The latest round of the pregame news includes Tedy Bruschi being slated to replace Charles Woodson on ESPN’s NFL Sunday Countdown and Fox building a GameDay competitor. Both ESPN’s move to replace one defensive player with another and Fox’s move to bring together Urban Meyer, Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and Brady Quinn follows the most common pattern of pregame shows solely built around the opinions of former players and coaches. This long-held ideology is overused and the evidence has built up, now proving new thinking should be had.
When looking at pregame shows quality-wise, the results show incorporating talents who were not former players and/or coaches is underutilized. TNT’s Inside the NBA is recognized as the best, but even that would arguably benefit from an opinionist who didn’t play the game on the panel. The other top pregame shows, like ESPN’s, CBS’s, NBC’s and Fox’s NFL versions have all become boring, lackluster, and containing of some very unwitty dialogue (NFL Network’s show, which features Steve Smith and Michael Irvin yelling at each other, is more fun than the core four).
The best NFL pregame shows has undoubtedly become Fox’s, centered around radio host Colin Cowherd. Cowherd gives Fox NFL Kickoff a much more entertaining and memorable broadcast than any of the other football shows. Whether you find him interesting or annoying, you at least react to what he is saying. His takes and spins sure beat the oversaturation of former athletes talking about Xs-and-Os that the tape has proven often turn out to be laughably wrong. While certainly there is a place for that, the show with Cowherd includes that with several talents who once played in the NFL. But, it blends in one of the most notable and talked-about sports radio hosts of the past decade.
The aforementioned blend mirrors how NBA Countdown once used Michael Wilbon. Since Wilbon left, the constant revolving door of a show has greatly suffered in quality. Right now, ESPN is rotating an abundance of dull former NBA players when they have the easiest solution of any network.
ESPN employs most of the top NBA talents in the world and could turn this thing around if they used them properly. Any sort of permanent rotation for their four-day a week pregame show featuring Brian Windhorst, Ramona Shelburne, Jorge Sedano, Stephen A. Smith, Michael Wilbon, Ryen Russillo, and Zach Lowe would give the network a buzzy, fun, and insightful pregame show. And they can pair them with any combination of former players. Of course, getting Rachel Nichols on as a hybrid-host should be a top priority, as well.
ESPN does not have the same volume of talents who can talk NFL, but there are options. It is unlikely ESPN would go with the young crop right away, but Field Yates and Mina Kimes would give the show much-needed life and energy. Speaking of Yates, the fantasy football pregame show he is on right now is significantly better than Countdown despite often being preempted to ESPNNEWS. This show is led by Matthew Berry, who is far more interesting than the cast led by Randy Moss.
Nothing against Bruschi, but no one should expect another former football player to make a single difference on the show. ESPN often uses Josina Anderson and Dianna Russini in the reporter roles on the show, but both could be more newsworthy when they elaborate on the game and thus make sense for increased roles.
Again, ESPN is not alone. Fox’s main pregame show has become bland, and, like ESPN, should have outside voices to improve it. NBC and CBS have long needed major changes on theirs, but have much more limited rosters.
Fox’s ratings for their upcoming college football show will be a story of its own, but how good it is will be another. While GameDay gets all the hype, ESPN’s SEC Nation has made a case it is even better. Again, a show fronted by a radio host in Paul Finebaum has proven these networks are out of touch. Finebaum’s dominance on college football is seen on the show, and weekly he gives the most must-hear, mind-changing, make-you-stop-and-think opinions on the sport. SEC Nation is another show that has succeeded with blending a big name personality with ex-players Marcus Spears and Tim Tebow. Of course, Laura Rutledge as the host has also played a major role in the show’s enjoyment.
The networks may look at the ratings and say no major change is needed. But leading into major events will, in most cases, allow one to draw that conclusion. When it comes to quality, moving the needle, and giving the audience a show they can remember and react to, there are now too many examples that show those that did not play deserve major roles on pregame shows going forward.