HOUSTON – There may not be a version of the language-learning tool, Rosetta Stone, powerful enough for what ESPN play-by-play voice Sean McDonough needs for this weekend’s men’s Final Four.
“I’m trying to learn all the languages of the world as fast as I can,” said McDonough, who will call ESPN International’s telecast of college basketball’s marquee event alongside Jay Bilas (second game of Saturday’s National Semifinals) and Dick Vitale (first game of the semis and Monday’s Championship Game). This is the fourth straight year ESPN International will televise the semifinals and championship to fans in 179 countries and territories across 26 networks outside the United States.
“I actually had the chance to do this once before in 1998 [when CBS held the international rights for the Final Four],” McDonough said. “My one vivid recollection was that you shouldn’t drink a lot of fluids the day of the games after about noon. There aren’t a whole lot of opportunities to get to the men’s room [due to extended halftimes and additional content].”
It’s lessons like that which have served McDonough well throughout his incredible broadcasting career that has seen him call events in: men’s and women’s college basketball, NFL, MLB, NHL, golf, tennis, college sports, Olympic bobsledding, luge and hockey.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “Any of us who do this for a living want to to do the biggest events. The Final Four is one of the biggest events on the sports calendar and to have a worldwide audience? I’m thrilled to be able to be a part of ESPN’s international presentation.”
Along with that thrill, McDonough and game producer Eric Mosley also carry an awareness that calling the college game for such a diverse international audience is a bit different than calling it domestically.
“How much do you call it as a typical game as you would to an American audience and how much do you need to be a little more basic and provide a little more of the storylines?” said McDonough, a Syracuse University graduate, who was in Chicago last weekend as a fan to support the Orange. “If these people are watching, it’s likely they have some knowledge or interest in it and I’d assume there are a lot of displaced Americans. So I don’t think we need to get too bogged down in the minutiae.”
McDonough, who will be honored with Syracuse’s prestigious Marty Glickman Award later this year, looks forward to reuniting with his former ESPN “Big Monday” partner, Bilas and Vitale, who he has worked a few games with this season and many over his career.
“Jay has become, in my opinion, the preeminent analyst in the entire sport and you know when Dick does a game, it takes on the feel of something even bigger,” he said, before deadpanning. “I don’t have to do much prep work because I know I won’t get a word in with either of them.”
“I’m really looking forward to calling Final Four games with Sean,” Vitale said. “He is a pro’s pro. He is always ready and his preparation is unparalleled. Sean is knowledgeable and opinionated and has a great way of utilizing his analyst during a telecast. To put it into Vitale-ese, he’s Awesome Baby, with a capital A!”
“Sean McDonough is an artist, and a master of the big moments in any game,” Bilas said. “I’ve had the honor of working with Sean for many years, and it’ll be a pleasure to work with him again on the International broadcast of the Final Four. I can’t wait to hear him in so many different languages.”