September 6, 2005

The Fall of the ESPN Empire

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The Lakers? Who cares? The Yankees? Not yet, Sox fans. The entire NHL? I’m not even going to address that one. The biggest disappointment of the past few years in sports is the deterioration of ESPN and, more specifically, our revered SportsCenter. It has gone from a sports show to a 60-minute PR stunt for athletes, actors, musicians and the like. What happened? Where did the highlights go? When did our favorite hour become a showcase for Matt Damon to plug his new movie? Of late, I find myself doing double takes to make sure I’m watching ESPN and not E!SPN. I don’t know how many of you can even remember a time when SportsCenter showed sports and sports alone. When did it become acceptable for baseball highlights to be nothing more than a home run followed by a third of an official box score – SportsCenter now only shows the final number of runs after highlights, omitting teams’ hits and errors? Who signed us over to this kind of crap?

As somebody who watches both every snap of every Jets game (J-E-T-S baby!) and SportsCenter at least once a night, I am infuriated when my team gets maybe 30 seconds of coverage as these anchors breeze by it as if something more pressing is on deck. It’s Sunday. Football is all that matters to us. What would we rather be watching when we turn on ESPN? “The Budweiser Hot Seat”? Excuse me? I’d like to know the reasoning behind this idea: “Ok so here’s the deal. We have more than enough sports footage to squeeze into an hour show, but let’s throw in a five-minute side segment with Baron Davis. We’ll ask him questions like ‘Who ya like more, Beyonce or Ashanti?’ You know, give the fans what they really want?” I repeat: “The Budweiser Hot Seat”? Excuse me? Who asked for this? Who wants this? If you know anybody who does, kick him or her in the face for me, because they are ruining my life.

And then there are the EOE (ESPN Original Entertainment) programs such as Around the Horn and PTI that serve as an appetizer to our entree of SportsCenter. But even these shows have fallen off since their inception. Don’t get me wrong, I watch them more than once in a while, and I even enjoy them from time to time, but who can listen to Woody Paige and Jay Mariotti talk about the same thing every day? And then, after that, we go to Kornheiser and Wilbon (an entertaining and witty duo I admit) whose list of topics mirrors exactly the previous half hour of banter. During the NBA playoffs, if you pay attention, they will actually repeat full sentences from one day to the next. I don’t blame them – they are simply doing their jobs, and most of them are doing them well – but somebody has to be held accountable at some point.

In the blink of an eye it seems like we’ve lost our best friend. All of a sudden, like a teenage boy whose acne cleared up and girls started noticing him, ESPN has abandoned its friends – the fans. I, for one, am tired of waiting around for this trend to change; moreover, I am beginning to fear that we have lost the true essence of SportsCenter for good. Yeah, I read articles on, and I can dissect and reread newspaper box scores on my own time, but it just isn’t the same. I like seeing A.I. hit a clutch reverse lay-up more than just reading that he shot 8-17 from the floor. I like hearing Jon Miller call a Sunday Night Baseball game-winning home run more than just seeing it in the headlines. That was the point of SportsCenter, to add that extra spice to our sports life.

But maybe I am being too hard on my old friend. I am admittedly a critical person and I can’t ignore the possibility that my anger may not be securely founded. So let’s go to the videotape. I recorded a normal hour-long SportsCenter and watched it, stopwatch and notepad in hand. I took record of how many of the 60 minutes were spent actually showing highlights. I defined highlights as any game footage, any top plays, any actual sports – no talking, no analyzing, just the visuals. This excludes time well spent on post-game interviews and relevant statistics, and the necessary evil that is the commercial – so I accept that the entire hour will not be used for highlights and highlights alone. But when the credits began rolling, and I added up the blocks of time I had marked as “highlights” I realized my beef was more than legitimate: 37 percent of the show (22 minutes) was used up on commercials, a hefty 48 percent (29 minutes) was budgeted for news and side segments – half of which are garbage – and a measly 15 percent (nine minutes) was appropriated towards actual game footage. Although a portion of the 29 “other” minutes were in fact used in a productive fashion – for example, a visual displaying the Mets vs. Braves head-to-head record over the past five seasons, or an update on how the Saints players are coping with the tragedy at home – the notion that we watch SportsCenter for highlights and get them less than a quarter of the time is outright obnoxious. The numbers do not lie, people – something is amiss.

So what’s my secret solution? What’s my remedy for this plaguing problem? To be honest, I am, sadly and ultimately, at a loss. I am unable to offer any real alternative to fill the void in our sporting hearts. ESPNews cuts out a lot of the filler cluttering up SportsCenter, but this half-hour running network, by design, shows only a small snippet of clips from any given game. Instead, I swallow my pride, and continue to watch SportsCenter night in and night out hoping to catch a glimpse of what I once loved so dearly. But inside a small part of me dies every time I am forced to watch ESPN’s 50 in 50 – an awful segment that offers fans random, trivial information on a specific state for the purpose of what, I have yet to figure out. You took the best years of my life, Stuart Scott, and I want them back.

Ben Kopelman is a Sun Staff Writer. 2 Legit 2 Quit will appear every other Tuesday this semester.

Archived article by Ben Kopelman