Coincidence or Overcompensation: NBC’s Notre Dame Coverage

Mike Tirico Notre Dame
Photo: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sport

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.

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  1. I just saw Tom Hammond at the mall, the other day. Wearing a red suit, too. (joke: It’s almost Christmas, albeit 2-years-later)

  2. Who thinks Mike Tirico is one of the best or even better commentators out there? Why do you think he did not last long on Monday night football? He was the weak link 80% of the time. He is serviceable at best IMO.

    Anyone see the Texas loss coming? I sure did. Texas finished strong and are on the move up and were at home. Setup for another big game loss for ND.

  3. Pat Haden would always bend over backwards to be more than fair to the ND opponent when he talked football at all. He usually wasted time talking about which player’s parents worked for UNICEF and other such utter irrelevancies. Mayock really talked football, which was good, but he was actively anti-Notre Dame, always viewing the play in a light most favorable to ND’s opponent. How about giving us someone who will actually analyze the game,and be fair to ND for a change? I wouldn’t even mind a ND homer. The announcers are all homogenized and pasteurized milk toasts when it comes to lousy calls by the game officials, which is also frustrating.

  4. Best College football TV announcers in my time were Lindsey Nelson and Keith Jackson. — Greg Kelly , I’ll check out Don Criqui and Allen Pinkett on radio. What is the radio station —can I get them in Tennessee ?

  5. Oh, and the radio guys are good too. They are pro-ND but aren’t afraid to be critical when the situation on field calls for it. If someone messes up, or even just does something stupid, they’re not afraid to call them out on it.

  6. During the game I prefer neutral, balanced broadcasting. I want to know what ND is doing right on each play, but also what they did wrong. I’m ok with that. With all the rules, trick plays, and just how complicated football is these days, it’s good to have that balance. I don’t want to be told how wonderful ND is when they screw up.

    Now pre and post game, a little bias is probably fine. That’s the place for something like that. I like a little critique there too.

  7. I understand the point of the article. With that said, I never had a problem with any of the broadcasters being anti-ND. Pat Haden was outstanding and “got” ND better than most ND fans. Mike Mayock is great to listen to. He did the preseason games for the Eagles as well as some of the games on the NFL Network. He always did a good job whenever I was tuned into one of his games

  8. Let’s face it. ND is a magic place. No matter who they put on pregame, in the booth or post game they all become ND fans by the 3rd home game of their first season. You can see it in their face when ND does well.

  9. @GregKelly – I’m with you. I think everyone else who commented (well, not everyone, but too-damn-many) is just bitchin’n’moanin’. Allen Pinkett was in my dorm (the mighty Howard Hall, back before the babes took it over) in Fall 1985. Dude has some real perspective. Doug Flutie is a good guy from a couple of towns away. (Natick, MA – his postman sings in my choir) But Allen has NOTRE DAME in his blood’n’sweat. (and unfortunately tears, with Gerry Faust) GoIrish!

  10. I turn down tv commentators( they are minor leaguers anyway.) I love Don Criqui and Allen Pinkett. I’d put Don up against any broadcaster in the game. His description has the “art” and Allens has the “swagger” Reminds me of Lindsey Nelson of ol’Notre Dame football yore!

  11. I take exception to the Tom Hammonds comment…..I really liked him! Mayock on the other hand got the boot for being overly critical of ND. I turned down the sound and got Don Criqui on internet radio……….

  12. It’s called “Notre Dame football”, and the primary core viewing audience every week are Notre Dame fans. Fans of other schools/teams are busy watching their own games each Saturday. Why does it have to be “neutral” coverage? The broadcasters each week tell stories about visiting teams and their players, while the stories of the 100+ players on the Notre Dame sideline go untold. I don’t think the ND football radio broadcasts are “over the top”. I much prefer to turn down the volume on the TV broadcast and listen to the ND radio guys broadcast the game.

  13. Mayock did a good job. I haven’t had huge issues with the commentators on NBC the last few years. Some are better than others, and yes, sometimes them going out of their way to appear balanced can be grating, but most of the time they’re ok.

    I tend to doubt it’s a coincidence they all hail from ND’s biggest rivals. A few, maybe, but one after another? I’d like to see someone from a more neutral school, and I agree with Frank, it’d be great to have a former ND player or maybe former coach (including position coaches) for the pre- and post-shows. Most of the time those shows are mainly for fans of the 2 teams playing so you can afford to be a bit more biased for that.

    But the game should be an unbiased analysis. It’d be a disservice otherwise. What did the team do right, what did they do wrong, etc.

  14. When Tom Brady is one of the commentators (Until October 5) we’re in trouble.

    Until then – We’re Notre Dame (and we get nationwide coverage on Sunday night) and you’re not.

  15. I didn’t know who Mike Mayock was, but I was quickly impressed by his football knowledge and explanations of plays made by both opposing teams. I thought he was the best color guy I have seen.

  16. I mean it is ND freaking football… i have been mad at this for years, remember when we had ‘still looking for the murderer’ OJ Simpson

  17. Mike Tirico is a SyracuseU grad and was also a local
    Newscaster there. He speaks frequently about his Syracuse ties. Trust me this guys heart is orange not Blue. No idea why he is being labeled a Michigan guy and honestly who cares.

    Does anyone really care what the commentators think? Just win baby

  18. Bring back MAYOCK!!!!! Add Brady Quinn to pre game and post game. Now if you really want to shake up the booth add the “schematic advantage” of Charlie Weis. Lol

  19. I agree. NBC is known as the ND network and should embrace it! Pat Haden was the worst and he got more and more biased each year. If you’re going to have ND as your primary college team then support them. Makes no sense to me why Aaron Taylor isn’t used somewhere or Don Criqui isn’t in the booth.

  20. It would be nice to have a little perspective from a. Norte Dome Graduate. I am sure they would be professional in their delivery and comments unlike ESPN who shows no shame in promoting the SEC over all their channels.

  21. Why does everyone think Mike Tirico is a Michigan grad? I’ve scoured the web and can’t find any reference to him going to school there.

  22. I totally agree on Mayock. He knows football and how to breakdown the plays immediately. Flutie to me is aweful in the booth. Bring back Mayock!

  23. Thank you, Frank. I often watch a DVD set of classic Irish games to get me through the late summer months. One of those is the ’93 FSU game. The coverage starts with an ND promo video, and as the Irish take the field, Charlie Jones excitedly spouts off something about “the ghosts of Notre Dame.” Gives me chills every time. While I don’t expect that level of ND-centric programming today, I really believe that not only does NBC overcompensate in its hiring, but the commentators themselves have seemed to overcompensate to a point of bias against the Irish just to seem neutral. I don’t think I’m alone in that. I understand needing to keep the game watchable for the other teams’ fans and for neutral viewers as well (nothing is more annoying than completely homer commentary), but when NBC makes millions of dollars from its broadcast rights and a vast majority of the weekly viewer base is Irish fans, it wouldn’t kill the commentators to show a little bit of excitement toward the program. Alternatively, I’d be happy to pay a few extra dollars a month to subscribe to the Irish Network.

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