Here in ACC country, let’s forget the Final Four, look ahead to the ACC Network

accnetworkSince the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is down to four teams — none of which are from the ACC — now seems like a good time to think happier ACC thoughts. So why not look ahead to what the new ACC Network is going to be like?

The easiest way to get an idea of what ACC fans can expect when the new network dedicated to ACC sports launches in 2019 is to consider it’s older cousin, the 3 1/2-year-old SEC Network.

ESPN is producing both, so you’d expect there will be some similarities. One surprising bit of news from ESPN is the ACC Network won’t be based in Charlotte, North Carolina as the SEC Network is.

I had imagined some of the on-air people might just change hats as they went back and forth between ACC and SEC studios in Charlotte. (Ex-Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio has done similar double duty in the past.) But no. The bulk of the ACC Network’s work will be produced in Bristol, Connecticut. So there’s that.

But in a broader sense, here’s what will happen: The ACC Network will mean a lot to fans of the schools that struggle to get attention in the league.

On the flip side, University of North Carolina and Duke basketball fans and Clemson football fans will barely notice — or need — the ACC network.

Here’s why. ESPN already blows out every big UNC or Duke basketball game. ESPN hypes games — especially the exalted UNC vs. Duke game — for weeks in advance and at every possible moment (including during the SEC men’s basketball Tournament, but don’t get me started).  

So for those fans (and to a slightly lesser extent, Clemson football fans), what happens on the ACC Network is a very thin layer of icing on a very filling cake. They can already gorge on their teams’ exploits without ever layering on the ACC Network.

In fact, most UNC and Duke basketball and Clemson football games won’t even air on the ACC Network because those marquee match-ups will stay on ESPN. Sure, Clemson football might show up on the new network when the Tigers play Wofford. But that’s about it.

Good news for the “other” teams
But here’s the other side of the pregame coin: If you love UNC football or Clemson basketball, this network is for you. Almost every one of your games will end up on TV somewhere, with a good number of them on the ACC Network.

So instead of Clemson football crowding the others out, the others now have another place to go to get some attention. If you’re a fan of Virginia Tech basketball or N.C. State football, you are now likely to be able to watch every game, no matter how meaningful or meaningless.

Yes, this applies even to you Pitt basketball (8-24 in 2017-’18) and Syracuse football (4-8).

Even better, the ACC Network will produce something like the SEC Network’s nightly “SEC Now” — the conference network version of ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”

So for an hour or so each night, your team will get at least some airtime about that day’s exploits. That means airtime for teams that would have gone unmentioned on the national network.

I dropped a lot of ACC team names here, (and should add Georgia Tech where my wife went to undergrad!) but no doubt some have noticed there was no mention of Notre Dame. Notre Dame football, which dwarfs the entire ACC in terms of the attention it gets, is keeping its deal with NBC for now. So it’s not a big factor in this context.

And what about sports other than men’s basketball and football? They’ll benefit from this as well. And that’s a topic for another blog post.


As March Madness begins, seeding the SEC Network’s best basketball analysts

It’s the time of year in college basketball that last-second shots and Cinderella wins are remembered by fans for decades. But as the basketball gets better, the announcers get worse.

Why? Because CBS takes over men’s March Madness after airing the random Saturday game, and its play-by-play announcers and color analysts seem to know little or nothing about the teams they’re describing.

(Don’t even get me started on the TNT talking heads.)

Analyst Jimmy Dykes made the point effectively in the SEC Network’s NCAA Tournament selection special Sunday when he directed a question to Auburn basketball coach “Mike Pearl.” It was a jab at Greg Gumbel who flubbed the name of Auburn’s coach when announcing the brackets earlier that day.

For the record, Auburn’s coach is Bruce Pearl. His response to Dykes: “I’ve been called worse.”

As the season goes on, I’ll sorely miss watching games on the SEC Network where the announcers know the coaches — and the players. They can name the stars, sure, but they also know the supporting players and the walk-ons. They know how the teams have fared over this season and seasons past.

So, as we say goodbye to games on the SEC Network, here’s a ranking of the best SEC Network college basketball analysts with a focus on those who do double duty at games and in studio.

Daymeon Fishback

If the mother ship (ESPN) has an opening for a college basketball analyst, Daymeon Fishback should get the call. He’s the SEC Network’s Booger McFarland of basketball. Photo via ESPN Mediazone.

No. 1: Daymeon Fishback. Yes, he knows the game, the teams and the players and talks with authority about all three. But all of of the SEC Network basketball analysts do that.

