With stylized drama and upsets galore, this year’s March Madness has been everything we hoped it would be, a fitting showcase for the nation’s top talent, not just on the hardwood but in front of the camera with Jamie Erdahl giving a career-best performance on CBS, emerging as one of the tournament’s breakout stars.
Erdahl, who, like so many rising stars in sports media, came up through the NESN pipeline as a Red Sox and Bruins sideline reporter, is no doubt familiar to football fans, recently replacing Kay Adams (now of FanDuel) as the host of NFL Network’s Good Morning Football. Covering college basketball’s premier event is far from an easy assignment, requiring, among other traits, confidence, passion and, above all, a sense of the moment, knowing when to get out of the way and let the action speak for itself. Erdahl has struck the perfect balance in that regard, displaying a quick wit with Florida Atlantic’s Johnell Davis (“We’re on TruTV, man”) while also giving Michigan State coach Tom Izzo plenty of space to capture his emotion, leading the Spartans back to the Sweet 16 weeks after a mass shooting that took the lives of three students.
Teamed with broadcasting vets Andrew Catalon and Steve Lappas, Erdahl was nothing if not prepared, cleverly alluding to Marquette’s proclivity for post-game milkshakes after winning Friday’s tournament opener in Columbus, besting 15th-seeded Vermont by 17 points at Nationwide Arena.
Erdahl used another prop in her interview with Izzo, getting the Hall-of-Famer to break character in a rare moment of levity, laughing off a broken clipboard left as collateral damage from one of his signature tantrums.
Making your interview subjects comfortable enough to open up takes creativity and shrewd journalistic instincts, which just so happen to be two of Erdahl’s biggest strengths. The beauty of March Madness is that there’s something in it for everyone, whether it’s plopping down at a Vegas sportsbook for the better part of four days or cheering on your alma mater from a college bar, packed with students drinking $8 pitchers of light beer. But, for all its glitz and glamour, the NCAA Tournament, at the end of the day, will always be about people, all of them with a story waiting to be told.
As she showed on multiple occasions throughout the weekend, Erdahl is as adept as anyone in sports media at finding those angles, bringing humanity and truth to the Big Dance while also reminding us to have fun, smelling the roses and enjoying the sights and sounds of college basketball’s greatest annual spectacle.