march madness

Mike Francesa Talks March Madness, Has Not Done His Homework

Mike Francesa doesn't really seem to follow college basketball very closely, which would be fine if he didn't have to talk about it on the radio.

by David Roth
Mar 16 2017, 4:56pm

It would be exceptionally challenging to explain Mike Francesa to someone who is not familiar with what he does. The good news is that no one will ever have to do this; I promise that no one who does not already know Mike Francesa wants you to change that. You could say something like "He's a legendary and legendarily impatient sports radio figure who owns two of every quarter-zip sweater that Jos. A. Bank ever made, in every color," and that would all be quite true, but it wouldn't really cover how weird Francesa has become in his dotage, and how strange and sigh-heavy and conflicted his show has become as a result.

Again, I could explain all this to you, but it honestly would be easier if you just listen to the video above, in which Francesa breaks down (?) a Maryland/Florida State match-up that would happen if both teams win their first-round games in the NCAA Tournament. Here is a partial transcript:

"[45 seconds of glottal breathing] Ehhhh you gotta [21 more seconds of breathing, sound of phone vibrating in background] Merreh Len is one of those teams, the little guy dribbles the ball up and you never know. OK? Very well coached [thought bubble becomes visible through speakers depicting Francesa thinking of former Maryland coach Gary Williams, who retired in 2011] but sometimes they win and sometimes they lose. They had some injuries. Flawritter State will never beat them, never has beaten them. In conclusion, college basketball is a land of contrasts."

Actually we've been having some issues with my voice-to-text function in the CMS, so let me just do this manually. Here's what I had as a transcript:

"Florida State [buzzing dead air] which you've already had this year. You have...what happened in those Maryland–Florida State games this year? [20 seconds of silence] Ehm, let me see, let me get to that. [More silence] Let's see, let me get to that. [More silence, sniffing, hums] Trying to get to one of those teams to look up their schedule. I don't think it was a vintage Maryland year by any stretch, but they played once this year? Oh jeez, Maryland. I'm forgetting. Right. They wouldn't play. So, um, uh, so, the bottom line is [more silence] um, Maryland should have been better, they had some injuries, they're hot and cold, you know their best player is hot and cold, and from that standpoint I could see them winning this game, I could see them losing this game. One way or the other, I don't think it's that big a deal one way or another."

Let's leave it there, before Francesa gets into the "great expectations" of a Maryland team that was generally predicted to finish in the middle of the Big Ten and some other peremptory maunderings. You get the idea, or at least sense the tension between Francesa's general vibe of lordly expertise and the fact that what he knows about Maryland is, generously, a few years and one athletic conference realignment out of date. There would be something poignant if it was anyone else forced to bluff and wheeze through this sort of Fudged Book Report on the radio, but because it's Francesa, declaiming as ever from within the bulletproof popemobile of his tragicomic ego, it's pure delight.

At this point in his long career, Francesa is transparently over sports in a way that's impossible to miss, and pretty much only comes alive when given the opportunity to flirt and banter with the powerful people he considers his equals or mutter about various points of horse-racing gossip. The complicating factors here are that Francesa is still paid millions of dollars to talk-slash-sigh about sports and that he spends five and a half hours every day on the dang radio, ostensibly doing just that. When his contract with WFAN expires Francesa will move on to whatever's next for him—it could be podcasting, or it could just be refusing to make eye contact with servers at restaurants—but in many ways he is already gone, and has been for a long time.

The king is checked way the fuck out. Long live the king.