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The first 24: An hour-by-hour breakdown of the SEC Network's first day

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Posted: Friday, August 15, 2014 9:33 pm | Updated: 11:05 pm, Sun Aug 17, 2014.

Dear freshmen, and really anyone reading this: Don’t try this at home.

It’s not smart to watch anything for 24 hours straight much less the Southeastern Conference’s militant braggadocio factory nestled securely inside your cable box.

I’m doing this so you don’t have to, I’m doing this so you can study and work hard your freshman year, so you can apply yourself and do well as you start on your college path.

You shouldn’t have to worry about the programs on SEC Network, enjoy your lives, check in every now and then to what the network’s doing. But for a time, follow me as we venture deep into the tortured recesses of my mind as I critique the programming and try to stay awake. Come with me through this daylong journey, I’ll give grades to the original programming aired during this process.

So without further adieu, welcome to the beginning of the SEC Network.

***

6:00- 7:00 p.m.: For more than a year, we’ve been promised a chance to “take it all in” from the SEC Network’s PR campaign, and finally on Aug. 14, the inaugural episode of SEC Now kicks off the network. I’ve written multiple times about carriage deals, cost per subscriber in footprint and now, finally, commissioner Mike Slive’s world domination plan, years in the making comes to fruition. We’ve heard so many things about what this thing could, or should be and finally the lights are on.

The first on campus footage in SEC Network history shows the north end zone of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and a hair-raising sizzle real. Freshmen, I know Florida went 4-8 last season, I know you’re going to whine about the fact that it’s hot at noon games and yadda yadda yadda, just hush and buy your season tickets so athletics director Jeremy Foley doesn’t have to send any more emails begging you to do so.

I’ll never forgive Brent Musberger for saying something other than “You are looking (S)live…” as the first live on-camera words in the network’s history. I can, however, forgive Tim Tebow, for dropping a “we” when speaking about the Florida Gators in his first on-camera appearance (something Twitter didn’t take too kindly to). If you’re looking for the bastion of journalistic integrity, I feel like you’re in the wrong place. SEC Network president Justin Connolly told me at SEC Media Days that the network isn’t in place to do hard-hitting investigative journalism work, and its calling card is on the passion and pride of the conference anyway. Oh, and Missouri graduate John Anderson — whose day job is to be a Sportscenter anchor — dropped a “we” too when referring to the Tigers during a live shot.

7:00- 8:00 p.m.: Slive opens the hour dipping into his brag bag, with a subtle lower-third graphic saying that the SEC’s 14 member schools have won 72 NCAA titles during his tenure and distributed over $300 million to each school in the recent revenue distribution cycle. He’s doing an interview with Musberger, and the set appears straight off of a PBS special with the average age decades north of AARP eligibility.

Suddenly, Kentucky’s basketball coach John Calapari is standing in front of an aquarium in the Bahamas. Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds. Not only is the Wildcats headman a bit more tan then when I last saw him in Arlington, Texas, during the Final Four but for some reason there’s something other than football being shown on the network. I didn’t see that in the masthead and I’ve followed this network since its initial announcement.

I jest of course, but basketball is definitely more excusable than waiting 50 minutes to interview Steve Spurrier for the first time in Hour 1 — that’s just wrong.

8:00- 9:00 p.m.: We’re starting to come off the rails here with SEC Now as we venture into the “this show is getting way too long” part of the program. Exhibit A: there’s an analyst mounting a horse.

There’s a suitable amount of UF flavor in this hour. Tim Tebow and Joe Tessitore pair up for a fatal-4-way with Gator gymnast Bridget Sloan and softball outfielder Kirsti Merritt.

Later in the hour, Tess and Tebow double team coach Will Muschamp in an interview and go back and forth about how the team will do this season, but also how Muschamp — then an assistant coach at Auburn — devised a gameplan to stop Tebow in 2007. The banter was good, but there was a hilarious clip shown of a much younger Will Muschamp holding back former Tigers head coach Tommy Tuberville as the latter blew his top at a referee.

Little did Muschamp know, but four years later he’d be doing the same on the opposite sideline.

My final grade for SEC Now: C.

I’m not sure what you can glean in terms of total performance from a show’s opener that is three times as long as the show will regularly run. I want to see it in the dead of July with no football to hype up, I want to see it when a scandal breaks and I want to see it share more original stories than the one they did tonight.

I do think Dari Nowkhah is very strong in the main chair, which comes after being with ESPN for 10 years. His back and forth with Calapari was very choppy but I think that may have had a bit to do with the satellite delay between Charlotte, N.C. and the Bahamas.

