Football, Featured Story

Point / Counterpoint: Should We Miss Skip Bayless And Stephen A. Smith?

We’ll Regret Missing The Circus

Alec Greaney | Heights Editor

For about 72 hours last week, ESPN’s First Take was coming to Boston College. Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, two analysts that argue round and round until their daily, two-hour ESPN2 time slot runs out, were bringing their polarizing opinions and loud voices live to Gasson Hall. Then they weren’t.

BC Athletics never gave out much of an answer as to why the trip—planned for tomorrow morning prior to BC’s night game against Florida State—fell through, other than a “scheduling conflict.” Maybe the available space in Gasson Hall wouldn’t have cut it for a headlining show of the sports media conglomerate. Maybe having both First Take and the 6 p.m. special edition of SportsCenter on the same day seemed like too much attention for an unranked school. Or maybe the Jesuits just didn’t want two hours of B.S. desecrating the halls of the most beautiful building on campus.

Whatever the reason, it’s a true shame—and I mean that. I’m far from an avid watcher of the show, but wouldn’t it have been awesome to see those two hooligans go at it right in front of you?

For those not intimately familiar with First Take, it’s a show based almost entirely on a “debate format”—though it’s mostly just cross-table shouts of “You’re wrong!” in line with CNN’s former program Crossfire. Skip has been the primary star of the show since its inception. He is known for his rants criticizing popular athletes (especially LeBron James) and his verbal assaults on the guests, who the show drag into his line of fire. Stephen A. happened to be a pretty good sparring mate, earning a spot as a show regular in 2012 opposite Skip and a guest analyst or two.

At times, First Take may try to project itself as a journalistic program that informs its audience through debate, but at its heart, the show is meant to entertain. Marcia Keegan, the ESPN vice president of production and the overseer of First Take, said as much in an interview with last year, though she denied that the producers fabricate disagreement.

But fostering disagreement—synthetic or genuine—is the idea of the show. All the stuff these guys say is certain to provoke hordes of passionate sports fans to yell in frustration, meaning it gets the show a sizable audience during a work-hours time slot. Yet as athletic as BC’s student population may be, no one has ever referred to the campus as a place with “hordes of passionate sports fans.” That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but an utter lack of it leads to a pretty mediocre level of school spirit. And that’s why having First Take would have been great.

Sure, maybe it would’ve just been a blip of excitement smothered by a blanket of indifference. Then again, you never know what Skip and Stephen A. a might say—except that it will almost certainly be confrontational. One jab from Skip about Addazio not being a real Dude or a line from Stephen A. about how he didn’t think Bapst looked anything like Hogwarts might have been enough to stir the campus from its Netflix-induced stupor.

You also never know when they might start a controversy. Skip has been accused of race-baiting during the show, while Stephen A. got hit with a week-long suspension from ESPN after suggesting women shouldn’t “provoke” domestic assault. The only feeling better than sending an angry tweet to celebrities is getting that post retweeted by hundreds of Twitter eggs. Having an up-close view should give you the chance to get your ticked-off tweet out there first.

Then again, who knows who would have had direct access. I’m imagining it would have looked something like it did when they had a live show outside Super Bowl XLIX. Stephen A. and Skip would still have their normal set-up on opposite ends of a booth, while a couple dozens fans stand around the perimeter and cheer at appropriate times.

That would involve winning a lottery with about the same chances as the Notre Dame game at Fenway. If you did get it, there might be no booing allowed, but there’d be no need to do it aloud—everyone knows what they’re saying can be ridiculous.

Which brings us to the only real reason you need to see them: they’re entertaining. People don’t have to love or even like something to stay tuned in. Hate-watching for pleasure hasn’t been bigger since the days of the gladiators, and viewers keep giving First Take an emperor’s thumbs-up even while they continue to complain.

There are plenty of opportunities at BC to engage in serious, thoughtful debate. It would have been nice to get a little mindless live entertainment.

