ESPN choosing brand over star power will lead to inevitable decline

Photo via Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images

ESPN, the beloved and family oriented sports network that took a major risk to run the first all-day sports channel, will never be the same.

As everyone knows, they have cut over 100 on-air personalities. This isn’t a major shock for people in the sports business, for it was a long time coming. ESPN appears to have been on the decline for a while and this is just the confirmation.

Most of these cuts are people who America consistently sees on television. The notable layoffs include Ed Werder, Andy Katz, Trent Dilfer, Jay Crawford, Paul Kuharsky, and more.

It was not too long ago that we saw ESPN fail to renew the contracts of Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd, Mike Tirico, Keith Olberman, and Bill Simmons, all notable ESPN personalities that they would not pony up the money to keep.

However, it didn’t take the former employees much time to find a job that paid them more money at a different company.

Bayless and Cowherd left to Fox Sports for a higher salary and the ability to speak their mind freely.

Cowherd often criticizes his former employer on Fox Sports and he knew the end was coming while he was still an employee of ESPN.

“I told my producers, ‘Fellas, it’ll never be the same here,’” he told CBS’ “Bull & Fox” show. “You cannot pay four times for the house [more] than what you paid for the house last year. And I said this company will never be the same. It was at that point I started looking, and this is not going to end today. They have really cost-prohibitive contracts, combined with cord-cutting.”

ESPN has made many mistakes that are costing them now.

They bet on their brand instead of the stars in the business. In addition, they signed enormous TV deals that they could never afford, according to Deadspin’s Kevin Draper.

“They paid $2.25 billion to broadcast SEC games. They paid $480 million to broadcast Wimbledon. They paid $15 billion to broadcast Monday Night Football. They paid $1.5 billion to broadcast the Pac-12. They paid $5.6 billion to broadcast MLB. They paid $3.6 billion to broadcast the ACC. They paid $770 million to broadcast the U.S. Open. They paid $5.6 billion to broadcast the College Football Playoffs. They paid $12.6 billion to broadcast the NBA.”

They believed that no matter who they put behind the camera, business will boom.

As a matter of fact, Ed Werder told The Doomsday Podcast, “these cuts were going to be made and the quality of work was not going to be a consideration.”

Consequently, their viewership numbers have been plummeting; they have lost 10.8 million subscribers since Fox launched their new channel FS1, per Sports Business Daily. 

A major reason for the decline is the high price ESPN charges the cable companies to show their network (four times greater than the next highest fee). Now, those cable companies are making skinny bundles that are much cheaper and don’t include ESPN.

It is to be seen whether or not the loss of subscribers includes a huge number of sports fans. If it does, ESPN could be in further trouble.

Many anchors and other employees took major pay cuts with hopes of staying with the company and continuing their dreams. According to Sports Business Daily, ESPN approached one employee asking them to cut their salary by a preposterous 60%.

Instead, an ESPN employee could leave for the rival companies that pay a higher salary, provide an opportunity to live in Los Angeles rather than Bristol, Connecticut, and will let their on-air personalities speak with fewer restrictions.

Today, the only bargaining chip ESPN has is providing the opportunity for a young up and comer to fulfill their dream of being on ESPN.

Your Favorite Athletes Who Are Probably Celebrating 4/20

Every year millions of people celebrate America’s unofficial marijuana holiday, 4/20. In honor of today’s special day, here are four athletes who love the mary-jane.

C Bill Walton

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Photo via Ron Chenoy, USA Today Sports

Type of Stoner:

Everyone knows a guy like former Portland Trailblazer Bill Walton; he’s always wearing tie-dye, he probably likes to play ultimate frisbee and is still complaining about Bernie Sanders not getting the Democratic nomination.

Athletic Accomplishment:

If it weren’t for chronic foot problems, Walton very well might be regarded as one of the top ten players of all time.

Most NBA players are known for one elite skill; Kawhi Leonard can defend anyone, Michael Jordan could score at will, and Rajon Rondo can find an open man against any defense. However, Walton could do it all; his elite shot-blocking, passing and rebounding subsequently elevated the play of his teammates.

There is no greater testament to Walton’s prevailing impact on his teammates than winning the 1976-77 MVP and his championship campaign with the Portland Trail Blazers. Walton became the first, one of only two all-time, to win the MVP with less than 60 games played.

Portland’s deficiencies without Walton were transparent. They limped to a 5-12 record in the games in which Walton missed.

Injury-free once the playoffs came around, Walton shined. Most notably, he averaged 18.5 points, 19 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 3.7 blocks leading the Blazers to a 4-2 series win over Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers. Walton was the only Hall-of-Famer on his own team.

