Shake-Up At ESPN…

When news came yesterday about the “Alliance” of three major college football conferences, I naturally assumed that a commentary on what it might mean would be the major topic for today’s rant.  However, as I read about a half-dozen reports on this “Alliance” I am not able to say that I know much beyond the “management-speak” and the “genuflecting at the altar of collegiate sports ideals” to comment.  So, I am going to put off taking a position on this until I understand it much better than I do right now.  Maybe tomorrow?  Maybe next week?  Or maybe there is not much more to this than the “management-speak”?  I am not alone in failing to see the gravity of this “Alliance”; here is the headline and the sub-head on the report of this event in today’s Washington Post:

“PAC-12, Big 10 and ACC team up

Three conferences form an alliance, but for now what it means is unclear”

Another story broke yesterday related to sports; it seems that the NY Post was correct about a week ago when it reported that Max Kellerman was about to be booted off ESPN’s First Take.  That announcement came yesterday and some of the reporting indicates that Stephen A. Smith was the motive force behind that change.  Kellerman had been part of First Take for about 5 years ever since the defection of Skip Bayless to FS1.

I am not a connoisseur of First Take or any of the other concocted “debate format shows” on ESPN and/or FS1.  However, I do watch them occasionally for measured amounts of time and my assessment is that Kellerman was miscast on that program.  Max Kellerman is opinionated, but he is not bombastic and if one is supposed to be cast as the “opponent” of Stephen A. Smith, one must be at least a little bit bombastic.  I would not be surprised to learn that under the influence of “truth serum” – – or having been ensnared by Wonder Woman’s “lasso of truth” – – that Max Kellerman believes he has gotten a reprieve from ESPN management here.

So, here is the report on how things will shake out at ESPN after Kellerman leaves First Take in a couple of weeks:

  • ESPN will not name a permanent replacement for Kellerman on the show.  Rather, there will be a rotating cast of ESPN “personalities” who will sit opposite Stephen A. Smith.
  • Kellerman is expected to take a seat on ESPN Radio’s morning show alongside Keyshawn Johnson and Jay Williams meaning that he will replace Zubin Mehenti and/or Allen Hahn in the third chair on that show.
  • Kellerman also does an afternoon program on ESPN Radio.  He may continue to do so or there are reports that he might host an afternoon program on ESPN TV.  Frankly, if he has to get up at 4:00 AM to be ready for the morning show, I am not so sure that it would be a big plus for him also to have to do an afternoon show either on radio or on TV.

All this programming shake-up reminds me of a couple of things:

  1. I need to spend some time watching sports TV and listening to sports radio with a critical ear over the next several weeks to comment on how all of this comes down.
  2. Stephen A. Smith is the major domo of the on-air talent at ESPN.  He has the biggest contract from ESPN and the network seems committed to keeping him happy and comfortable.

It certainly looks to me that Smith is a latter-day version of Chris Berman at ESPN.  He is “the face of the franchise” today in the same way that Berman was 15-20 years ago.  Smith has a schtick that works for him and connects him to plenty of viewers just as Berman had his own  different schtick back in the day.  Both men have outsized personalities – – or at least personas on TV – – that make them noticeable to viewers.  Some folks love them; other folks hate them; almost no one is neutral about either Smith or Berman.

I have been a fan of Stephen A. Smith since his days covering NBA basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer; he was extremely good in that position.  His TV persona was almost eccentric when he began on ESPN making it interesting to watch/hear him do his reporting and commenting.  For me, that TV persona is beginning to wear thin.  Smith still has excellent sources in the NBA, and he seems to have cultivated sources in and among the NFL; so, his comments there tend to be on point and relatable to other reporting.  However, that never seems to be enough for him these days; he seems compelled to take a solid reporting point and stretch it to the bounds of logic and credulity.

And — here is the thing that he does that drives me teaspoons:

  • He will begin a verbal paragraph by saying, “We ALL KNOW that …”  And when I hear that I find myself speaking back to the TV or radio with “Well, if we all know it, why the Hell are you belaboring the obvious here?”

Moving on …  Last weekend, the Prefontaine Classic track meet had plenty of notable events, but none was more anticipated than the women’s 100-meter dash.  Sha’Carri Richardson won this event on that track in the US Olympic Trials but was not allowed to represent the US in Tokyo because she tested positive for marijuana in a test done the day after the race.  I have no interest in debating the rectitude of that rule; it is a rule, and she knew it and she flunked the test.  That is all I want to say about that.

Last weekend was to be her showdown with all the women who had run this event in Tokyo; all the Olympic medalists were there in the field.  What happened was that Richardson finished ninth in a field of nine.  She was also supposed to compete in the 200-meter event that day but decided to withdraw instead of competing.

Sha’Carri Richardson characterized those who criticize her as “haters.”  There is a huge gulf between “hating Sha’Carri Richardson” and “criticizing Sha’Carri Richardson.”  I do not hate her; I do not even dislike her.  And simultaneously, I think she brought the focus onto herself willingly and purposefully; that meant when she failed there was plenty of attention and dashed anticipations associated with her ninth-place finish.  She announced that she would be back to challenge these medalists in the future and perhaps she will beat them at what is now “their game.”  She said those folks are “not done seeing me yet.”  Well, all I can say is that by finishing last in last weekend’s race, Sha’Carri Richardson was able to see all of them.

Finally, having mentioned Stephen A. Smith’s bombast above, let me close with this observation from the German philosopher of pessimism, Arthur Schopenhauer:

“The amount of noise which anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “Shake-Up At ESPN…”

  1. I believe the ACC, B1G, PAC12 alliance is mostly symbolic and designed to send a message that the SEC and ESPN are not going to backfill the space once occupied by the NCAA without a fight. Watch for a delay in the CFP expansion until the contract with ESPN expires. Also watch for a requirement that the four teams must conference champions. That will tell Notre Dame that they have to join the club to swim in the pool.

    1. Doug:

      That may be the intent – – or it could be a desperation move to try to prevent the SEC from expanding to 20 teams and taking Ohio State, Notre Dame, Clemson and USC and the new kids on the block. We shall see…

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