ESPN College Gameday: How it Went From Transcendent to Unwatchable



Republishing from 9-16-17

To pinpoint what’s so wrong with ESPN College Gameday in 2017, there are a couple different places from which you can start. You can begin with ESPN’s horrible bungling of the Jemele Hill and Robert Lee situations, and go from there. The same principle, that of “let’s try to never hurt anyone’s feelings ever, no matter what the cost, because hurt feelings means upset sponsors” applies across the board.

ESPN should have never apologized for what Jemele Hill said about Donald Trump.

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The President is a white supremacist, he has empowered white supremacists and he rose to power riding the tide of rising white supremacy. Period. Point blank.

These are facts and one should never have to apologize for pointing out facts.

With Robert Lee, all ESPN had to do was make a switch, and not tell anyone about it, or why. No one would have cared. Period.

However, if the ESPN company was an individual, it would be a sociopathic narcissist, so of course they have to talk about themselves and what they’re doing, at all times. The Lee situation was the perfect time not to do so, and they dropped the ball. If anyone asked why he got moved to another assignment, you just could have said “he wanted to be closer to his family.” Simple done.

It really says something about ESPN President John Skipper that it’s so easy to armchair quarterback him these days, and be completely right.


However, much like with Hill, ESPN was worried about bad, mean words when it came to Lee, and once again it blew up in their faces. The Lee situation wasn’t about extremist political correctness and people potentially getting offended. Bristol was concerned that they themselves would be ridiculed, and have memes made online about them, and that their mentions on Twitter would be filled with snappy put-downs; which is exactly what happened to them anyway.

The same principle is at work with ESPN College Gameday. That’s because the show must serve its corporate overlords at every turn and the essence of corporatism is to make sure nobody ever gets offended, at any time, no matter what other principles you sacrifice.

Corporate culture isn’t really culture, it’s just an ethos of everything that’s presented be tested on focus groups, and everything that’s said fulfill the ideal of a press release equals gospel.

ESPN College Gameday used to not have sponsored content for the fan signs, how the guests arrived, Xs and Os segments, pretty much every single moment of every single show.

The whole program is one long native advertisement and that’s why it’s so heavily regulated and micro-managed by handlers. That’s not just my opinion by the way, these are words from ESPN PR staffers themselves. They have told me directly just how tightly controlled all video of every segment truly is.

Unless of course, it’s a segment that ESPN wants to crow about, which brings us to the ESPN College Gameday seminal moment. It’s the moment they’re most proud of, and it’s also the jump-the-shark moment to true college football wonks. It’s why Katy Perry appeared in that memorably bizarre outfit to guest pick at Ole Miss.

katy perry

ESPN PR had no issues blasting out that clip on their distribution lists that spam the media, just so they could try and promote yet another masturbatory press release about their own ratings.

The ESPN College Gameday official Twitter account made that moment its banner photo. (Tells you everything you need to know about what the show really values as its identity)

That’s really sad because it was truly the moment the program stopped being about college football and instead shifted to whatever it takes to get the most eyeballs. It was just like every cliche documentary about a band breaking up: “you’ve changed man, it used to be about the music.”

When ESPN College Gameday debuted it was ground-breaking. It was pure transcendence- an actual college football preview show that packed a lot of information, stats and cogent analysis into an action packed hour. Now it’s been elongated and bloated up to three hours, and most of it is mind-numbing filler material.

The decision to expand from one hour to two was misguided. The decision to then go from two hours to three was utterly absurd.

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Today, it’s just a long infomercial for whatever school is hosting, spliced with: Tom Rinaldi long form to make you depressed and cry, fan signs that used to be provocative and edgy (arguably the best, or at least funniest part of the show once upon a time) are now watered down, so that no corporate sponsor gets offended, and of course, segments about itself.

Yes, that might be the worst part of ESPN College Gameday and ESPN in general, the masturbatory level of narcissism that pervades the program and the network as a whole.

Of course, this soap box session may just fall on deaf ears, as the program remains extremely popular. It’s always a top trending term on Twitter every autumn Saturday morning even though it’s unwatchable corporate crapola imho. The ESPN late night highlights show is what you need to watch instead.

ESPN College Gamenight Final- that’s where it’s at! It gives you stats and numbers, and it’s perfect for legitimate fans of the sport.


Unfortunately, it doesn’t get the ratings or move the needle like ESPN College Gameday, but that’s because a lot of the people watching the morning show don’t actually like the sport.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC and Chicago on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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