Byington to become first woman to call football on BTN

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
BTN's Lisa Byington, right, interviews former Michigan standout Jabrill Peppers after a game last season.

Chicago – Veteran sports broadcaster Lisa Byington, who cut her television teeth first in Alpena and then in Lansing, has been with the Big Ten Network since the very beginning.

Now, as BTN celebrates its 10th year, Byington will become the network’s first woman to handle the play-by-play for a football game on Sept. 16 when Northwestern plays Bowling Green. BTN president Mark Silverman announced the move Monday morning during the first day of the Big Ten football media days.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Byington told The Detroit News. “I honestly wasn’t expecting it to come this year but was more than happy to accept it. It’s kind of fitting that it’s the 10-year anniversary of the Big Ten Network, because I’ve been a part of them and with them since Day 1 and Weekend 1.

“They have constantly given me opportunities that I’ve never had before. I was never a sideline reporter before, and I was that opening weekend. Never really was a studio host. I was a local news anchor and being a local news anchor where you’re reading off the teleprompter versus being a studio host where those shows are much different. That was a new experience. This was the next sort of chance, it was the next opportunity. It just made sense, and they felt I was ready for it, so they offered it.”

Byington said she is more nervous about the attention her new role will draw than she is about preparing for her football play-by-play debut. She has consulted with Beth Mowins, who this fall will become the first woman in 30 years to call a national televised NFL game when she works the second game of an ESPN Monday Night football doubleheader (Gayle Sierens was the last in 1987 for NBC Sports).

They spoke mainly about football, but touched on having the “first woman to” title.

“I understand why we have this conversation because you can count on one hand how many women have this opportunity,” Byington said. “It’s my hope that someday we can count on two hands and then eventually we can stop counting. I get it, I understand it, I embrace the platform, but in terms of the preparation and in terms of the job, it can’t be my focus.”

She also is more than aware she is a role model for young girls and women who are interested in sports broadcasting.

“I take being a role model for young girls seriously,” she said. “I grew up with few opportunities to even watch female athletes on TV, so I had to have male role models as athletes. I’m a firm believer it helps to have dreams by watching people who look like you. So if a little girl sitting in her family room watching a football games believes she can one day be in the booth, too, then that’s progress.”

That doesn’t add pressure for Byington. She has been known for her keen preparation as a sideline reporter on football. She already has watched more than half of Northwestern’s games last season and will study the entire season, and will watch as much of Bowling Green’s season as she can.

“This is an opportunity I’m not going to screw up, that I’m probably going to be overprepared for, because when I step into the booth, I don’t want to have any regrets,” Byington said. “I don’t want to say, ‘I wish I did that in June or July.’ I want to step into that booth in September and know I am fully prepared and I did everything I could."

Byington also is set for sideline reporting as well this fall, but there could be additional play-by-play opportunities with BTN or Fox Regional.

Silverman likes the idea of hiring reporters and anchors who are “self-made” in the sense of working their way through the ranks and gaining experience at all levels. Byington started in Alpena, then the second-smallest television market in the country, and worked 12 years in local news.

“What he’s talking about is starting in the trenches,” Byington said of Silverman. “I think so many college kids today graduate and think, ‘I’m going to get my dream job just like that.’  When I was looking for jobs, people were telling me I wasn’t good enough to be in sports, because I didn’t have a sports tape coming out of Northwestern, I had a news tape. At the time they didn’t really have a sports curriculum and now they do.

“I didn’t want to take the job in Alpena but people say it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. I got my foot in the door so I could prove that I could do it, and you just take one step at a time.”

Twitter: @chengelis