His co-anchor Maria Taylor seems talented but needs a bit more polish. She was a bit awkward at times like saying the wrong title for Paul Finebaum’s book and her difficulty with the word “era” but I understand it is her first show. Marcus Spears and Booger McFarland are going to be a lot of fun as analysts, but I think Greg McElroy has the makings of a really big asset for ESPN moving forward. He’ll get games in the future, and he’ll knock them out of the park.

Tim Tebow also has a lot of room to grow, he’s a bit robotic in his approach on-screen for my liking, and like I mentioned earlier, I don’t mind him dropping a “we” about his old school. He received a birthday cake on camera, which now makes it the second time an ESPN platform has wished him happy birthday on live television. Sportscenter infamously did the same a few years ago in an awful Tebowmania daytime SC trainwreck.

There were a couple technical issues as well, sound dropping out on a few microphones and a clunky live mic’d up segment with Missisippi State coach Dan Mullen in which the Bulldogs head man barely said anything.

9:00- 10:00 p.m.: Let’s first kick Hour 4 off with the notion that there are two certainties as it pertains to the SEC Storied documentary “The Stars Aligned”: noted Kentucky basketball fan Ashley Judd is crazy, and country singer Charlie Daniels is awesome. Judd made my roommate bust out laughing as she spoke about crying every time she enters Rupp Arena and I could watch Daniels’ giant white beard talk about Tennessee football any day of the year.

Florida’s biggest fan was Emmitt Smith, the former Gator running back and NFL Hall of Famer. There’s also a bit on the Florida-Georgia game, you should at least go to that if you aren’t going to go to home games, freshmen.

There was lots of good footage of the grove at Ole Miss and a nice bit about the animosity between LSU and Ole Miss in football that I really liked because LSU is usually the odd-person out when talking about the natural rivals in the conference.

There was also a nod to Arkansas’ old basketball arena, a place I didn’t know had such history and also allowed former coach Nolan Richardson some airtime, which is always great.

Overall, I give “The Stars Aligned” an A, primarily because it had football in it and I am not a film reviewer. Look, I have a low bar for football-related entertainment, OK?

10:00 p.m.- 2:00 a.m.: Mercifully, the SEC Network programmers have scheduled four hours of reruns of the programming we’ve already been over for the west coast viewers. This is like what happens when you have a double block class and your professor lets you go early, treasure these moments, freshmen.

2:00- 3:00 a.m.: As the 2009 SEC championship game begins we resume festivities, and I’ve decided it’s story time. This game intersected my life at one of the strangest weekends I’ve ever had.

Full disclosure: I’m from Gainesville and have lived here every day of my 21 years. The night before this game was one of the better ones of my life.

I’m not a music guy, but at age 16 I was obsessed with Kid Cudi. His first studio album had just come out, “Man on the Moon: The End of The Day,” and his mixtapes combined with that LP were the soundtrack for more than a few adolescent nights.

So Cudi did a free concert on campus at Flavet field the Friday night before this game, and it was absolutely incredible. My friends and I left school when it got out, drove to campus and waited out a cold rainy day to stand front row.

After it was over and we’d felt like we’d touched the face of God, we left on top of the world. Now our friend had an abandoned house next to her parent’s place, so as any group of dumb teenage boys, we decided it would be cool to spend the night in there. We had Smirnoff Ice and a hookah, it was freezing — by Florida standards — but it was a good time. And of course, the ultimate validation was we didn’t get caught.

The game the next day was an afterthought because Florida had lost once in two seasons — they were going to beat Alabama, and Tebow was going to continue his march to college football immortality.

After they disposed of Bama it would be time to find a way to grovel at my mother’s feet for a chance to buy a ticket to the national championship game, but the Crimson Tide had other ideas for how that Saturday evening was going to go.

By Sunday morning coach Urban Meyer was in the hospital and nobody from Gainesville was going to get to go to Pasadena, but on the plus-side, I still don’t think my mom knows I broke and entered an abandoned residence.

3:00- 4:00 a.m.: As the final hour of Alabama-Florida plays, it is in many ways, the end of one dynasty and the beginning of another. Mark Ingram would win the Heisman trophy seven days after this game ended, the Tide would win its first of three national championships in four years the following month.

For Florida, within a year, a new man would be head coach and the program’s face would change from an offensive powerhouse led by Tebow to a defense-first Alabama lookalike. The Gators won a national championship in the 2006 and 2008 seasons, and came close to playing for another one under Muschamp in 2012.

Four short years after this game was played, Alabama had their fourth national championship under Nick Saban dashed only thanks to the miracle kick return of Chris Davis, and Florida didn’t even go to a bowl game.

