NCAA Basketball on the Radio is the Worst

For most of the year if you asked me to name the worst major sport to listen to on the radio I would probably answer “football” without putting much thought into it. After all, in a football game there are 22 guys on the field at any given time, all of them interacting with and influencing one another. Football, as has been noted many times, is a sport made for television. Wide angles, instant replays, and on screen drawings that clarify a deeply complex game all make football a better experience on your TV than in your ear, or even in person. But then today, as I tuned into to sports radio to hear if Peyton Manning had given up on trying to out-LeBron LeBron yet, I was reminded that I might be wrong.

Today the NCAA College Basketball Championship tournament kicked off and every sports radio station in town was carrying one of the games. As I commuted home, listening to the squeak of shoes and the high speed recitation of near unintelligible names, I remembered that the worst sport to listen to on the radio is actually basketball. There are two main reasons for this, one: basketball is fast and two: I don’t know who any of these people are.

Let’s start with speed. A basketball court is 94 ft by 50 ft and the ten players who are on it at any given time are in near constant motion, passing, dribbling, setting picks, taking shots, and pulling down rebounds all happen in seconds. As a listener one can’t really follow the ball, you are entirely dependent on the announcers to fill you in on what’s happening as it happens. Given the state of sports announcing in this country, and the fact that 32 games are being played in the first two days, I’m not filled with confidence that I’m getting a true picture of what’s happening on the court. Frankly I’m amazed that these guys aren’t five minutes behind the game action by minute seven. Football, by contrast, stops for a good 30 seconds or more after every play. This gives even the most mediocre announcer plenty of time to fill you in on any important details that he was unable to get out as the play was happening.

As for me not knowing who any of these guys are, you could say that this is at least partially my fault. I don’t follow basketball at any level, why should my opinion matter? That’s a fair point as far as it goes, but look, the Atlantic 10 conference sent four teams to the tournament this year. I challenge anyone who doesn’t follow A-10 basketball to name me more that two players for St Bonaventure. The announcers make no concession for this fact though, simply rattling off names as fast as they can as they try to keep up with the on court action. I don’t know if Jackson is a center or a forward. Was it remarkable that he just shot a three or just something he does? No time to talk about it Southern Virginian Methodist State University of Agriculture and Technology is already dribbling the ball back up the court. Football meanwhile, is played by faceless players in helmets and pads, each with an assigned role that they rarely deviate from. And if anything exceptional happens there’ll be a pause in just a second to talk about it.

Now none of this is to say that football is fun to listen to on the radio, football on the radio is terrible. It’s just to say that basketball is worse. Neither of these sports comes close to the pure listening pleasure of baseball on the radio. Baseball manages the improbable feat of actually being more interesting on the radio than it is on tv or in person. Maybe that’s because what you’re imagining is almost certainly more interesting than what’s happening on the field. At any rate, the dulcet tones of a baseball announcer somehow just conjures up relaxing days in the back yard, the smell of cut grass and charcoal grills. Somehow, “Carpenter shakes off the sign… … … looks off the runner… … … and the pitch… ball one,” just says summer in a way few other things do.

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