What Walton could have accomplished with an injury-free career is unknown, however, it is clear that his transcendent skill-set is something that might never be seen from a seven-footer again.

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The Benefit of Division III Athletics

Photo via Vassar Athletics

By Nicholai Babis

When you hear someone talk about ‘college football’ or ‘college basketball,’ your mind probably goes straight to Division I. This makes sense, because often it is the only televised division of college sports. It’s full of really talented student-athletes, many on significant scholarship, who are in essence an entertainment industry for sports fans across the country.

An oft-overlooked side to college sports is Division III athletics. Before going to college, I had only a hazy conceptualization of DIII sports—all I knew (or thought I knew) was that it was the division with ‘bad sports.’ I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy watching them.

My perception was wrong, however. Of course, by and large, DI sports teams could trample a DIII team in the same sport; DIII programs just don’t have the absurd endowments and booster programs that DI teams do.

Despite this, several sports at my school—Vassar College—perform at a very high level in Division III, and in truth, there are other factors that separate DI and DIII sports, most of them positive.

There is no outstanding benefit to being on a sports team at Vassar. The athletes come in knowing they will not have a scholarship for sports because in DIII athletics they’re not allowed.

Vassar scholarships are almost exclusively need-based, so the large portion of the endowment at a DI school that goes to athletic scholarships can be reapportioned to other aspects of the college.

An athlete at Vassar does not need to worry about not being able to attend the school because of not receiving a scholarship for sports, however. According to the Princeton Review, Vassar is the top school in the nation for financial aid. Many other small DIII schools have comparable need-based admissions programs.

Along the same vein, athletes do not receive absurd preferential treatment for admissions. Vassar is a great school with a lot to offer academically, even though it is slightly easier to be admitted as an athlete,  it still has strict admissions guidelines whether one is an athlete or not.

This makes sure that every student at the school meets Vassar’s criteria for academic excellence, which is sometimes a lacking quality in bigger DI schools. I’m sure everyone remembers a couple years ago when it was uncovered that UNC allowed over 3,000 students to take fraudulent classes in order to graduate.

UNC-Football

The UNC Football Program Was Accused of Taking These “Paper Classes”

Photo Credit: http://events.unc.edu/event/unc-football-vs-san-diego-state/

Half of these students turned out to be athletes, and these classes existed to make sure they met the baseline GPA requirement to keep playing their sport. Some coaches at UNC were fully aware of the scandal, and all evidence points to the fact that this went on for years.

Why is this happening? Because DI sports are a business. Many former athletes are critical of the NCAA for allowing athletes to basically be figureheads for colleges.

Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon stated in 2014 that “I was an athlete masquerading as a student … I was there strictly to play basketball. I did, basically, the minimum to make sure I kept my eligibility academically so I could play.”

Many athletes from different programs have come out and said that they didn’t really attend classes or do anything more than the bare minimum. This simply does not happen in DIII athletics. There aren’t ‘easy classes’ that the whole football team takes (not that we have a football program, but many DIII schools do) to stay eligible.

The last thing I’m saying is that all DI schools have ‘paper classes’ like those at UNC. I’m sure that this sort of thing has only happened a handful of times, but athletes are often boosted along their 4 years of college so they can play the whole time.

There’s a stereotype that DI athletes don’t care about their classes and exclusively attend a school to play the sport. I don’t subscribe to this thought, even though it is likely to happen.

Oftentimes athletes aren’t even given the chance to have an academic experience. From the second they step on campus they have press conferences, away games, training camps, and more to attend. Practice takes up a huge portion of their time. TV appearances and cross country travel take them away from school during exam times and classes

It simply isn’t realistic to expect a college football or basketball player to be high-performing under these circumstances.

There’s no giant cash machine dictating the actions of Vassar’s athletics program, and there’s no great demand for continued achievement as a program. Alumni and boosters don’t funnel money continuously into our sports programs, and our games don’t show up on ESPN every week.

Perhaps the most important difference between DI and DIII sports is that once an athlete is enrolled there is no continued preferential treatment.

Firstly, athletes don’t get preference for course placement. Everyone at the school has the same chances of getting into classes, and there is a fair system of course choice and major placement for all students.

There is also no separate housing for athletes. They definitely don’t receive preference for housing, and can’t choose before the rest of the student body (as happens at many DI schools).

Importantly, there is also no all-athletic housing. No athletic village, no separate dining hall for athletes with much better food. The athletes on a DIII campus aren’t separated into their own dorms or villages with better housing than the rest of campus—they live among the rest of the students and integrate with their neighbors.

They also don’t constantly receive free stuff. DI athletes don’t get paid, but they get iPads, hoverboards, and other gifts.

