No. 3 Oregon traveled to play at Stanford on Saturday afternoon, and it was a doozy. The Cardinal led 17-7 at halftime before the Ducks rallied to take a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter. Then Stanford’s Tanner McKee drove 86 yards in just under two minutes, throwing the game-tying touchdown on an untimed down after a penalty (it was controversial, as they say, and the final drive also included a subjective targeting call). Stanford scored first in OT, and stopped the Ducks for the 31-24 win. Fans stormed the field. Oregon coach Mario Cristobal and his players kicked themselves for some costly penalties.
The issue bigger than the Ducks’ lack of discipline was the quality of the broadcast. People rooting for both Oregon and Stanford noticed the resolution of the game was just not that great. Take a look at a screenshot:
Sure, if you showed this broadcast to Keith Jackson and Bob Griese in 1989, their heads would have exploded, and they wouldn’t have been able to call the Rose Bowl. But this is 2021! Broadcasts usually look nicer.
ESPN hasn’t responded to my question about why Saturday’s game looked like someone smeared Vaseline over the lenses (I did not use those words), so I asked Tim Burke, a friend of Defector. He pretty much guessed the same thing he tweeted on Saturday: The game looked like a low-chroma subsampling, a way to reduce file size by discarding color information. (You can get a Wikipedia-based understanding of it here.)
What was especially interesting is that almost every week, there is a Pac-12 game on ESPN that looks like this. I asked Burke, whose setup to watch college football games looks like this, if he could share with me some screenshots from the offending broadcast. Sometimes highlights uploaded to the internet look bad because a highlight middleman like me did some low-chroma subsampling. But these screenshots are pure, uncut broadcasts from ESPN and ABC.
Here’s another image from yesterday’s game. It doesn’t look great! The field looks patchy and horrible, even though The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel was at the game and said the surface was fine.
Allegedly, Rod Gilmore and Dave Flemming called the Oregon-Stanford game, but they could very well have been replaced by blurry doppelgangers. The in-booth camera was also a fish-eye lens, for some reason.
Oregon was also featured in an ESPN game the previous Saturday, on Sept. 25. What’s the point of having all that exclusive Ducks gear if the premier TV sports network makes it look like mush?
On Saturday, Sept. 11, this is what Utah at BYU looked like, as presented by ESPN:
And here’s BYU-Arizona in Week 1 on ESPN2. All of this, in technical video jargon, “kind of looks like shit.”
Though ESPN hasn’t responded, here’s my theory: ESPN is down one set of newer HD equipment, and is using older cameras or equipment in a production truck. They’ve settled on using these cameras for their Pac-12 games, even if that means making the No. 3 team in the country on a national broadcast look like it’s covered in butter. Call it a supply chain issue.