Push the Ball! Box Out! Zone! Did You Get All That, Viewers?


Steve Scheer is a basketball junkie. He had often fantasized about eavesdropping on a coach’s huddle during timeouts. The short, edited snippets on some telecasts were hardly enough to satisfy his appetite for access.

Unlike most fans, though, Scheer was in a position to fulfill his wish. As a senior coordinating producer for college basketball at Fox Sports, and a 37-year sports television veteran, Scheer was better positioned than most to see his suggestion for an all-access, commercial-free, live basketball telecast become a reality.

On Friday, when St. John’s plays at Seton Hall in a Big East Conference women’s basketball game at 7 p.m. Eastern, both head coaches will wear microphones throughout a commercial-free telecast on Fox Sports 2. Viewers will be able to hear not only what is said inside the huddle, but also the live interactions and directions from the sidelines and the coaches’ talks inside the locker rooms at halftime.

It is believed to be the first time a network has provided this amount of unfiltered content in a live sports presentation. The one concession will be that the game will be broadcast with a five-second delay — just enough time to censor any colorful language.

“I’m as excited for this event as anything we’ve done this year,” John Entz, the executive producer of Fox Sports, said in a telephone interview.

Val Ackerman, the commissioner of the Big East Conference, said she believed television sports had long been headed in this direction, as fans clamor for more and more behind-the-scenes access. At the same time, women’s basketball telecasts have become so stagnant that ESPN chose to broadcast some first- and second-round N.C.A.A. tournament games remotely last season.

“I and others in women’s basketball have tried to figure out what we can do to keep this great sport vibrant,” said Ackerman, who was the first president of the W.N.B.A., from 1996 to 2005, before taking over leadership of the Big East in 2013.

“How it is expressed on TV is part of the story,” she said. “This appeals to me because it’s a chance for women’s basketball to take a leadership position in how the sport is being presented to fans.”

Ackerman said the league would assess whether to allow another broadcast like Friday’s in the future. But Entz said he did not consider it to be a stunt, indicating that, if all went smoothly, Fox Sports would almost certainly want to try it again.

“Viewers and people at home are expecting more access. They’re expecting to get closer to the game,” he said. “They want things they aren’t used to seeing.”

That usually entails microphones that can capture the squeaking of sneakers on the hardwood or the ball’s bouncing off the rim, or cameras that offer unique views. Lately, it has meant more looks inside a locker room at halftime, or inside buses on rides to the arena.

But live transmission of the coaches’ in-game commentary — be it strategy, encouragement, discipline or invective-laced tirades — is taking reality television to another level. It harks back to NBC’s attempt, in 1980, to broadcast an N.F.L. game without announcers, a decision that was considered a flop.

On Friday, Lisa Byington and LaChina Robinson will call the game while keeping an ear tuned to what the coaches say on the sideline. During timeouts, when the broadcasters would typically send viewers to commercials, they will analyze what the coaches are saying in their huddles.

Scheer, from the production truck, will jump coverage back and forth between both huddles, depending on what the coaches are saying. For any fans who want to listen to one team exclusively, the Fox Sports Go app and FoxSportsGo.com will feature continuous live streams from cameras aimed directly at each coach.

Scheer said he had floated the idea to Big East coaches several years ago and had been encouraged by their responses. Ackerman said she had needed to receive endorsements from Joe Tartamella, the St. John’s coach, and Tony Bozzella, of Seton Hall, before approving the initiative.

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After practice on Wednesday, Bozzella was adamant about the need for women’s basketball to break through on television channels already oversaturated with college basketball. He recalled the former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt’s willingness to try new things, such as the first women’s college game played outdoors, against Arizona State in 2000.

“Growing the game isn’t just doing a survey or a kids’ day or a clinic for 30 people,” Bozzella said. “How are we going to go outside the box? When faced with an opportunity like this, why say no?”

Bozzella, who peppered his interview with a generous amount of choice words, perhaps getting them out of his system, said he had no plans to change his coaching style for the cameras. He said he had encouraged the players he was recruiting to watch the telecast.

“The game of basketball isn’t just the play you’re running,” Bozzella said. “There’s a lot of intensity, emotion, psychological play. A kid misses three shots, what is Coach B saying to the kid?”

What might be of greater concern is the point at which the cameras become too invasive, infringing on the privacy of coach-player relationships and turning a once-safe space — the locker room at halftime — into another fishbowl.

“Our locker room is very energetic, to say the least,” Seton Hall guard Kaity Healy said. “We’re probably going to act the same, because that’s how we play our game.”

Ackerman said that she planned to attend the game, but that she expected to spend most of the time inside the production truck, watching it on television.

“This is a chance to show another side to what goes on during a game,” Ackerman said. “It’s a step that men’s basketball hasn’t taken yet, and our thought was, ‘Let’s let women’s basketball have a shot.’”

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