There is also the case of athletes not finishing their degrees. At a DI school with a good football or basketball program, athletes often don’t finish their degrees before going off to the draft.

Jameis-Winston-National-Championship

Jameis Winston Celebrating After Winning the National Championship (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Jameis Winston only spent 2 years at FSU before he went pro, and most students at a college will have barely even declared their major by the end of sophomore year. Clearly, his eyes weren’t on academics.

This raises the question of the value of an education. These DI athletes aren’t finishing their college degrees, and it’s clear that they are using it as simply a stepping stone on the way to professional athletics. However, for a DIII athlete, it is inconceivable for them to leave before their degree is complete.

One rebuttal to my statements here is that DIII is just different because the athletes aren’t close to being good enough for professional sports and that’s why their experiences are different.

In many cases this is true, but I would direct the reader to the good amount of DIII athletes who went pro. Next College Student Athlete has a good (but incomplete) list of DIII and NAIA athletes who ended up going pro.

Another more tangible case is Ali Marpet from Hobart College (in the same conference as Vassar—the Liberty League). Marpet starts on the O-line for the Tampa Bay Bucs and has been a great asset to the team. Clearly, some DIII athletes can still survive—and thrive—in the big leagues.

Ali-Marpet-College

Ali Marpet Playing DIII Football (Courtesy of Hobart College Athletics)

My last critique of DI sports is a more serious point. There are countless cases (so many that I can’t get into all of them) of universities and university police departments offering criminal levels of protections to athletes going through the conduct process for sexual assault and other crimes.

The most prominent case is the recent case of Baylor football. (Baylor’s Rape Scandal May Just Be Getting Started)

The rape scandal involves 125 women, yet the football players received almost no punishment for their actions. Baylor coaches and staff flagrantly ignored Title IX laws and obfuscated evidence to protect the football program.

Another high-profile case was the case of Jameis Winston, who was accused of raping a fellow student at FSU during his freshman year of college.

His case went up and down the conduct process at FSU, went through the FSU police department (who bungled it and dragged their feet so badly that it had to go even higher up), and ultimately got mired in the purgatory of conduct cases.

Some semblance of the case is still being handled, but the point is that he was protected by the University to try and clear him. He was never questioned by the Police in Tallahassee, and the case did not become public until a year after the alleged incident. As of now, the case has been settled (with FSU paying the accuser almost a million dollars).

Obviously, sexual assault and violence occur among both athletes and nonathletes on DIII campuses, but the protection is almost non-existent on a campus like Vassar, as it should be. Athletes should not be treated any differently when it comes to prosecuting them under the law.

At the end of the day, I still like to catch a game of college football. I’m a lifelong FSU fan, and there’s nothing like seeing my team win a national championship.

Matthew-Knigge

Middle hitter Matt Knigge ’18, first-team All-American (Photos by Stockton Photo Inc.)

However, I think the often-overlooked passion of DIII athletes speaks for itself.

I’ve seen some amazing games here at Vassar. We have a #6 ranked men’s volleyball team, and some other impressive sports at the present moment. Our men’s soccer team went to the NCAA tournament this past season. DIII sports are still fun to watch and highly skilled.

Players play for the love of the game with all the prestige of the NCAA but none of the incentives from a big school, and that’s how all NCAA sports should be played. The second that we started seeing college athletics as an exploitable market, we did an injustice to all student athletes by jeopardizing their educations and the quality of their college experiences.

A Quick Reflection: Stuart Scott and Craig Sager

Photo via TMZ Sports

I know their deaths are old news, but I was just reflecting on the greatness of Stuart Scott and Craig Sager and have decided to post this in their honor.


Just recently, we have seen two greats pass because of cancer, Stuart Scott and Craig Sager. It was a tragedy to see both of them go, but they have been an incredible inspiration to me. They both brought an intense passion to doing what they loved the most, sports reporting, and both dealt with immense tragedies, cancer. Scott and Sager beat cancer multiple times, but it continued to come back until it sadly took both of their lives. However, the constant chemotherapy and fight against cancer didn’t stop them from showing up, and most importantly, loving their job every single day. Craig Sager worked up until his death. I was given the opportunity to watch him from afar working the sidelines at a Warriors game last year. Sager looked frail and not in good condition. Nonetheless, he was able to work with a huge smile on his face and enjoy every second of what he was doing. Just like Sager, Scott continued to work with an immense enthusiasm, which was shown by a video from the ESPYs in 2014, even though he was diagnosed multiple times. Their passion was unmatched and easy to spot, either from Sager’s boisterous outfits or Scott’s multitude of catch phrases. No matter the circumstance, they brought love to the sports world. That love and exuberance are what I want to bring to my work every day in the sports world.