When Mike Tirico ’88 debuts as the Summer Olympics’ primetime host, he will continue a Syracuse University tradition begun by Bob Costas ’74. “I am following Bob, not replacing him,” says Tirico, who graduated weeks before Costas presented his first NBC Olympics telecast. “He literally passed the torch to me—we have photos of it. I consider him a friend and a mentor.”
Tirico recalls Costas’ 40-year run at NBC Sports Group, more than half of which was spent at the helm of NBC Olympics. “I may take my own approach to anchoring the Games, but Bob still exerts a big influence on me,” explains Tirico, who anchored his first NBC Olympics primetime show at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. “He took this job to the top of the mountain.”
Costas and fellow broadcasting legend Marv Albert ’63 (who called his last NBA game on July 3) inspired Tirico to attend Syracuse University. As the inaugural recipient of the Bob Costas Scholarship, he dual majored in political science and broadcast journalism. Such blending of the liberal arts and professional studies has informed Tirico’s lustrous career, renowned for its editorial and journalistic integrity. “I went to Syracuse to become a sportscaster, but left as a broadcast journalist,” he says, smiling.
Despite the absence of spectators due to Japan’s COVID-19 state of emergency, Tirico is thrilled to pilot the first outdoor primetime show in NBC Olympics history. Perched on a fifth-floor deck, he has a panoramic view of Tokyo’s futuristic skyline, which includes the scenic Rainbow Bridge. “Being outside fosters a sense of place,” notes the affable University Trustee, who rose to prominence at ESPN before joining NBC Sports in 2016. “The people and buildings add to the excitement of a live broadcast.” The 13-hour time difference between Tokyo and New York is another perk, since he goes on the air as Japanese locals are waking up.
I’m also excited about Syracuse University’s connection to the Olympics. Whenever you have a Syracuse alum on your team, you have a greater chance of winning—and of getting the job done better than anyone else.—Mike Tirico ’88
Tirico is part of a distinguished team of alumni at NBC Olympics this summer. Almost all of them graduated from Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and, because of the pandemic, most are covering the Games remotely from NBC Sports’ headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.
“I feel like we’ve come full circle,” says Tirico, adding that NBC’s first Olympics was the 1964 Tokyo Games. “I’m also excited about Syracuse University’s connection to the Olympics. Whenever you have a Syracuse alum on your team, you have a greater chance of winning—and of getting the job done better than anyone else.”
Here are other Orange alumni commentators covering the Tokyo Games:
Jason Benetti ’05
As the voice of the Chicago White Sox, Jason Benetti is used to sharing his passion for the national pastime. The Chicago native’s insight and eloquence have earned him a return trip to the Summer Olympic Games as baseball’s play-by-play announcer.
The last time baseball was an Olympic sport was in 2008, when Benetti made his NBC Olympics debut in Beijing. “I’m thrilled to be part of the return of baseball, which is important to many nations around the globe,” says Benetti, renowned for his easy rapport with fellow announcers and for his tenacity in breaking barriers as a person with cerebral palsy.
I learned how to improve every time I put on the headset and how to cherish the teammates around me who wanted to make each broadcast shine.—Jason Benetti ’05
Before earning a J.D. from Wake Forest, the famed ESPN commentator triple majored in broadcast journalism, economics and psychology at Syracuse University while working for WAER-FM. “I learned how to improve every time I put on the headset and how to cherish the teammates around me who wanted to make each broadcast shine.”
Ryan Burr ’94
The last time Ryan Burr worked for NBC Olympics was at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, providing whip-around coverage for the network’s sports app. Seven years and thousands of miles later, he is reprising his role in a warmer environment. This summer, Burr is calling men’s and women’s tennis—a sport that Team USA has dominated since 1988, when it was reinstated as an Olympic medal event.
“I’m thrilled to be checking a box on my career to-do list,” says Burr, who guided ESPN’s coverage of the 2012 Wimbledon tournament. “The Olympics are filled with passion—from the athletes to the host city to the fans.”
A veteran of NBC Sports, Burr joined the network’s Golf Channel in Orlando in 2013. He previously wore multiple hats at ESPN, covering college football and basketball, anchoring weekend editions of SportsCenter and hosting NASCAR Now . The former WAER-FM staffer looks forward to stepping out of his traditional sportscasting role. “I’ve been studying a lot in preparation for the Games,” he says. “It’s fun to dip my feet in the Olympic pond.”
Noah Eagle ’19
Anyone who plays basketball is probably familiar with 3-on-3, explains Noah Eagle, the radio voice of the Los Angeles Clippers. Played on a half court with one basket, 3-on-3 is the world’s biggest urban team sport. “It’s similar to hockey, where everything happens on the fly,” says Eagle, who, along with 3-on-3, is making his Olympics debut. “The games are short—20 minutes in real time—but fast-paced.”
The son of veteran announcer Ian Eagle ’90 , Noah is a quick study. Since April, he has absorbed all there is to know about 3-on-3’s history, rules, teams and star players. Only when the facts are second nature to him is he able to convey the mood and feeling of the game.
Eagle mastered this approach at Syracuse University, working around the clock at WAER-FM, Z89 Radio and CitrusTV. “I don’t know how many late nights I spent prepping for game day,” recalls the twentysomething wunderkind, who also contributes to SiriusXM NBA Radio, Tennis Channel and Fox Sports. “By the time I graduated, I felt ready because I was ready.”
I don’t know how many late nights I spent prepping for game day. By the time I graduated, I felt ready because I was ready.—Noah Eagle ’19
Ahmed Fareed ’02
Veteran commentator Ahmed Fareed believes enthusiasm and integrity go hand in hand. “I have to be right, but I also need to enjoy myself on the air,” says the two-time Emmy winner, now handling his third NBC Olympics assignment on USA Network. “If I’m not having fun, you’re not.”
