Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Sunday, March 16, 2008

ESPN makes me sad

Has ESPN changed or have I?

Truthfully, the world-wide sports leader has been one of my best friends for a very long time. I never had cable until my senior year in college. I have never not had cable since- mostly because I can't imagine life without being able to watch sports. The ESPN family of networks and whatever station has the Indians and Cavs games are my staples.

But somewhere along the way, ESPN and I took divergent paths. To me ESPN rather being about providing me access to sports has become about ESPN. The network has become a collection of talking heads that bring attention to themselves and occasionally it fills time with by showing a sporting event. Except most of the time the game itself takes a back seat to the talking heads. The announcers don't announce all that much anymore. They tell stories including stories that have nothing to do with the game. An extreme example was earlier this year during the overtime of a important SEC game, play-by-play guy Mike Patrick started discussing Britney Spears, but sadly it happens nearly every game almost all game to some level. I just want to watch sports. I don't care what fired basketball coach Jeff Van Gundy thinks about movies or the NFL. I just want to watch the game that is on right then. ESPN has plenty of talking head shows that where they can spout whatever they want-- I don't need to hear it during a game.

It isn't like I have many other options, I still have to watch ESPN so maybe that is why I resent them so much. When my local sports page is weak, I can turn to the net to find articles worth reading. But there really isn't another sports channel option. Fox Sports is all about the PAC-10 and the Best Damn Sports Show- which should be called People Magazine Sports Show in my opinion, but then again I haven't watched in years so what do I know.

ESPN has sold its soul to Chris Berman instead of Bob Ley and the result has led the network to becoming what it is. Loud equals prime-time where journalism equals filler. When I want sports news on TV I used to turn to ESPN NEWS. Berman and Stuart Scott would never stoop to the little sister channel so I thought I was safe from noise for the sake of noise. But even the third string has learned the fastest way to the first team is to be annoyingly obnoxious. There are times when I have to turn off the channel because I can't take anymore preening.

I used to watch Pardon the Interruption. Wilbon and Kornheiser used to be journalists, I know they are still paid to be journalists in their day jobs but I think line has been crossed. PTI used to be mildly entertaining then at some point Wilbon and Kornheiser became caricatures of themselves. Instead of being themselves they now behave as they think they are expected to be behave. The change may have been slow and subtle but it has become so complete that I can't finish a show anymore.

ESPN will always look to the favorite. They love the Yankees and the Red Sox because that is the market that sells. So they hammer them down our throats.

Today I watched the end of their March Madness coverage. Every talking head in the studio picked nothing but numbers ones and number twos. No one was willing to take risk in the final four outside of the obvious. That way if they were wrong- so was everyone else. Almost all of their final four picks were exactly the same. Well with one exception- no one puts coach Bobby Knight in a corner. He picked sixth seed Pittsburgh to win it all. If Bobby Knight is wrong, what does he care?

Anything edgy on ESPN is a false edgy. They make up things like who is now? They have stupid concepts like the Budweiser Hot Seat. They talk and talk and talk and talk and talk. So much so I don't care about steroids. I don't care about Michael Vick. They work so hard to take my sports passion and suffocate it with information. They have dumbed down sports. Seriously when did my enjoyment of sports get better with the sound off?

ESPN now runs ABC sports and you can see their ripple effect across the sports universe. Rather than just call my brother's college game on the internet, the students manning the mike criticize every move and tell stories. Newsflash- you are a college student- please just call the action.

I know there will be no revolution. It will only get worse and never better. Man do I hate ESPN.

Time to Dance

There is nothing quite like your first dance.

And that goes double for basketball players. In 1986, I fell in love with the sport of basketball because of a freshman named Mouse McFadden and his Run and Gun teammates. That magical season culminating in defeating Indiana, St. Joseph and having victory snatched away by David Robinson and Navy has made March special for me ever since.

I don't know if it has been the emotional rollercoaster of the new job or what but I have never been less excited or interested in college basketball than I have been this year. Selection Sunday has always been a huge deal but this year I have barely noticed.

Cleveland State basketball has been non-news for a long time. The scandal took away the mens mojo and the womens team has always been an afterthought. I have been to two CSU womens games over the years. Five years ago, I took some basketball players to watch the women play and I was shocked at the lack of talent and skill. Maybe it was a bad night, but I wasn't sure how many of the players would start on some local high school teams. The guard play was atrocious. And then I went to see the women play UCONN in Barbara Turner's senior season. I had seen Turner play in high school and wanted to see what the top level of NCAA basketball was like. Cleveland State had certianly improved but UCONN was not that motivated to play that night. Maybe after playing teams like Tennessee and Rugters, it is hard to get excited to play the Vikings but the effort gave a lot of fuel for those who attack the women's game.

But the truth is basketball is really about emotion. The game is the same on every level. Beauty doesn't matter just scoring more points than your opponent. And each game you play to win so you can kept playing.

And while it was the men's team at Cleveland State that teased the city this winter with the return of winning basketball, Kate Peterson Abiad's womens team punched its ticket to the NCAA tournament for the first time ever today with a 70-56 win over Wright State. After winning four games two years ago and eight games last year, the Vikings improved to 19-12.

The Vikings, picked to finish eighth in the Horizon League, upset regular season champion Wisconsin-Green Bay on Friday to propel themselves into the nationally televised championship. Of course most of the city couldn't watch it because it was on ESPN-U. Women's sports are often ignored to begin with, but even the big upset couldn't find room in the Plain Dealer until deep in the sports page. Late on Sunday, there was nothing on but let's hope a NCAA bid gets the team on the front page tomorrow. Or least in the first three.

Normally I am against bandwagon jumpers, but I am hoping the local paper and community hop aboard on this one. Cleveland State can be a tough campus for an athlete- outside the mid to late 80s, even the mens basketball team has a tough draw. Without much of campus and dorms, student body support is tough in the best of times. for Peterson Abiad to turn what was basically into a dead program into a NCAA tournament team is remarkable. Her staff and team deserve some adoration.

And I look forward to cheering them on in their tournament opener later this week. It was a local Cinderella that opened my eyes to this great sport 22 years ago and it was another that got me broke me out of my indifference this year. Go Vikes!