Fishback does it with a smile and a gleam in his eye that shows his intelligence and his good humor. He’s warm, personable and has a quick, sharp laugh that makes him not only someone I want to talk to about basketball, but  just about anything.

And although he’s enthusiastic, he’s not just a cheerleader for SEC basketball. He was the first of the SEC Network’s analysts to bring up the FBI’s investigation into the NCAA during one of the “SEC Now” broadcasts from the tournament in St. Louis. Props for that.

I remember him from his playing days at Auburn, and I admit I held that against him when he first showed up on the network. I’m an Alabama fan after all. It’s in my DNA to dislike all things Auburn. But it didn’t take long for him to win me over.

Jimmy Dykes

Jimmy Dykes has a coach’s perspective and a serious demeanor. Photo via ESPN Mediazone.

No. 2: Tie between Jimmy Dykes and Pat Bradley. Bradley joined the crew for the 2017-18 season and brought a gleaming, white smile, a quick wit and an incredibly thick Massachusetts accent. But he gets a pass for the latter because he was a star at Arkansas in the late ‘90s. He’s an honorary Southerner.

Dykes brings a coach’s perspective to the show — a really dour coach’s perspective. While Bradley is excitable and isn’t afraid to raise his voice an octave or two, Dykes maintains his monotone delivery almost no matter what. Is he angry? Is he still miffed about giving up his job as Arkansas’ women’s basketball coach?

Probably not. He’s just a little more serious, which makes it all the more amazing when he cracks a joke, like one night recently after the SEC Tournament when the network was showing college baseball highlights.

“I could hit him,” Antoine Walker said about a pitcher who was striking out batter after batter. Dykes responded, “Yeah, but could you hit the ball he’s throwing?”

No. 4: Andy Kennedy. Who knows if he’ll be back on the network now that the SEC Tournament is over. But while he was there, the recently deposed Ole Miss coach was enthusiastic, quirky and smart. Added bonus: He had the perspective of having coached against most of the teams just weeks before.

No. 5. Antoine Walker. I shared my thoughts on Walker in my last blog post. And while he loses points for picking Kentucky for, well, everything, I give him credit for improving in the two years he’s been on the network.

In the beginning, he seemed inexperienced, unpredictable and unprepared. This season, he knows the players across the league as well as the many season storylines. And on the night Andy Kennedy resigned, he described in very personal, credible terms how players feel when they’ve been abandoned by their coach.

It was a particularly bold analysis that countered the prevailing narrative that Kennedy was sacrificing himself for the good of the team.

While the games are moving to CBS, TNT, TBS, etc., it’s good to know these guys will still be talking SEC hoops on “SEC Now.”

Rick Hall and my claim to FAME (Recording Studios that is)

When I was a reporter at the TimesDaily, I got a call out of the blue that Rick Hall wanted to meet with me. After quite a bit of back and forth, we agreed to a day and time. I arrived and was led to a room inside FAME where I waited. And waited and waited. I still had no idea what he wanted to talk about.

He finally appeared wearing a loud sport coat and his trademark handlebar mustache and eager to talk about Shenandoah, a new country band he was producing. I never cared much for the music, but you can’t argue with its success.

Not many people remember Shenandoah now, but the R&B Hall produced in Muscle Shoals lives on as some of the best American music ever made. So glad Rick Hall finally got his due before his death this week.

Here’s the excellent New York Times obit by Jon Pareles. It helped a lot with this recollection of my Rick Hall interview because I was having trouble remembering exactly what it was we talked about. Then I saw the reference to Shenandoah and it came back. So thanks to Jon Pareles for being so thorough.

In the video, check out the cameo by Rick Hall at the :48 mark. (There’s another one later too.)

‘Forgotten’ Horseshoe Bend is a lesson for New Orleans’ Civil War monuments

HorseshoeBend Sing.jpg

The park welcomed me with a grand sign typical of the National Park Service’s careful attention to detail and rustic aesthetics. The next sign I read changed my perspective on the battle.

Third-grade Alabama history is the gift that keeps on giving, even 45 years on. (Thanks Mrs. Virginia Harless Cook!)

This time it was the inspiration for this opinion piece in The News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina in which I apply the lessons I learned about the horror of an Andrew Jackson-led Indian massacre to what’s going on new in New Orleans and other places debating Civil War memorials.

Let me know what you think.

To learn from the past, keep its monuments