Fareed credits professors like John Nicholson, former director of the Newhouse Sports Media Center at Syracuse University, for showing him how to connect with the material. “He taught me to loosen up, make it conversational,” says Fareed, who still gets texts from his mentor lauding his coverage of such mega events as the Triple Crown.
Because of the Olympic spectator ban, Fareed is leaning heavily on video conferencing to engage athletes and capture family reactions in real time. “Fans can tell if you’re into it. They gravitate toward your energy,” adds the former NBC Sports Bay Area host. “You have to be authentic.”
Jason Knapp ’91
Many people know Olympic announcer Jason Knapp, but they may be familiar with him for different sports—curling, speedskating, swimming and wrestling, to name a few. A common thread among all these events, he explains, is their stories. “I love sharing the passion of athletes, telling the stories that have propelled them to the Games,” says Knapp, who is handling his fifth assignment for NBC Olympics. “The Newhouse School gave me a strong foundation to become the sportscaster I am today.”
The Newhouse School gave me a strong foundation to become the sportscaster I am today.—Jason Knapp ’91
Knapp will lean heavily on his journalistic training at the Summer Games, playing multiple roles. During week one, he will call tennis, where Serbian star Novak Djokovic is in the hunt for a historic Golden Slam and Olympic gold. The following week, Knapp will cover Olympic wrestling for the third consecutive time in his career. “Team USA will have some breakout moments,” predicts Knapp, who also works for CBS Sports and the Pac-12 Networks. “We have two defending Olympic gold medalists and five other wrestlers with world championships on their resumes. Many of them have been waiting their whole lives for this moment.”
Chris Lewis ’13
Before table tennis became a global phenomenon, it was a casual, Victorian-era parlor game. “It’s changed a lot,” says radio commentator Chris Lewis, noting that the lids of cigar boxes originally served as paddles. “Today, the game is all about speed, spin and control.”
Lewis is excited to make his NBC Olympics debut, calling the sport for the first time in his career. With shots at 60-70 miles per hour, the game is wickedly fast. And dangerous. Twisted knees and ankles are common, he points out. “I’ve also learned that table tennis is intensely strategic,” says the longtime radio voice for Boise State Athletics. “You need incredible skill and athleticism to succeed at a high level.”
A graduate of Syracuse’s Whitman School of Management , Lewis cannot wait to see how the rest of the world stacks up against China, which has dominated the sport for decades. “The Chinese are known for their rigorous training program and pioneering techniques,” adds Lewis, who also announces for CBS Sports and Mountain West Network. “Table tennis is faster—and more complex—than ever before.”
Liam McHugh G’04
Veteran broadcaster Liam McHugh excels at the art of the question. Small wonder he is on his fifth assignment for NBC Olympics, hosting coverage on USA Network. “Most athletes are tired of answering the same questions,” says the face of NHL on NBC and Football Night in America . “I try to get them to open up in new and different ways.”
McHugh has plenty of opportunities to “dig deep,” as he describes it, this summer. “Many of these athletes have toiled in anonymity, so now is their time to shine,” he says, stroking his NHL playoff beard. “Encouraging them to tell their own stories, instead of my doing it for them, creates a more authentic experience.”
The former ESPN journalist has high hopes for Team USA, especially gymnast Simone Biles, swimmer Katie Ledecky and members of the women’s soccer team. (“They have some unfinished business after their upset at Rio 2016,” McHugh says.) For games short on interpersonal connection and long on new technologies, the Newhouse School graduate says the rules of good journalism still apply. “I’m searching for the story behind the story,” he adds.
I’m searching for the story behind the story.—Liam McHugh G’04
Beth Mowins G’90
Softball and baseball may have a lot in common, but they’re also different, explains ESPN announcer Beth Mowins. “Most people don’t know how hard it is to hit a softball coming at you at 70-75 miles per hour or to run from home to first base in 2.7 seconds,” she says. “The athleticism of these female athletes is amazing.”
Mowins makes her NBC Olympics debut this summer as the play-by-play voice for softball, which returns to the Games after a 13-year hiatus. A fixture at the Women’s College World Series, she is one of softball’s leading evangelists as well as a broadcasting pioneer. In 2017, the former college basketball star and Newhouse School alumna became the first woman in 30 years to call an NFL game on television.
“I’m honored to be on the world stage, blazing a trail for other female broadcasters,” says Mowins, whose events begin two days before the Olympics’ opening ceremony. “Syracuse taught me to be persistent, resilient and never take ‘no’ for an answer.”
I’m honored to be on the world stage, blazing a trail for other female broadcasters.—Beth Mowins G’90
Bill Spaulding ’13
NBC Sports commentator Bill Spaulding says “yes” to everything—a trait that’s earned him the privilege of calling nearly 30 sports throughout his career. “I never turn down an opportunity,” says Spaulding, who is handling his third NBC Olympics assignment, covering track and field for the network’s cable and streaming services. “Track was one of those sports that I didn’t have much experience with while I was in college. But after hosting it in 2015, it’s become one of my favorites.”
Spaulding considers track and field one of the Games’ most competitive, wide open sports. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see four or five world records broken.” He also is excited to follow such breakout stars as hurdler Sydney McLaughlin and sprinter Gabby Thomas, both from Team USA, and Canadian runner Justyn Knight ’18, one of a handful of Syracuse alumni competing in Tokyo.
Credit Newhouse professor Frank Currier for teaching Spaulding the importance of energy and humor. “Most of my work is done remotely, so I pump up the stadium sound in my headset and focus on the monitor,” says Spaulding, the 2012 recipient of the Jim Nantz Award for excellence in collegiate sportscasting. “I hope to bring the energy to make you feel like you’re there.”