Fox puts best foot forward in Cup

Millions of viewers, record numbers of viewers, have tuned into coverage the women’s World Cup so far, and Fox and its family of networks will attract even more viewers in the next week or so — despite their production folks working a bit blind during games.

Because of the way production works for the tournament, Fox’s behind-the-scene folks do not pick what camera angles viewers receive. Those come from the tournament’s international feed.

So shots that seem out-of-context for the discussion between the on-air talent probably are unplanned.

It’s not easy to make something like that work. Still, it happens fairly often with international sporting events and is happening more and more with the Big Ten Network, ESPN and others producing broadcasts with the on-air talent in a booth sometimes thousands of miles away from the competition itself.

Fox, Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 deserve credit for making the arrangement work as well as it has. Rarely are the broadcast productions as smooth as those of other major sporting events, but it’s not easy to tell the difference — and working under the conditions they are is impressive.

Fox’s commitment to the event has been impressive as well. It plans 800 hours of coverage with 52 games on the three TV channels and streaming online during the event. Plus there are two daily studio shows.

Almost everything about the approach to the coverage matches the level of competition, and that’s a good thing. Some minor things could be improved but they’re mostly little things — albeit an easy to note in one instance.

That comes with how the pregame show shares team lineups. It’s a nifty mix of on-screen graphics and photos, just the type of thing the tournament’s U.S. broadcast partner should utilize, but the pitch on which player pictures are displayed looks like one located in a community park.

It would be a bit more appropriate if the lineups were shared in a stadium. Sure, it’s a minor thing, but it’s meaningful. It might make the setting look local in France, but it loses something in the perception when it’s a made-up venue that looks minor league.

From start to finish, though, and even despite not getting to pick all the pictures, Fox has done a super job with the tournament. Everything about the effort has been major league. As it moves toward its culmination — knockout round play began Saturday — expect more of the same.

Regarding refs, rules

This past week, we had Major League Baseball umpires making news trying to protect their reputations and themselves and using social media as an outlet to deliver their message, albeit sloppily.

A week earlier, the SEC announced it wanted to create its own Twitter account to share something other than “no comment” or behind-the-scenes reactions to college football rules situations this coming season. Conference officials envision it as a way to be more transparent for fans and the media.

Additionally, the SEC has encouraged its broadcast partners to hire on-air rules analysts for broadcasts for the coming season.

All this reaction comes on the heels of last season’s NFL playoff mess/missed call involving the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints.

We’ll see more and more of such moves — expect something from the Big Ten Conference at its meetings next month, if not sooner — and none of that means games will be officiated better. Nor does it mean fans and the media will understand the rules or what happened any better.

No matter what approaches conferences and leagues take, officials will continue to make mistakes. Full-time officials or part-time officials, it makes no difference. And enhanced technology will only make those mistakes more obvious.

Just one solution exits, and that’s full transparency. A conference or league official sharing information in as timely a manner as possible. Those people should be accessible during broadcasts and sharing interpretations or reasoning themselves.

Rules analysts on broadcasts make mistakes and might not know what officials on the field were thinking or why they did what they did.

Things will just never be mistake-free with officiating. Stuff happens. Rules challenges or rulings can help, but the action happens so fast that perfection is impossible for officials. Pursing that goal is nice, but the closer we move toward it the more the real games feel like video games. And that’s not a good thing.

Tuner tidbits

n That chase for officiating perfection has certainly played a role in the stories we see (another one got national attention last week) of bad behavior by parents and participants at youth and high school sporting events. It’s a shame that those incidents get such publicity. But if the videos lead to arrests and, hopefully, changes in behavior that’s one positive.

n Tom Fornelli, a CBS Sports writer online, ranked the Big Ten’s 14 football coaches from first to worst, and James Franklin was at the top of the list. He cited the coaching change at Ohio State, with Ryan Day replacing Urban Meyer, as opening an opportunity and stressing the Franklin’s organization and success merit the top spot.

n Count me as happy that the offhand comments by Steve Blass that got attention a week or so ago did not blow up into a controversy. That was an example of social media silliness at the start with most reasoned media knowing not to take the bait, and that there was no story.

Sampsell can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.

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