4:00- 5:00 a.m.: The second of four straight recent-classic Alabama games begins to play and the conspiracy theorist in me knows the SEC offices in Birmingham, Ala. are just a 90-minute drive from Tuscaloosa. Yes, I also know the SEC Network’s main hub is in Charlotte, N.C., but it’s four o’clock, the mind wanders. If I were a freshman, I’d consider taking the road trip to see Florida play the Crimson Tide, it’s one you won’t forget.

Speaking of Birmingham, I’ve decided to switch gears and take a look at a replayed version of the soccer game pitting the University of Alabama Birmingham’s game against Vanderbilt in an exhibition. The game wasn’t aired on SEC Network, but rather on its online companion SEC Network+. The webcast opens with play-by-play man Kevin Ingram and color analyst Jeff Miller talking about the network and how many games it will broadcast.

The duo did fine especially early in the game setting up the tactics and playing styles of two teams participating.

There wasn’t much explaining of the game, and that is a good thing. There is a fine line between treating viewers like uncultured swine that have never watched a soccer game and talking too much above them, alienating a casual observer with too much technical jargon.

They also got along well and it seems to me like they’ve worked together before, and I hope they do so again.

5:00- 6:00 a.m.: There was no halftime show, so as I entered the 12th hour of this little endeavor I watched still shots of scenery around Vanderbilt’s soccer stadium while listening to the PA announcer go through some sort of contest between fans on the field.

Neither Miller nor Ingram talk over each other as the game resumed — they just sound like they’re having a conversation about the game and we happen to be listening. They’re educated about soccer, but don’t do it in a way that’s condescending to those that aren’t.

Overall Grade: I’ll give the SEC Network’s first game telecast an A. No qualms here, or maybe I’m just too tired to tell what was wrong?

6:00- 7:00 a.m.: The weird thing about the SEC’s television agreement with ESPN (SEC Network’s parent company) is that it allows all of the four letter network’s properties to show CBS football games on its networks. That’s why there hasn’t been an ESPN branded show on the SEC Network for four hours. Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson have kept me awake tonight and the familiar jingle for CBS telecasts is the theme music to the third straight Alabama win as six o’clock saw the kickoff of Alabama-Texas A&M from Sept. 2013.

7:00- 8:00 a.m.: I thought about sleeping, I strongly considered it. The mind plays tricks on you after awhile but the excitement level of this game kept me awake, along with the crushing realization that games like this won’t happen this season.

There are no Johnny Manziels or Mike Evans’. Alabama’s defense won’t be suspect in the secondary, the era of the SEC that you, the class of 2018, enters is not one of offensive prowess but one where defenses will return to the forefront, I hope you can stomach that.

8:00- 9:00 a.m.: Someone asked me if I’d be staying up until tomorrow morning’s replay of the 1999 national championship game, as if this exercise wasn’t masochistic enough already.

9:00- 10:00 a.m.: The SEC Network has started airing a different commercial cross-promoting the college football playoff and it is oh-so-ironic. It’s a commercial of a satirical scene in the movie “Rudy” where Sean Astin pitches the playoff to his 1970s Fighting Irish teammates. It’s funny because I noticed it for the first time during the show that began at nine o’clock — the 2013 national championship game beatdown leveled upon Notre Dame by Alabama.

10:00- 11:00 a.m.: Touchdown after touchdown after touchdown. It’s 35-7 in favor of Alabama by the end of the hour as the last of the Crimson Tide’s recent greatest hits package plays. The game is also the first ESPN branded programming I’ve watched on an ESPN owned television network in eight hours.

11:00 a.m.- noon: History is funny. Say A.J. McCarron came out in this game and threw three interceptions and the Tide lost. How would the perception of him change for someone that’s already maligned as a game manager. I definitely wouldn’t be watching this game right now and I probably wouldn’t have watched the 2012 SEC championship game earlier this morning because although it was a great victory for Alabama, would it really have mattered if the game after it was just a dud? Of course those are just daydreams — simple what ifs — the Alabama death machine rolled over its opponent with ruthless efficiency that January evening in Miami Gardens, and Notre Dame becomes a footnote, an understudy on the marquee in a tape library in Charlotte because Alabama was just that much better than them on this night.

Noon- 1 p.m.: Another rerun means another break. I think I’ll go outside, get some fresh air, seek professional help and make sure my loved ones know I’m still alive.

1:00- 2:00 p.m.: Dave Neal is calling the first live game on the television side of SEC Network — the Big Blue Bahamas tour featuring Kentucky against the Dominican Republic national team — and that is sweet symmetry.

