just one big giant coincidence that the “talent” NBC keeps adding to its Notre Dame coverage all hail from some of Notre Dame’s biggest rivals, but are there really no other commentators or analysts out there from other schools or dare I suggest Notre Dame itself?
As the exclusive broadcaster of Notre Dame football, NBC has to walk a fine line between providing unbiased coverage for opposing fans and catering to their target audience – Notre Dame fans. The problem is, there’s no other way to watch Notre Dame home games other than NBC so there really is almost no motive or incentive for NBC to cater their broadcasts to an audience they are guaranteed to gain each week.
None of NBC’s choices have been bad in my humble opinion either. Mayock was a great color commentator and brought the kind of football and talent evaluation perspective that few other in the industry could. Flutie, despite his lack of experience prior, has been a solid replacement as well. Tirico will probably be a huge upgrade over Hicks for the first three games – how could he not?
At the same time, does NBC need to continually overcompensate with their additions by adding rival alum after rival alum? We’ll never have a broadcast of a Notre Dame game with a former Irish great as the color commentator most likely, but at this point, how about just adding a former player to the pre and post game coverage that didn’t go to Michigan, Boston College, or USC? There’s making an effort to be unbiased and then there’s going out of the way to make sure there isn’t a single shred of doubt that you are making any effort to cater to the fan base of the school to which you own exclusive broadcast rights.
I know it’s possible. Hines Ward – a Georgia alum – was a member of NBC’s pre and post game coverage for years and did a fine job in his role. So there are actually broadcasters and commentators out there who haven’t matriculated at Notre Dame’s biggest or most hated rivals.
NBC likely won’t change their approach much. There’s no reason for them to. We’re all going to tune in to watch each weekend even if Reggie Bush was providing color commentary with Glen Foley doing the play by play and Jimmy Johnson running the pre and post game shows. But can a Notre Dame fan watching a Notre Dame game on Notre Dame’s network not be subjected to an alum or former player from schools telling us how bad the Irish are when they come up short from time to time?
At least we’re no longer being subjected to Tom Hammond anymore.