Tonawanda News

December 29, 2011

HOPKINS: Tuning out the ‘worldwide leader’


The Tonawanda News

— — I’m going to try to go a whole year without watching SportsCenter on ESPN. For that matter, if it’s not a Major League Baseball or NFL game, Baseball Tonight or Sunday NFL Countdown, I’m not going to watch ESPN, period.

Why? Because the cable network gives precious little hockey coverage, and that’s the sport I follow the most. I’m also a fairly avid baseball and football fan. However, I don’t care for basketball and I don’t give a hoot about college sports most of the time.

And if there’s two things of which ESPN has an abundance, it’s basketball and college sports. Ugh.

From late August to April, SportsCenter is typically 30 minutes of college sports, 10 minutes of the NBA, 18 minutes of the NFL, baseball, NASCAR and European soccer, one minute of hockey and one minute of top 10 plays.

That formula changes for baseball playoffs, and NFL gamedays.

No, thank you.

Billing itself as “The worldwide leader in sports,” ESPN traditionally has given hockey the cold shoulder. The network really tuned out when the NHL pulled up stakes with Bristol, Conn. and set up camp with the Outdoor Life Network, later renamed Versus and, come Jan. 2, will be known as NBC Sports Network.

Versus has done a fantastic job with the NHL, providing the league its best exposure since the days when a fledgling ESPN2 would broadcast a host of games and a nightly highlight show, NHL2Night. There’s also an hour-long NHL Overtime show three nights a week that in five minutes provides more information than you’d get from a month’s worth of ESPN’s hockey expert John Buccigross.

Next to the NHL Network, to which I don’t currently subscribe (I’m watching those pennies), Versus is Hockey Heaven. Throw in Hockey Night in Canada on CBC, a weekly hockey show on the MSG Network — so I can get my Rangers fix — and Sabres games, I don’t need to tune in to ESPN and suffer through eons of highlights from games that bore me.

ESPN also has too many talking-head shows in which the commentators discuss the sports topic of the day. Often, they’re drawing attention to the latest outrageous behavior. Sometimes they criticize the behavior, but usually it’s encouraged.

Basketball, simply, doesn’t excite me. The game is played by highly talented people who demonstrate tremendous hand-eye coordination. Still, I can’t identify with the excitement, except at March Madness time, and even then I probably wouldn’t watch as closely if I didn’t participate in the office pool.

As for college sports in general, I’m not interested. I like the pro game, and we’re never going to hear from probably 90 percent of the NCAA Division-1 athletes after they graduate, so I don’t want to invest the time.

Besides, Division 1 athletes — especially in football and basketball — are mostly paid athletes without the colleges and NCAA admitting it. They are the American version of the “amateur” athletes fielded by the Soviet Red Army in the Olympics for several decades. They worked for the army and were paid an army salary but their only “job” was to play sports. Yet they were “amateurs.”

Although, I must agree with columnist Bob Confer, who recently wrote about the merits of Division-3 college sports. Athletes at that level are truly playing for love of the game. They’re not attending their college of choice on scholarships, they’re there to get an education and play their favorite sport.

As a graduate from a community college and from Buffalo State College (Go, Bengals!), where I provided student radio broadcasts for football and hockey, I have an appreciation for Division-3 athletes and would probably watch some games if they were televised. And I do have an affinity for the small colleges, like U.B., Niagara and Canisius.

Many people prefer the college game over the pros. That’s fine; I don’t begrudge them nor do I look down on them. We all have our preferences.

Likewise, there are countless sports fans who turn their noses up at the pro game, and for good reason. There are a lot of jerks in pro sports, especially in the NFL and NBA. Baseball isn’t as bad, and pretty much anyone not named Sean Avery or Chris Neil is a good guy in the NHL.

But the reason most of the pro athlete jerks are in the NFL and NBA is because they’ve been treated like royalty since high school, and it gets magnified in the world of D-1 sports where their egos are stroked by media coverage, fueled primarily by ESPN.

Just another reason to tune out.

John Hopkins is the night city editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Thursdays. Contact him at john.hopkins@tonawanda-news.com.