By Matt Yoder, Awful Announcing
One of the elements of SportsCenter that hasn't been as prominent in recent years are the consistent pairings of anchors. Much of this theoretically goes back to the network trying to corral the fame and success of anchors like Dan Patrick & Keith Olbermann. With less emphasis on the individual personalities, the SportsCenter brand remains supreme. There have been a few pairings since throughout the years that resonated with viewers like Rich Eisen and Stuart Scott with perhaps the most notable one currently is the West Coast pairing of Neil Everett & Stan Verrett.
More recently, with the expansion of live SportsCenters into the morning and afternoon hours, the show seems to be returning to more consistent anchor pairings in respective timeslots. Hannah Storm has been featured in the mornings, Chris McKendry in the afternoons, Jay Harris & John Anderson in the early evenings, and the late night pairing of Everett & Verrett as previously mentioned. This week, ESPN announced a couple moves to the SportsCenter anchor lineup that will have a ripple effect throughout ESPN.
First, John Buccigross moves from his 12-3 slot alongside Chris McKendry to the primetime rotation amongst SportsCenter's biggest stars. The shift for Bucci into primetime comes on the heels of a nice extension with the network and the play by play job for the NCAA hockey championship. Although it's an upward move for Buccigross, I'll miss his pairing with McKendry as one that really worked. They had great chemistry together and both were equally adept with the diversity of demands for the live afternoon SC - highlights, interviews, panels, etc.
The second SportsCenter move may be more interesting though. Jay Crawford is leaving the torture chamber of First Take to take Buccigross' spot alongside Chris McKendry from 12-3 in the east. Crawford leaves the show as did former host Dana Jacobson and has been at First Take/Cold Pizza since 2003. (Cold Pizza has survived 8 years?? Is this the greatest surprise in the history of sports television shows?)
With those moves, here's the updated weekday SportsCenter lineup as of July 9th...
9 AM-12PM ET - Kevin Neghandi & Hannah Storm
12PM-3PM ET - Chris McKendry & Jay Crawford
6PM-7PM ET - Jay Harris & John Anderson
11PM-12AM ET - Scott Van Pelt, John Buccigross, Steve Levy, Stuart Scott, Linda Cohn, Robert Flores
2AM-3AM ET - Neil Everett & Stan Verrett
From top to bottom, it's an extremely solid lineup. I've always been a fan of Jay Harris and John Anderson and feel like they don't get enough love from the industry and fans in general and the same is true for the Everett/Verrett pairing. SVP, Buccigross, Flores, and Levy are very strong in primetime as well.
The question mark in the list will certainly be Crawford. If SportsCenter is getting the First Take host that could interview athletes and host panels effectively, then Crawford should be able to transition without trouble. If they get the Jay Crawford that willingly "embraced debate" and hocked I Heart @RealSkipBayless t-shirts, then there will be issues. It's easy to forget that First Take was once a well-balanced show that featured a variety of segments until deifying the antics of Skip Bayless.
As for First Take, ESPN says it's still deciding who will ultimately replace Crawford as the lucky person that suffers long-term hearing loss at the hands of Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless. Charissa Thompson has stepped in before, but she was just been pegged for SportsNation. It'll be very interesting to see which direction ESPN goes here. I'd be hesitant to call the First Take gig an "opportunity" for an up and comer at the network because they're ultimately playing third fiddle behind the two biggest bloviators at the network. However, given how much in love ESPN is with the show, whoever gets tapped to step into the debate moderator role may be someone to watch with a future at the leader. Whatever the case, I just hope they don't go moderator-free like we saw experimented with for a couple days recently. That would truly be another step into the abyss.
[h/t: ESPN Media Zone]