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Imagining a World Without ESPN or Why I Don't Hate the World Wide Leader

ESPN can make some people's blood boil, but I've got a different take on the World Wide Leader.

Harry How

What do Notre Dame fans hate more than ESPN or someone who works/announces for ESPN? The University of Michigan, of course. Tyrone Willingham? The voodoo aliens that invaded the 2011 home opener? There may be a handful of things but not many.

ESPN almost always elicits strong reactions from people and usually not in a positive manner. Their sports monopoly has been shrinking (especially online) and likely continues to shrink a little bit as time goes on but I've done no real research to back that claim up. My point is that even with all new forms of media out there the gargantuan ESPN has been able to adapt and remain The Force in sports entertainment and information.

As such, ESPN is constantly in the spotlight and the receiver of scorn on a daily basis. Well, I'm here to say that I don't hate ESPN, in fact I kind of like what the network does in the areas that are important to me.

"Surely you jest, Eric. What are you best friends with Mark May now?"

See, here's the thing about ESPN. The acronym begins with Entertainment. Sports and entertainment. Are you not entertained? You keep watching College Football Final waiting to laugh or curse at your TV, don't you? How can anyone over the age of 14 can get upset at the act people like Mark May put on?

Okay, some of you don't do that. A lot may steer clear of First Take or Pardon the Interruption. Like any monolithic media entity there are some poor programs and personalities to consume on a daily basis at ESPN. I'm not here to convince anyone otherwise.

However, as a consumer I've found plenty to like about ESPN even to this day.

1) SportsCenter

It ain't what it used to be but over decades nothing has come close to its influence. Maybe you missed the end of a huge game and you notice it's 6:00 PM eastern. Are you not turning on SportsCenter to watch highlights? I know I'll do that all the time.

The turn towards more Coors Light Cold Hard Facts with Herman Edwards has been unfortunate but it's not like SportsCenter has completely gone the way of MTV. We may never see the program like it was in its hey-day with the likes of Dan Patrick, Rich Eisen & Company but who knows. Other greats like Scott Van Pelt and Kenny Mayne can still bring their A-game when they host.

2) This is SportsCenter

It's been 20 years of these mockumentary commercials flooding our televisions and they have been frightfully on the mark more so than not. A hundred years from now these might be some of the most memorable pieces of media ever created by ESPN.

3) Popularizing College Football

Oh sure, you'll wag your finger at ESPN for bringing so much greed into the amateur sport and being one of the main reasons why there's all this evil in college football. All I know is they are the biggest reason why CFB enjoys as much as exposure as it does today and why even years ago I could watch tons of football over a single weekend. Don't like that ESPN signed a deal with the SEC? Well, we signed a contract with NBC so I don't see much room for complaining. It's all in the game. More football coverage--even if you get sick of hearing about Tim Tebow--is better than life before the ability to watch damn near every college football game with the touch of a button and ESPN is a big part of making that happen.

4) College Football GameDay

I don't watch this as much as I used to but it's usually on in my house during Saturday mornings even if I'm not paying complete attention. Yeah, Lee Corso is sad at this point and we'd all be better off not having to listen to Desmond Howard. Still, this show has been on for over two decades and is part of the fabric of college football. Is there somewhere else to watch 3 hours of quality college football programming before games start?

5) 30 for 30 documentaries

Some of my favorite sports-related viewing pleasure over the past 5 years has come from Bill Simmons' brainchild with the help of ESPN in the form of the 30 for 30 documentary series. This is one example of how ESPN can do good things outside of it's typical sphere of influence. There have been some big misses over the years (remember when ESPN tried to get into the TV series market with programs like Playmakers?) but there have also been some great stuff too.


There are other things to still like about ESPN, but these are the handful of big ticket items that immediately popped into my head. Just look at the list of the their programming. I spend very little time on ESPN webpages these days but I don't want to even attempt to catalog how many hours I've watched from that list. While Desmond Howard is an idiot on GameDay that doesn't override those memories, and honestly whatever he says doesn't phase me in the least bit. What I wouldn't give to have 'Stump the Schwab' back on the air, though. I loved that show dearly.

I've sensed that a lot of people feel betrayed in some way or another by ESPN. In my own personal experience I saw this when the NHL and ESPN couldn't agree to terms on a broadcasting deal. The WWL was dead to many friends even thought the NHL deserves just as much blame, if not more, for that disagreement.

20 years ago I think a lot of sports fans would have said they loved ESPN but since then they've run off some popular employees, become known as a tough place to work for, injected billions into sports, and TMZ-ified their programming. It's also easy to take shots at the top dog, as well. Things haven't evolved the way a lot of us thought it would.

I just don't hate ESPN. Sorry I'm not sorry.

They are often accused of having an agenda against Notre Dame which I think is pretty funny. There may be examples (the Michigan game two weeks ago) where ESPN doesn't shower Notre Dame in coverage due to media competition, but by and large they've given the Irish far more coverage than we've deserved in the past. Heck, Lou Holtz and Digger Phelps have been plastered all over college football and basketball for years. Now that Digger has retired and this is Holtz' last season I'm sure the whining will be amped up relatively soon.

ESPN is far from perfect. Don't take this as a plea to get anyone to like the network or company. I'm just saying the constant complaining is tiresome and despite the mocking of people like Chris Berman and how fashionable that's become I don't want to imagine a world without ESPN. Warts and all, I'm fine with the World Wide Leader.