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Volume 24 No. 155
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NFL's TV Partners Not Holding Back On Criticism Of League, Replacement Refs

The NFL's TV rights-holders have “not let their multibillion-dollar business partnerships with the NFL temper their broadcasters’ commentary,” according to Chad Finn of the BOSTON GLOBE. During NBC’s Patriots-Ravens broadcast Sunday night, play-by-play announcer Al Michaels and analyst Cris Collinsworth were “increasingly critical as the curious calls piled up.” Such honesty “isn’t surprising from Collinsworth, an outstanding broadcaster who habitually tells it like it is.” But it is “particularly refreshing -- and perhaps a little surprising -- when criticism comes from ESPN,” which has been “accused in the past of placating the wishes of the NFL.” ESPN did “take it very seriously Monday night, not only during the broadcast but in the postgame programming as well, providing candor and clarity amid the chaos” of the conclusion to Packers-Seahawks. Analyst Jon Gruden “sounded almost distraught as the officiating blunders mounted.” The significance of the controversial ending to Monday’s game was “emphasized in the serious and smart postgame coverage of the debacle on ESPN and the NFL Network.” ESPN’s postgame “SportsCenter” featured commentator Rick Reilly, who “proved a worthy outlet for attempting to sort out what had happened.” ESPN's Steve Young was “particularly compelling, emotionally articulating his frustration in a manner that almost sounded like a plea.” The NFL Network “wasn’t as harsh” as ESPN, but it “didn’t position itself as a house organ, either” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/26). The morning news shows of NFL broadcast partners CBS and NBC again today featured stories on the NFL referee controversy within the first quarter-hour of their programs. "CBS This Morning" featured an interview via satellite with NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith, while NBC's Bob Costas appeared in-studio on NBC's "Today." ABC's "GMA" ran a three-minute segment on the refs 11 minutes into the broadcast (THE DAILY).

NO FALLOUT YET: CABLEFAX DAILY notes although on-air talent has “criticized the temp referees the league hired while it tries to resolve labor issues with its regular refs, cable ops carrying NFL Network are staying quiet.” An NFL Network spokesperson said that the net “hasn’t heard from any" of the cable providers. The spokesperson said the net is covering all the action “in a similar balanced fashion” to the other nets covering the league (CABLEFAX DAILY, 9/26). However, in Phoenix, Bob McManaman notes the NFL Network during one show yesterday "spent about 45 minutes defending the replacement refs who clearly erred multiple times" in Monday's game. McManaman writes listening to former NFL GM Charlie Casserly "drone on about how the replacement refs got the call right at the end made me sick to my stomach." McManaman: "Lose the B.S., Charlie. You can never be taken seriously again. The NFL Network may have the same problem moving forward" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 9/26).

: USA TODAY’s Michael Hiestand writes when it "comes to TV ratings, the replacement refs are "bringing out plenty of rubberneckers." ESPN’s 90-minute “SportsCenter” that followed Packers-Seahawks began at midnight ET, but still "drew 4.5% of U.S. households." For shows "lasting more than 20 minutes, it was the most watched ‘SportsCenter’ ever.” The mark also was “higher than the rating for any college football game last weekend” (USA TODAY, 9/26). In L.A., T.J. Simers wrote it was “incredibly entertaining to watch Young gather himself, knowing he was about to savage NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, no doubt weighing the consequences in his head before he did so.” It can be argued the “worst thing about the night was ESPN going with the traditional on-field interview” with Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Simers: "Who wants to hear from a guy programmed to say what a rookie is supposed to say when the most improbable, shocking finish in recent memory has just taken place? I couldn't believe an ESPN producer wasn't yelling into reporter Lisa Salters' ear and telling her enough already with the endless questions to Wilson and instead show everyone at home the full picture reaction in the stadium” (, 9/25).

OFFICIALLY REPRESENTED: USA TODAY’s Hiestand notes former NFL ref Gerry Austin is “becoming a star as ESPN’s first-year rules analyst.” He joins Fox’ Mike Pereira and NBC’s Jim Daopoulos as on-air rules analysts. CBS Sports VP/Communications Jen Sabatelle said that the net has “no plans to add a rules analyst” (USA TODAY, 9/26).