Tomorrow, the U.S. women’s field hockey team will be playing the first of three Tests in preparation for the Rio Olympics. It’s the only one of the three games to be televised (on the NBC Sports Network), and it’s going to be a chance to test out the broadcast team selected for field hockey: basketball and lacrosse broadcaster Mike Corey and former U.S. women’s ice hockey gold medalist A.J. Mlezcko.
There are two annoying aspects about NBC’s Olympic coverage since the network seized exclusive control of broadcasting them in 1996. One of them is “plausibly live,” which is absolutely childish in a world of instant video.
But the other annoying aspect is hiring broadcasters who may not have current knowledge or first-hand expertise with a sport, and who are coached to make the game relateable to another activity.
Given the fact that NBC has now made itself the network of the English Premier League, which doesn’t over-explain the game like in the heyday of the North American Soccer League, it’s a bit galling that the American field hockey community is going to be subject to a play-by-play voice whose last field hockey game was in 2012, and a color commentator who last played field hockey in the fall of 1992 as a student at Watertown Taft School (Conn.).
What to do? What else, but a patented TopOfTheCircle.com thought experiment?
Your Founder is charged with the duty of producing about a dozen or so broadcasts for the NBC networks, which includes the U.S. pool matches and a number of the knockout games for both genders. The broadcasts should include enough detail and knowledge about the game without the “this is a stick, this is a ball” talk, plus a lot of inside knowledge about the game worldwide, giving viewers a reason to look at individuals and player outside of the American national side.
That inside knowledge would be dispensed in pregame and postgame coverage instead of just throwing it to broadcasters stationed in Connecticut. Here’s my proposed studio team:
HOST: Rob Stone. His expertise is in keeping a conversation going between analysts, whether it has been soccer, basketball, or football. A pro who will know when to throw it to commercial.
ANALYST (COACH): Tara (Jelley) Danielson is the head coach of a Western field hockey program (Stanf0rd), plus she has experience playing for the U.S. national side, a top attacking midfielder near the turn of the century. She would be an excellent person to break down the game.
ANALYST (PLAYER): Melanie Meerschwam is a former member of the U.S. team whose honest opinions and knowledge about the differences between international styles of play would be a great addition.
ANALYST (JOURNALIST): This one’s easy: the dean of American field hockey writers, Lee Toliver of the Virginian-Pilot of Virginia Beach.
As for the proposed broadcast team for the games, we’re going to have four people, including a rules interpreter to help usher along what is going on during video referrals:
PLAY-BY-PLAY: Beth Mowins. On the rare occasions this ESPN basketball, softball, and sometime football broadcaster has done field hockey, she has never put a foot wrong.
COLOR: Kara Lentz. Her work on the Big Ten Network, including a great story on a rare left-handed field hockey player at the University of Michigan, is top-notch. How NBC passed her over for the Olympics is beyond me.
RULES: Taylor Smallwood is a nationally-rated umpire who can explain rules decisions in an economy of words, and I think could help figure out the back-and-forth between the on-field officials and the video umpire.
SIDELINE/MIXED ZONE: You didn’t think I’d not include myself in this, would you? I tend to pick up more subtleties from the sidelines than up in the booth. And in the infamous Olympics mixed zone, you know I can get my questions in by any means necessary.