Tom Jones reviews the year in sports media

Published December 28 2015
Updated December 29 2015

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a year in televised sports and sports media.

Worst closing

Grantland, a website on ESPN and the brainchild of sports media king Bill Simmons, was a heavenly place for those who love sports, pop culture and excellent long-form writing. Simmons' constant run-ins with the head honchos at ESPN led to him packing up and taking his talents to HBO. Unfortunately, his baby, grantland.com, shut down soon thereafter.

Worst opening

The Undefeated, ESPN's new website dedicated to sports and pop culture and race (sometimes referred to as the "Black Grantland"), has struggled with a rocky start as ESPN dismissed founding editor Jason Whitlock. Now, more than two years since the idea emerged, The Undefeated still hasn't publicly named a launch date under new editor Kevin Merida, a former managing editor at the Washington Post.

Worst decision

ESPN pulling Dick Vitale off the Duke-North Carolina game, marking the first time that happened since Vitale joined the network in 1979. Duke-Carolina is always fun. But not as much now without Dickie V.

Best hires

1. ESPN choosing Jessica Mendoza to work analysis on Sunday Night Baseball.

2. TNT picking Pedro Martinez for MLB postseason studio work.

3. HBO hiring Bill Simmons, and we don't know even what he is going to do yet. But it will be good.

Honorable mention: CBS hiring golf analyst Dottie Pepper, whose return to the fairways in 2016 will be a much-welcome sight and sound.

Biggest firings

1. Former Bucs star Warren Sapp lost a great gig with NFL Network because he can't stay out of trouble.

2. Former big-league ace Curt Schilling was kicked out of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball booth because of political commentary on social media.

3. In a move that sent shock waves throughout sports media, ESPN laid off 300 people in October.

Three biggest media feuds

1. Bill Simmons vs. ESPN.

2. Colin Cowherd vs. Dan Patrick.

3. Jason Whitlock vs. Deadspin.

Most controversial media award

ESPN's ESPY Awards each year names the Arthur Ashe Award for courage. Past winners included late NFL star and fallen soldier Pat Tillman, cancer survivor Robin Roberts, tennis pioneer Billie Jean King, and political and social activists Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali. Many thought the 2015 award would go to college basketball player Lauren Hill, who died of a brain tumor. Instead, many were outraged while others applauded as ESPN chose former Olympic star and transgender reality star Caitlyn Jenner.

Biggest switch

It wasn't really stunning that Bill Simmons bolted ESPN for HBO. He had feuded with higher-ups for years. However, Colin Cowherd's departure from ESPN to Fox Sports 1 was a stunner. FS1 still hasn't caught fire the way it had hoped, but Cowherd is the franchise player it is building around.

Best change

Harold Reynolds is out as Fox's top baseball analyst. That makes it the best change right there. But it does get even better. John Smoltz was named to replace him. The only bummer is that Fox also has kicked Tom Verducci out of the broadcast booth. No word on what Verducci might do next for Fox, but the network needs to consider keeping him in the booth because he is top notch.

Biggest local change

After calling Lightning games from the press box since the team's second season in 1993, analyst Bobby "The Chief'' Taylor took a job working pregame and postgame, as well as intermissions, for Fox Sports Sun. Taylor is doing a bang-up job as studio analyst and Brian Engblom has been superb as Taylor's replacement. Having said all that, we still miss hearing the Chief during game action.

Best hour on television

ESPN's "Happy Hour'' with Around the Horn at 5 p.m. and Pardon the Interruption at 5:30. Over the past couple of years, Around the Horn has raised its intelligence level 1,000 percent thanks to more confident host Tony Reali and more measured analysis from the panel. Meantime, Pardon the Interruption remains the gold standard of sports debate.

Worst interview

Easy: Marshawn Lynch at the Super Bowl, boss.

Best media vs. athlete feud

ESPN's Stephen A. Smith vs. NBA star Kevin Durant. Smith stared into the camera during ESPN2's First Take and in his coolest Hannibal Lecter voice told Durant, "You don't want to make an enemy out of me. And I'm looking right into the camera. And I'm gonna say it again. You do not want to make an enemy out of me. I'm not having it. I've done nothing wrong."

Awesome! Completely egotistical, but awesome.

Cutest media star

We wanted Golden State's Steph Curry to have the best NBA season ever so he could be asked to do every postgame news conference. Is it because we liked Curry? No, because we loved his 3-year-old daughter, Riley.

Runner-up: Gonzalo (Papi) Le Batard.

Biggest loss

ESPN anchor Stuart Scott passed away in January after several battles with cancer. He was 49.

Biggest missing piece

Keith Olbermann has disappeared since leaving his show on ESPN in July. Someone please hire this guy. He can be annoying, insufferable, arrogant, but he is always must-see TV.

Best sport coverage

I've always loved HBO's boxing coverage, NBC's golf coverage and Fox's NFL coverage, and there might be nothing better than ESPN's all-encompassing college football and basketball coverage. But I'm not even a big fan of soccer, and I always love tuning into NBC's English Premier League on Saturday mornings. That means they are doing something really right.

Three best play-by-play announcers

1. Mike Emrick, NHL, NBC.

2. Al Michaels, NFL, NBC.

3. Kenny Albert, NFL and NHL, Fox and NBC.

Three best analysts

1. Jeff Van Gundy, NBA, ABC/ESPN.

2. Pierre Maguire, NHL, NBC.

3. Johnny Miller, golf, NBC.

Other media awards

Best reporter: Jeremy Schaap (ESPN)

Best studio host: Dan Patrick (Football Night in America, NBC)

Best studio analyst: Kirk Herb­streit (ESPN's College GameDay)

Best local TV personality: Paul Kennedy (Fox Sports Sun)

And, finally, the Sports Media Personality of 2015 is …

Adam Schefter, ESPN NFL reporter

Is there anyone more plugged in than ESPN's Adam Schefter? Seems like he knows roster moves about the same time the teams and players do. The five most heard words in sports today: "According to ESPN's Adam Schefter .…"

     
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