With top-level football being so complex, it is very difficult to deconstruct a live game within a couple of minutes of it being over, and because of this the "analysis" is usually reduced to goals and individual performance. But the fact that many pundits don't even try to scratch beneath the surface, despite knowing what it takes to win a match at this level, annoys me. It's the trivialisation of what we do by people that we used to call our own and, more importantly, deprives the viewer of some very interesting tit-bits that would, I feel, add to the entertainment.This point is both intuitive and fascinating. On the one hand, it would stand to reason that former coaches and players would be able to provide insights that go above and beyond those of people like me who did not play games on a high level. On the other hand, as is drilled into our heads every time we listen to Lou Holtz and Mark May try to explain what we just saw, the level of commentary from former coaches and players is, to use the English term, dross.
So why is that? It can't be that former coaches and players are unable to understand what they see. As the anonymous player writing for The Guardian points out, modern footballers are subject to an incredibly complex set of instructions. The same would be true for American football players, who have to understand incredibly complicated offensive and defensive systems. (A related point that has been percolating in my head: with modern college and pro football schemes getting more ornate, an underrated, but critical skill for modern coaches is the ability to explain difficult concepts to players who sometimes might not be the sharpest tools in the shed.)
If we're not talking about an inability to explain what has actually happened on the field, then there have to be other factors at work. I can think of two. First, studio pundits have to talk in 30-60 second bursts and they have to say something that the viewer will remember. The same factor that drags down our political discourse also drags down the quality of commentary. In the same way that it's hard to explain the various options for addressing the U.S.'s long-term debt dilemma in 60 seconds, it's also hard to explain what Alabama was doing with their inside linebackers to negate Florida's zone read plays. The format lowers the quality.
The second factor is that inane commentary is a feature, not a bug. For whatever reason (mostly to ensure that the product can be understood by the dumbest person watching), commentary in cliches seems to be valued by editors and producers everywhere. I have little doubt that if Mark May gave a good, detailed explanation for why Ohio State is getting consistent pressure on the quarterback and why Penn State is failing to deal with their pressure schemes, he would have a producer in his ear telling him that what he just said is unlikely to produce the desired emotional reaction.
The inane reaction to Jay Cutler's injury against Green Bay is a perfect example. This was the dominant factor in the post-game coverage. Both of the local sports talk morning shows were prattling on about it for at least two days thereafter. Why? Because it drives an immediate emotional reaction. It's easy to make unprovable statements about a guy's character and it's certain that a whole bunch of people with IQs of 95 can understand and call in to vent about that p**** quarterback. It's not as easy to explain why Green Bay was able to move the ball at will on its first two possessions and then failed to score an offensive point for the rest of the game. Thus, we end up with coverage that the very players being discussed view as not worth a second thought.