‘First Take’ More Like … ‘Worst Take’

Tom DeVoto | Asst. Sports Editor

When it was first announced that ESPN would be filming some of its daily programming live from Boston College before the Florida State football game, I was naturally excited. When I heard it would be First Take that would be filming at the Heights, I was slightly less excited, but still intrigued by the possibility of heckling Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless incessantly for a few hours.

When I heard that First Take was no longer coming and SportsCenter would be filmed here instead, I felt the most excited of all.

The only good thing ESPN’s First Take would have brought BC was publicity. Now that BC will be getting said publicity with a live edition of SportsCenter, First Take serves BC no purpose.

Furthermore, First Take couldn’t even provide BC with the same level of publicity that SportsCenter brings—very few outside of the BC community have the time to sit down and watch two hours of television during the heart of the school day. SportsCenter starts in the early evening, likely drawing in a much larger audience. BC will be pulling out all the stops as ESPN rolls into town, so it will be a huge boost in exposure for prospective athletes and students alike.

Additionally, SportsCenter as a show allows the host more versatility in setting and in content, while First Take is fairly limited. If Stephen A. and Skip brought their show on the road, the format of the program would likely remain exactly the same—the only difference would be the backdrop of Gasson Hall. First Take is unquestionably the “Skip and Stephen A. Show,” and no one gets in the way of the hosts.

SportsCenter has gradually been shifting away from the classic two-host, nothing-but-highlights format of years past, opting for a more entertaining, inclusive experience—hence, filming in different locations around the United States. BC Athletics has already announced that SportsCenter host Lindsay Czarniak will participate in the Eagle Walk down the Million Dollar Stairs alongside the team. The BC-FSU game will be heavily featured in SportsCenter, while it probably wouldn’t have been in First Take.

Public relations aside, BC would still be better off dissociating itself with Skip and Stephen A.’s scream-a-thon. To borrow some of the egregious overstatement that riddles ESPN’s daily morning show, the pairing of Stephen A. and Skip on a nationally televised program is the worst thing to ever happen to sports television.

They are both great at their jobs, sure—but their jobs consist of nothing but Stephen A. yelling strong opinions very loudly at Skip, who returns even louder with a counter-opinion. They rabble and argue, they debate and quarrel, they trade barbs and squabble for two whole hours before ESPN mercifully pulls the plug and sends viewers on their way—until it reruns the whole show an hour later. BC will be better off without them coming here.

While most of ESPN’s on-air talent propagates the sensationalism we so frequently see in the media, Stephen A. and Skip go above and beyond. Stephen A. has been accused of race-baiting, hinting on multiple occasions that Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly was a racist for getting rid of players such as LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson.

He has also been accused of being a misogynist, having notably used First Take to go on a circuitous rant in which he claimed former running back Ray Rice’s wife Janay could have done something to avoid her domestic violence incident. Stephen A. earned some time off from work for that comment, and it was well deserved. And Skip, who is not immune to controversy himself, does nothing but egg Stephen A. on.

Every couple of weeks or so, whenever you feel like you’ve finally escaped the clutches of the ESPN media empire, some sports-crazed friend of yours will likely begin a conversation by saying, “Whoa, did you hear what Stephen A. said on First Take today?”

A brainless statement will likely follow, one to inspire boatloads of criticism, and perhaps some agreement. But whether you agree or not, you will hear about it.

And that’s the worst part about First Take—the hosts say the things they do solely for the purpose of getting heard. If Skip were to say, for example, that he respects Tim Tebow’s determination, but recognizes that Tebow is completely unequipped to start in the National Football League, no one would bat an eye. But if he becomes Tebow’s No. 1 fan and the only notable on-air media presence to vouch for him, people will notice.

So don’t cry because your First Take dreams are over, BC fans—smile because it was never allowed to happen. BC will receive significantly more exposure on SportsCenter than it would have on First Take, and no one will have to listen to that insufferable duo.

September 17, 2015