Vitale still signature face, voice of ESPN hoops
In the nine months I've done this job, no ESPN personality has generated as much response from viewers as Dick Vitale. ESPN's star basketball commentator has innumerable fans who love his knowledge and enthusiasm -- and equally as many detractors who believe he shouts too much, heaps too much praise on a favored number of coaches, as well as Duke University, and doesn't bring enough of a critical edge to his work.
Vitale has been covering the college basketball scene for the past 27 years, following stints as the head coach at the University of Detroit and the Detroit Pistons. His familiar voice, unerring personality and smile have become the face of ESPN's college basketball.
"Dick is the signature voice of college basketball," said Norby Williamson, ESPN's executive vice president for production. "He lives and breathes college basketball. When you assess Dick, you have to look at his whole body of work. And that would include an unmatched knowledge and passion for the game."
Regarding criticism from some viewers and newspaper critics that Vitale goes out of his way to prop up perennial ACC power Duke and coach Mike Krzyzewski, Williamson said: "I don't buy it. Duke is no different from any high-profile, successful team such as the New York Yankees or Dallas Cowboys. But while he gives Duke its deserved accolades, he's been critical of the team when necessary."
Vitale, who has a reputation for being sensitive to criticism, responded to the same negative comments he's heard for years.
"I try to be as objective as I can," he said. "But when I'm assigned Duke games, you have to understand their success warrants, for the most part, positive comments. And while I've been critical of, say, their defense, you can't satisfy all the people all the time. People hear what they want to hear.
"You develop a reputation, people take shots. But I haven't survived at doing this for 27 years by just saying 'awesome baby.' I'm proud of the research and preparation I do, as well as the knowledge and substance I bring to the table. When I do games involving Hall of Fame coaches, there's not a lot to criticize them about. But I often question their strategy and results. I know I talk a lot and I'm loud. But I love the game and feel blessed to do this."
My take: Williamson is so right about Vitale's passion and knowledge of the game. While some viewers may be turned off by Vitale, he is the network's signature face and voice of college basketball and that's good. He's entertaining. Also, his studio performances during the NCAA Tournament have been top-notch, adding to the coverage and overall event.
But everything and everyone evolves, and perhaps in future game coverage, Vitale might consider toning down the "awesomes" and "oh, oh, ohs," give us fewer "Diaper Dandy" rants and cut back some of the tributes to coaches. He also might use his vast knowledge to occasionally point out flaws in the college game in general. All this, while still remaining Dick Vitale.
Originators of the blog -- created for Michigan football fans -- were upset Cowherd did not credit the site.
"When I saw it, there was no attribution, and I thought it came from a listener," Cowherd explained. "We get dozens of items like that a day."
Some M Zoners were aggressive and abusive in their e-mail responses to Cowherd, who in turn, retorted by e-mail.
"I should not have responded that way," Cowherd said. "I should keep what I do on the air. It was my fault."
Four days later, Cowherd gave The M Zone credit for the item, satisfying M Zone creators.
My take: ESPN's radio and television hosts need to be vigilant in what they say and report over the airwaves and know the source of what comes over the Internet. And whenever ESPN staffers respond to anyone, via e-mail or postal mail, they, of course, need to remember they're representing ESPN.
"I'm doing this to promote high school football," he said. "I believe it's all positive -- with no conflict."
My take: With high school sports becoming more of a business -- too much so, I believe -- Herbstreit should know his involvement, even with all of its good intentions, will be closely watched.
"We came late to the project after a number of other programming commitments had been made," said Vince Doria, ESPN's senior vice president for News. "You can't predict when some events we previously had committed to would end."
My take: Though the coverage of the WBC was good, ESPN might consider new ways of informing viewers of schedule changes.
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About ESPN's Ombudsman
Ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber is the public's representative to ESPN, offering independent examination and analysis of ESPN's media outlets. The former New York Times sports editor and author will critique decision-making, coverage and presentation of news, issues and events on ESPN television and other media. Schreiber will have a two-year tenure and succeeds George Solomon, ESPN's initial Ombudsman.