A couple days ago I moved out of the United States. Not in a ‘going on exchange to Europe’ or ‘teaching English in Japan’ way, but in a ‘getting a job at a Canadian insurance company and selling out to the man’ kind of way. Obviously this move made me ponder a lot of things, probably because I’m a very pensive person. I thought about if I’d ever be back to Mug Night at our local watering hole, or if I’d ever make it out to another bonfire at the legendary location known only as The Pipeline. Sadly, neither of those things had anything to do with sports, so I had to scrap the 10,000 word pieces I pumped out on each of them and try to come up with something fresh to satisfy this fine website’s overworked editor.
Something I can write about that is related to my emigration from the United States is, you guessed it, my unavoidable divorce with ESPN due to the move. In Canada there is no ESPN, only TSN, The Score, and Rogers Sportsnet. Sure, some of those networks will occasionally pick up an ESPN broadcast every once and a while, like Sunday Night Baseball or NCAA Basketball Big Monday. TSN even carries Pardon The Interruption all the time (when it’s not curling season), and you can catch a World Series of Poker show whenever you really need to get motivated to stop watching television and get some work done.
All this second-hand ESPN action, however, cannot compare with the dominance of the Worldwide Leader in its domestic market. In Canada you can find a lot of quality programming on a number of different channels, but when I was in Pittsburgh ESPN was pretty much my only source for sports television — Versus and TNT swooped in for the occasional game, but that was it in terms of ESPN’s competition. What did this dominance mean for me, the viewer? Way too much NFL Live, absolutely no hockey coverage, and journalism only one notch above the fact-finding done on the Fox News Channel, another staple of my viewing rotation when I was in the U.S.
Excuse me for one second, but I’m going to have to rip off a quick rant right here.
If I could sum up my last three weeks with ESPN in a single, grammatically disastrous sentence, it would look like this: Pacman Jones Pacman Jones Yankees NBA NFL NBA NFL Dancing With The Stars Pacman Jones NBA NBA Yankees. What’s that Stuart Scott? A certain Cowboy might not be happy with having Pacman on the team? Tell me more! I really care about the Dallas Cowboys in the middle of May, especially when the story revolves around their backup cornerback. Give me more Pacman, and then sprinkle in a little slurping of the NBA just for fun. Then come back from one of those commercial breaks that have made you the most profitable cable channel of all time and tell me more about Dancing With The Stars! Nuts to showing actual sports highlights, let’s manufacture controversies and tie in sports with other Disney properties!
With that out of the way, I can say that I’ll miss some things about being completely dependent on ESPN for my sports coverage. First, ESPN absolutely murders Canada’s college basketball coverage in cold blood. During college hoops season you can always find a prime time game on either ESPN or The Deuce, which is pretty much heavenly for me. Throw in Dick Vitale, who is probably my favorite college hoops announcer ever (sorry Gus Johnson and Billy Packer), and you’ve got a very good reason why I like college ball more than the professional version.
Second…there is no second. I guess something else I would miss if ESPN was replaced by a generic sports channel (I’m looking at you, Fox Sports Net) would be Page 2 from ESPN.com. Not all of Page 2, just the Sports Guy’s World. And not all of the Sports Guy’s articles, just the ones that don’t talk about basketball that was played before I was walking. Sorry Bill, I don’t care about that tantalizing 1984 Eastern Conference Second Round series between the Celtics and some other team. But seriously, I would miss his other work, mostly because it’s quite entertaining.
Besides losing massive college hoops coverage, however, I really am happy to be moving on from ESPN dependency. While their talk shows like Around The Horn, Jim Rome, and even PTI are generally unentertaining affairs that are only produced to make sports easier to follow and talk about for casual fans, Canadian talk shows are different. Of course, by Canadian talk shows I mean The Score’s late afternoon lineup. Here’s what the people on The Score will talk about on a typical day: Hockey, gambling, and how much MLSE sucks. Luckily, the gambling category includes just about every sport under the sun since The Score’s talk show hosts are mostly degenerate gamblers looking for an edge in any and all sporting competitions. Today I tuned into Game On (6:30-7:00) with Cam and Gabe for a little bit after work and they actually talked about betting on the WNBA. That’s dedication, folks.
So sure, some people in the United States worship the very ground that ESPN doesn’t walk on — we all remember the news story a couple years back about a couple very well-educated parents naming their child Espen after the Worldwide Leader. But you can count me as someone on the other side of some sort of figurative fence, standing right there with Rush Limbaugh, Bobby Knight, and a shadowy figure that sort of resembles Bill Simmons. All I really need for my sports fix are some streaming college basketball games, a little sports talk from The Score, Sportsnet’s late night west coast NBA action, and TSN’s coverage of all things Leafs. Yup, ESPN is pretty much useless to me.
This article has been submitted by Stu Wilkinson.