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ESPN GameDay broadcasters talk on IU, Knight, NCAA

Photo by Mark Felix
From left, Malcolm Moran, director of the National Sports Journalism Center, talks with ESPN GameDay’s Jay Bilas and Rece Davis. The broadcasters were in the area in preparation for the IU-Michigan men’s basketball game.

— By Wheat Hotchkiss, sports journalism graduate student, Indianapolis

With ESPN’s College GameDay crew in Bloomington to broadcast Saturday night’s showdown between top-ranked Michigan and No. 3 Indiana, sportscasters Jay Bilas and Rece Davis made time for an informal chat at Friday afternoon at the Whittenberger Auditorium at the Indiana Memorial Union.

As guests of the School of Journalism’s National Sports Journalism Center, the two spoke to a packed house of students, alumni and area residents. Center director Malcolm Moran moderated the talk, which began with only Bilas. Davis joined about halfway through the hour-long conversation, which ranged from IU basketball to NCAA policies, with a stop midway to swap stories about former Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight, who now is a colleague at ESPN.

With regard to the NCAA, Bilas maintained that the NCAA’s policies place unfair restrictions on student-athletes. He noted that no other students are restricted from being paid while enrolled in school other than athletes.

“No athlete, in my judgment, is a better student, a better teammate, or a better person by virtue of his or her amateurism,” Bilas said.

He also voiced concerns over issues such as players having to sit out a year when they transfer schools while coaches face no such penalty, an issue he even brought up when he served on the Long-Range Planning Committee in 1984-86, when he was a student-athlete on Duke’s basketball team.

“When you get divorced, you don’t have to stay with your wife’s parents,” Bilas said. “That’s what you’re asking an athlete to do. I don’t think it’s fair.”

bilas and davis
Photo by Mark Felix
Bilas and Davis expressed excitement for this weekend’s matchup between the Hoosiers and top-ranked Michigan, noting that the two’s high national rankings should make for an exceptional atmosphere for the GameDay broadcast.

Both Bilas and Davis acknowledged that the NCAA is at a crossroads, as calls for less restriction on student-athletes and member institutions are intensifying. Bilas brought up the possibility of student-athletes walking out of a game in protest, and an audience member raised the question of a group of schools breaking away from the NCAA.

“The players are starting to understand that this isn’t right and isn’t fair and, sooner or later…they’re going to realize and walk out,” Bilas said.

Both expressed excitement for this weekend’s matchup between the Hoosiers and top-ranked Michigan, noting that the two’s high national rankings should make for an exceptional atmosphere for the GameDay broadcast.

“I feel like you have two teams that can play at a high level and at a place that loves basketball,” Davis said. “I’m anticipating as good an environment as we’ve ever had.”

In terms of the current Indiana program, Bilas was particularly vocal with his praise for sophomore forward Cody Zeller, while Davis contrasted the current program under head coach Tom Crean with Knight’s tenure.

“I think there are some similarities at least in terms of expectations of excellence,” Davis said. “The path that you take to get there changes depending on who your leader is.”

Moran asked if they thought Knight would ever revisit IU as the two parties have remained at a distance since Knight’s dismissal in 2000.

“One thing I think people don’t understand enough about Coach Knight is how he’s an incredibly thoughtful person,” Bilas said. “He thinks about everything. And he’s very emotional. He’s touched easily by gestures and he gets hurt like everybody else.

candy stripes
Photo by Mark Felix
Moran presented the two with official IU ties and pairs of the famous candy stripe warm-up pants worn by the IU men’s basketball team.

“I’ve never talked to him about this, but I do think his departure here was a traumatic thing,” he added. “And I don’t know how long it takes to get over something like that.”

Both Bilas and Davis stopped short of speculating on whether or not Knight would one day return to Bloomington.

“I have enough respect and admiration for him that I want what he thinks is best for him,” Davis said.

The remainder of the conversation covered a wide range of topics, from how Bilas utilizes Twitter to the duo’s favorite mid-major venues to even Bilas’ affinity for the rapper Young Jeezy.

In closing, Moran presented the two broadcasters with gifts, including official IU plaid ties and pairs of the famed candy-striped pants identical to those of the men’s basketball team’s warm-up gear – so authentic that the extra long length could fit only former player Bilas.

As for Saturday’s broadcast, Bilas said he and his colleagues would let the atmosphere at Assembly Hall speak for itself.

“In tomorrow’s game, I think our job is to get out of the way,” Bilas said. “And I think if we do a good job of that, everything will be fine.”

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