The analyst who is putting ‘Kentucky twang’ into ESPN’s NCAA Tournament coverage

Some months back, when ESPN approached Marion County product Lisa Mattingly about originating the on-air role of “rules analyst” for coverage of the 2024 Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament, she raised a question:

Would the “Worldwide Leader” be comfortable having Mattingly’s “Kentucky twang” coming over its airwaves?

“I realize how country I am,” Mattingly said Wednesday, laughing. “I told them, ‘what you hear is what you get. ... The sound of my voice, it doesn’t change.’ And they were fine with that. They signed me to a little contract anyway.”

If you have been watching ESPN game coverage of Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, Paige Bueckers and Co. in the 2024 women’s March Madness, there is a very good chance you have heard Mattingly’s voice.

When there is any kind of officiating or rules controversy, Mattingly, 62, is the analyst the network brings on to share with viewers her opinion of what should be called.

“It was nerve-wracking to start. Especially the first rounds,” Mattingly says. “I was covering all the games, coast-to-coast. They were trying to figure out how to integrate me into (broadcasts) because it was a new thing (for women’s NCAA tourney telecasts).”

In her days as an active official, Lisa Mattingly worked 18 women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament Final Fours and 10 national title games. Now an officiating administrator for seven college conferences including the SEC, Mattingly, a Marion County product and resident of Nicholasville, is moonlighting as ESPN’s “rules analyst” for the network’s coverage of the 2024 Women’s NCAA Tournament. Photo submitted by Lisa Mattingly

It seems unlikely that ESPN could have found anyone to serve as rules analyst for women’s NCAA tourney telecasts with more impeccable credentials than Mattingly. A former basketball player at Marion County High School, Sue Bennett College and Georgetown College, Mattingly officiated for 38 seasons.

She started by refereeing youth games for Lexington Parks and Recreation in 1984-85. By 1987-88, she was calling college hoops in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. From that start, she reached the heights of women’s hoops.

By the time she finished her on-court officiating career six years ago, Mattingly had worked 18 NCAA Tournament Final Fours and 10 NCAA title games. She had also refereed in the WNBA, calling the league finals five times.

In 2023, Mattingly was enshrined in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Since hanging up her whistle, Mattingly splits her time between Kentucky (Nicholasville) and Florida (Clearwater) and works as an officiating administrator. She heads up a consortium of seven conferences — the SEC, OVC, ASUN, Southern, Sun Belt, SWAC and Southland — for which she coordinates officials.

Lisa Mattingly, a longtime women’s basketball official from Kentucky, was enshined in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2023. Photo submitted by Lisa Mattingly
Lisa Mattingly, a longtime women’s basketball official from Kentucky, was enshined in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2023. Photo submitted by Lisa Mattingly

When ESPN reached out to her about serving as its women’s NCAA tourney rules analyst, Mattingly said she “had to run it by some of my people, my conferences. And they were good with it.”

For the first two rounds of NCAA tourney play, Mattingly was stationed at the ESPN home campus in Bristol, Connecticut. “I was in a room full of screens, a headset and a producer with me,” Mattingly says.

Mattingly’s producer was in contact with ESPN game producers at the various NCAA tourney sites around the country.

“I’m watching all the games, but I am only listening to one (contest) at a time,” Mattingly says. “But we can always tell (when a rules interpretation will be needed) because we see (the game officials) going to the (replay review) monitor.”

Sometimes when there is a question about how a play should be officiated, Mattingly just shares her expertise with a game producer, who then tells the contest’s announcers what the rules interpretation should be. Other times, Mattingly goes live on the air herself to give her opinion of a disputed call.

Over those first two rounds, ESPN would often switch to a live shot of Mattingly giving her views on a call that was under review. To prepare for those live shots, “I had to be in hair and makeup,” Mattingly says. “It was an experience to be in there with some of the ESPN talent, the people you see on TV every day.”

In adjusting to her new role, Mattingly says being brought live onto national TV visually “made me more nervous. I was supposed to be looking up at a certain camera — there’s a camera mounted right over the monitor I was looking at. But I needed to be looking down at the monitor, so my eyes were always down. So that was not a great look.”

Lisa Mattingly, left, stood at attention during the national anthem before she officiated a game between Purdue and Michigan State at West Lafayette, Ind., in 2003. Before her officiating career, Mattingly played high school basketball at Marion County and college ball at Sue Bennett College and Georgetown College. Janet Worne/Lexington Herald-Leader

Since that first weekend, Mattingly says ESPN has been putting a picture of her, not a live shot, on air and then she talks live over her photo. “I’m more comfortable with that,” she says. “Just say verbally what I have. Keep it succinct, but informative.”

For the second week of the NCAA Tournament, Mattingly worked from the Albany (New York) regions site. She was stationed in a TV truck “in a little bitty room with three monitors, a work space and a head set,” Mattingly says.

In Iowa’s 94-87 win over LSU in the Elite Eight — a reversal of the outcome between the same two teams in last season’s national title game — Mattingly spoke on air only once. A lot of people heard her, as ESPN said the game was watched by 12.3 million. It was the most-viewed college hoops contest, men’s or women’s, ever on an ESPN platform.

“I could tell that game brought in more than just regular women’s basketball fans,” Mattingly says. “Friends of mine, people in and out of basketball, were texting me, ‘Oh my God, they’re bringing on Lisa Mattingly.’”

For this week’s Final Four, Mattingly will be stationed in Cleveland, site of the games.

“Hopefully, by the time the (national championship) game rolls around, I will have this down to a little better science,” Mattingly says. “But it’s been an eye-opening experience, just how hard the people at ESPN work and how much goes into getting these games on the air.”

As for the “Kentucky twang” she brings to the ESPN airwaves, Mattingly laughingly says she just can’t help it.

“I hear playback and I am saying, ‘Hey, y’all,’” Mattingly says. “I have to remember not to say, ‘Bless your heart’ or anything like that.”

She played in the Sweet 16 and reffed at the highest levels. Now she’s a Hall of Famer.

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