I grew up watching Neal call games on Jefferson Pilot sports. The matchups usually featuring Ole Miss, Mississippi State or Kentucky were typically played at noon.

The company was bought by Lincoln Financial in 2006, but it will always be JP in my heart. At its best, Neal and Jefferson Pilot were on hand for the Blue Grass Miracle.

The gutting Hail Mary that LSU connected on to beat a Kentucky team that had already doused its quarterback with Gatorade and whose students were in the process of tearing down the goalposts in the opposite endzone.

Having Neal call the inaugural live broadcast on the SEC network is fitting — it’s a wink-wink nudge-nudge to fall Saturdays at noon, and it’s a Kentucky basketball game to boot.

2:00- 3:00 p.m.: For the freshmen reading this story, I’m watching your peers play for Kentucky, just like every single year I watch a group of talented Kentucky freshmen standout.

Do not be disparaged, they’re only in college because of an arcane NBA rule that makes them come for at least a year, many of them aren’t here to “play school” for more than a few months, your purpose is different scholastically. But learn their names, because they are Florida’s chief competition on the hardwood.

Oh and as for the telecast? A+ work from the SEC Network crew, and I didn’t expect anything less. Neal and color analyst Jay Bilas work well together, and Bilas is widely regarded as one of the best in the business.

3:00- 4:00 p.m.: There is a radio show you may be aware of. Freshmen, if you’ve got some time to kill between classes in the afternoon, perhaps you may want to give it a chance. A small balding man sits at a large desk in the SEC Network’s studio.

You wouldn’t be able to tell it just by looking at him, but the show he hosts is the unquestioned leader in conference craziness. He is Paul Finebaum, and the phone sitting next to him is the mouthpiece for a region.

Finebaum was a cult phenomenon for a while before latching on with Sirius satellite radio — a subscription-based service — and then he went fully national when ESPN picked up his radio show to simulcast it on the SEC Network daily. I first listened to Finebaum during the 2011 season back when he was part of WJOX in Alabama, when the old tactical firearms jingle used to play during commercial breaks.

It may be in more than 80 million homes thanks to the SEC Network but make no mistake, it’s still dominated by Alabama and Auburn fans although Paul now appeals to a wider audience. How wild are the callers to the show?

Well, Phyllis, a regular to the show, submitted her finalists for the college football playoff. They were, Florida State, Alabama, Florida State and Alabama. When asked if she was aware that the College Football Playoff was four teams and not two, she said yes, and refused to change her stance.

4:00- 5:00 p.m.: Disaster strikes just as the quest to document the SEC Network’s first day enters its 23rd hour. Cox cable, your friendly neighborhood ISP monopoly, decided to black out SEC Network placing it “temporarily off air” for nearly 30 minutes.

As a resourceful person, I immediately grabbed my iphone and immediately booted up the watchESPN app. Crisis averted, and the finish line in sight.

Warren from Gainesville added some local flavor to the Finebaum show calling into the show and asking the million-dollar question: can Will Muschamp survive the season? Finebaum thinks he will.

5:00- 6:00 p.m.: The last hour has arrived. Brent Musberger is on my TV talking about world class chess and the genesis of his multiple gambling innuendos.

Of everything I’ve watched in the last day of television, this is probably the most enjoyable.

Finebaum and Musberger talked about having action on games the latter broadcast in the 1970s. Musberger talks about his pop culture significance and social media following, his relationship with the rapper Eminem. It was fascinating television with a broadcasting legend, and a nice way to end this study.

After Brent exited, Finebaum took a call from Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.

Roper spoke of Jeff Driskel’s progression and confidence as a football player. He gave anecdotes of his time at Tennessee and text shared with Eli Manning in recent days.

Finebaum closed the hour and my day with the SEC Network with an all-access look at Georgia, and with that, my journey ends.

Overall I give Finebaum on TV a B. More than a few audio issues plagued the show today and Paul isn’t exactly a very charismatic person to look at on a set in which he sits at a table by himself.

I think the studio is a bit too big and it makes him look even smaller than he is. There were also some awkward transitions between video transitions. I do like when Finebaum goes back and forth with his producer who’s on the other end of the studio. Adds so variety to the show, makes it a bit more lively.

***

If you’ve made it to the end of this, I salute you. I’m not proud of what I’ve done in the preceding 3,500 words but I felt the work was necessary. Now go forth with the education of what really lies on channel 68 in the Gainesville area, and be sure to “take it all in” with others for years to come. Now go study or something, freshmen, I’m going to bed.

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Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson is the online sports editor and a lifelong Gainesville resident. Lover of offensive line play and longform pieces; hater of chocolate and Chipotle.

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