IT'S HARD for me to say this, but I'm not such a fan of ESPN anymore.I find myself zipping past Channel 26 on my Suddenlink lineup more than heading toward it these days. And it's a shame, really.Oh, the station provides plenty of interesting games and updates, and SportsCenter (in small doses) is still the place to go for highlights. But other than that - and especially during the daytime - it's becoming a place to avoid, unless you like mind-numbing babble.If anything's ever the undoing of the Worldwide Leader in Sports, it's going to be its penchant for over-analysis.
It wasn't always like that. It used to be one of the few stations locked into my remote.When ESPN debuted in 1979, one of my friends had it on his cable system in Wheeling, and I used to go to his house just to watch it. It didn't matter what was on. In the days before computers and 24-hour television (or radio), there was no such thing as heads talking too much and sports overload. Your best source for information then was how fast you could read the newspaper or a sports magazine.At the time, ESPN was nirvana. An honest-to-goodness sports station right there whenever you wanted it. You didn't have to wait for the 11 o'clock news to find out the baseball or football scores that day.We wound up watching things like Michigan State football game replays on Wednesday afternoons, and we didn't care. It was so new, so refreshing.Through the years, as ESPN grew (after coming dangerously close to going under at one point), it got on more and more cable systems, got more and more live events and upgraded its lineup of sports, eventually procuring game contracts for all four pro leagues (but has since dropped the NHL). It went from underdog network to overlord.But somewhere along the line in recent years, it's regressed. Now I know, with all the different networks under ESPN's domain, there's a lot of programming hours around the clock to fill, and a lot of niches it tries to cover, but it's really getting harder to watch.For example, I like to put something on TV while I'm folding laundry or doing chores around the house, but it's gotten to the point where I can't watch ESPN or ESPN2 during the day because it's like listening to the same song over and over. And not even a new verse, mind you, just repeating the chorus ad nauseum.Earlier this week, I popped in and out of the room and was switching between those two channels at three different times - around noon, 1 and 2 p.m. At that very moment, either ESPN or ESPN2 was airing something about Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez - Jets quarterbacks and the mothership's new grinding axe.And that came in a very small window of time. Makes you wonder how often one of their channels touches on the subject, say, over the course of one day. How many different ways do they try and twist it? How many analysts do they throw into the fray?Does anything really deserve that much coverage? If it were an Olympic sport, records would be shattered.But that's the way it's gotten with ESPN. Anyone recall Linsanity? The Peyton Manning recruiting tour? Tebow's takeover in Denver? The Brett Favre will-he-or-won't-he saga, Parts 1 and 2?
It's called oversaturation. I realize they're running a business and trying to sell as much commercial time as they can by appealing to what they think people want. Trying to touch a nerve - but who has any nerves left?And if I see any more contrived "debates'' between Steven A. Smith and Skip Bayless, I might get an ulcer. It's like two dogs mindlessly barking at each other through a chain-link fence, only with more testosterone and flashing of teeth.I can see programming directors rubbing their hands together with glee as they procure another "hot topic'' and order someone to wind up Skip and Steven A., then have them holler at each other.To me, it's not anything like their last generation of "newspaper guys going at it'' - Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser. Most times, those two actually engaged in some engaging debates, but seem to have toned it down in recent years.I've just about had it, really. It's getting to the point that I can't turn on one of the ESPN family of networks (actually we just get those two) unless there's an actual game going on. The artificial feel of a lot of the programming I find insulting (and "Around the Horn'' has prostituted sports journalism).Sometimes, they still do it right. I do like the "30 for 30'' series and just about anything that Bob Ley has his hands on, but a lot of those shows are relegated to ESPN's backburner channels, for which you have to shell out more money.
I'm not naïve enough to think they'll ever cut back on their repertoire. Not in these days of technology overload and entertainment in a blink, where everyone gets in their opinion, good or bad, be it tweet or talk radio tirade.I hate to sound like Dana Carvey's former Grumpy Old Man character on SNL, but something deep inside me pines for the good old days. Like when that Michigan State football game replay on Wednesday afternoon was all we had, and it was good enough. We liked it. We liked it fine.Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org