The whole brouhaha about who gets to call the play-by-play for Saturday's Civil War football game points out a sorry situation that sports fans have dealt with for a long time: Sports announcing is getting uglier than a forfeit and drearier than a rainout.
It's so bad that the Ducks, Beavers and Eugene TV station KEZI (which carries the Ducks) practically had to go to arbitration before finally agreeing upon neutral, out-of-state announcers Barry Tompkins and Doug Plank for Saturday's regional telecast. Seems that the station didn't want those mean, ol' partial Beaver announcers Ñ and the Beavers didn't want anything to do with the Ducks' play-by-play homeboys.
Neutral announcer? Somebody call Switzerland. Give Kofi Annan a heads-up.
Not all that long ago, such a dispute would never have taken place. Play-by-play guys or analysts worth their commercial break would never have deemed themselves anything but objective in describing the action.
It was a given, for goodness' sake: Announcers didn't make a point of favoring one team over another. And they sure as heck didn't root while they were in front of a mike. Did those longtime Los Angeles fan favorites Ñ the late Chick Hearn of the Lakers and the Dodgers' Vin Scully Ñ ever give the impression they were anything but impartial? Never.
You could tell they weren't 100 percent impartial Ñ there was always a little more energy in their voices when they described good plays by the Lakers and the Dodgers. But you had to listen for it.
Now, most sports announcers seem to feel that their job is to root along with you fans at home. Apparently, they've come to believe we care more about them and what they say than that silly distraction, the game.
But it gets worse. It's not good enough to be a mere loudmouth anymore. These days, you gotta sell, baby. Sell the team, pump up the players, put rear ends in the seats and paint an unrealistically rosy picture. That's what teams, universities and stations demand and expect.
It used to be that radio and television stations bought the rights to broadcast games from the teams. Now, the custom is that the team purchases airtime from the station and retains the rights for itself. Usually, once that happens, the broadcasts become an extension of the team's marketing department.
Guys who grew up idolizing and emulating the Scullys and Schonelys of their childhood end up doing little more than shilling for the team signing their paychecks. It's become so blatant that it's almost laughable. Last weekend, I happened to tune into the Ducks-Huskies postgame show. It was all about how hard the Ducks defense worked and how much everybody was looking forward to next week. To be fair, when you lose 42-14, you probably are looking forward to next week.
The same thing happened the next day: I tuned into halftime and got an earful about how great the Seahawks were playing. Turns out they were losing 3-0!
Neutral? Yeah, I want neutral. And honest, too. Otherwise, turn down the sound.