HOOVER, Ala. – A month ago, Dave Neal was preparing for the possibility of life with basketball in the northeast instead of football in the southeast.
Then came the call from ESPN, and Neal was announced earlier this week as the play-by-play man for the SEC Network which will air the regional syndication game – the 11:30 a.m. game of the week – each Saturday.
It’s the job Neal held for the 10 previous seasons with different title sponsors, most recently Raycom Sports.
“I really had my fingers crossed that this would work out. There were some other opportunities whether with basketball in different regions or whatnot, but this was where I wanted to be,” he said.
Neal said he believes he had the backing of the conference in discussions with ESPN.
“All I know in terms of athletics is being involved with the SEC,” he said.
The conference’s 15-year mega-contract with ESPN was announced in the spring of 2008, setting up a farewell tour and an uncertain future for members of the Raycom broadcast team. Neal was the only member retained.
“It was a tough season for us last year. We’d spent so much time together as producers, directors to Dave Baker, Dave Archer and myself. It was tough to realize it was going to be gone. At that point you get into survival mode. You make sure you’re doing the best job you can do, maybe some eyeballs are watching you.”
ESPN’s resources will take the league’s morning kickoff well beyond what was a nine-state footprint and will expose it to many more eyeballs around the nation.
The SEC Network game will now also air in previously non-SEC markets like Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and New York.
Columbus, Ohio, will show the game – as will Columbus, Miss., as WCBIhas signed on.
The game will reach 60 million U.S. television households in 73 markets, just over half the households in the country.
Hogs aren’t that Nutt-y
– With the first Houston Nutt vs. Arkansas game in the books there’s still passion in the rivalry but less as another class of Nutt’s former players has left the Razorbacks.
Ole Miss won Nutt’s return game 23-21 last October in Fayetteville. Nutt’s former players will face him in his new stadium Oct. 24 when the Razorbacks visit Oxford.
“We have a lot of players on our team who weren’t recruited by Nutt. There are only a few of us left. I think my class is the last class that was recruited by coach Nutt,” Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams said. “I’m not going to say that game’s not going to mean anything. There will be some emotion but not enough to overtake the importance of the game.”
Williams thrived in Bobby Petrino’s new offense, leading the Razorbacks with 61 receptions for 723 yards. He had 10 catches for 129 yards against Ole Miss.
Bowl momentum for Vandy
– Vanderbilt’s 16-14 victory over Boston College in the Music City Bowl was the Commodores’ first bowl win in 53 years.
“It was satisfying but not satisfying enough. Now hopefully our players know what it takes to get to that point and we can continue to do that,” Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said.
The Commodores return nine starters on both offense and defense from last year’s 7-6 team.
Johnson says he’s always felt like he’s had a good product to sell to recruits between the school’s academic reputation, the city of Nashville and the SEC, but the bowl win has helped.
“It was the next phase we had to take our program, to go to a bowl. It was a bonus to win it. It’s helped the attitude of our players, our fans, our donors … and our head coach.”
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal