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ESPN reveals commentator crew, new Inside the Mat show for 2014 NCAA D1 finals

ESPN reveals details on 2014 NCAA Div. I coverage plans
ESPN reveals details on 2014 NCAA Div. I coverage plans
ESPN

ESPN has released details on what it is calling its “unprecedented” coverage of the 2014 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, including commentators and details on a new Inside the Mat special during the finals, the sports network revealed Friday.

ESPN will televise all six sessions of the three-day championships live from Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, starting with opening-round action Thursday, March 20, all the way through the title matches on Saturday evening, March 22.

For the first time, ESPN3 will show every match of every round, providing live feeds of each individual mat throughout the entire tournament. In addition, ESPN3 will debut “Inside the Mat” which will provide insider perspective and commentary from four wrestling legends. What’s more, ESPN3 has expanded its individual mat feed which allows fans to watch every match throughout the tournament, including wrestlebacks, accompanied by live commentary. Additionally, for computer users, ESPN3 will once again offer multi-mat simultaneous viewing which allows fans to watch up to four different mats at one time.

ESPNU will televise the first and second sessions on Thursday, as well as the quarterfinals and medal round. The flagship ESPN channel will provide a live telecast of Friday night’s semifinals as well as Saturday’s finals.

In addition, WatchESPN will provide coverage of all six sessions.

Commentators

In its Friday press statement, ESPN also introduced its coverage team for the 2014 NCAA D1 championships. There will be two new members of the team that are familiar to college wrestling fans: Kyle Dake, four-time NCAA champ for Cornell (2010-13), and Jim Gibbons, legendary Iowa State wrestler and coach who was a long-time commentator on Iowa Public TV’s “College Wrestling” series. Dake and Gibbons will join Anthony Robles, 2011 NCAA champ for Arizona State who will be covering his third NCAAs for ESPN, and veteran wrestling analyst and commentator Tim Johnson.

These wrestlers-turned-commentators will be working with ESPN’s Adam Amin and Shawn Kenney who will call the action; Quint Kessenich will conduct interviews with wrestlers and coaches.

ESPN3’s Inside the Mat

Another new ESPN Networks innovation is ESPN3’s special, Inside the Mat, which will be shown Saturday, March 22 at 8 p.m. Eastern. Four wrestling legends – Dan Gable, Jim Gibbons, Lee Kemp, and Pat Smith – will join ESPN’s Shawn Kenney to provide a unique perspective on the finals beyond the traditional TV coverage. In addition to providing live coverage of the on-the-mat action, ESPN’s press statement says, “the analysts -- unrestricted by television parameters -- will discuss each match from a tactical and mental standpoint, describing the wrestlers' thought process before, during, and after a finals match. Inside the Mat will go behind-the-scenes to show medal ceremonies and will be joined by an array of guests throughout the night, including newly crowned NCAA National Champions and their coaches.”

For the complete schedule of ESPN Networks coverage of the 2014 NCAAs -- including links to WatchESPN coverage, click here.

A brief history of NCAA TV coverage

ESPN Networks’ coverage plans for the 2014 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships are far beyond what a wrestling fan could have imagined a decade ago, let alone a half-century ago.

Until 50 years ago, fans wanting to know what happened at the NCAAs had to wait for Amateur Wrestling News to arrive in the mail… or somehow get a copy of the silent, black-and-white films shot by the host school. (Thanks to YouTube, today’s fans can view films of the 1962 and 1964 NCAA finals now available online.)

The 1963 NCAA finals at Kent State were the first to be shown on national TV, on a tape-delay basis, in seriously edited form, on ABC-TV’s “Wide World of Sports” a weekly sports anthology series. This writer has seen ABC’s telecast of the 1964 NCAAs from Cornell University, in which edited versions of three of the finals matches were shown interspersed with coverage of the NCAA swimming and diving championships.

In the 1980s, CBS became the home of NCAA wrestling championships coverage, as part of a deal to televise multiple college sports championships in addition to basketball. The typical CBS NCAA broadcast managed to show all the finals matches (instead of just a sampling as ABC had done), but, again, in very edited form (sometimes showing only a few seconds of some title bouts), and, again, two or three weeks after the event.

When ESPN first took over NCAA wrestling coverage, it wasn’t much of an improvement over what its broadcast predecessors had offered. There were criticisms of inept commentary and matches joined in progress, not to mention broadcast times in the middle of the night (though only a day or two after the matches had been wrestled).

A real turning point could be traced to the 2002 NCAAs, when ESPN interrupted regular programming to provide live coverage of the 197-pound title match as Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson went for his fourth title and a perfect 159-0 collegiate record. In the dozen years since, ESPN has considerably expanded its offerings on TV and online to provide fans with more real-time coverage.

Get prepped for the 2014 NCAAs with Mat Bracketology: See College Wrestling Examiner's weight-by-weight analysis of seeded wrestlers by clicking on the Mat Bracketology link.

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