We’ve been on our current server setup for 14 months. We’ve not had a single unplanned outage to date until yesterday. Even before the majority of the country was awake and at their computers or browsing the web on their phones, Mark May’s demotion broke our servers.
I’m not going to hide from the fact that I’m an Ohio State alum and that this is something that brought us great great joy. We typically attempt to adhere to some level of professionalism in running this site (at least some times) and while a couple of times I paused in my zealous celebration of May’s demotion feeling a bit guilty (I treated myself to an ice cream sundae and watched an hour of Seinfeld when I should have been working to celebrate #MarkMayVictoryDay), the fact is ESPN and May subjected Ohio State fans, Notre Dame fans, and countless college football fans to an unbelievably long tenure of hell that it’s only human nature to delight that the era has officially ended.
This isn’t just a hot take from one Buckeye who let May get under his skin. This was an OVERWHELMING sentiment that melted our server and led to headlines like:
If you’re unsure why May was so reviled, the last link will give you the goods into May’s history as the ultimate heel to Ohio State fans, although many other fanbases found themselves as unfortunate victims of his revolting and relentless shtick.
The funny thing is that the initial reporting of this change came from the Sports Business Journal, in somewhat of a planned safe release for such news aimed at a less informed business audience. It ran with the headline “New ESPN college football lineup: Virk, Galloway, Kanell” a little bit of misdirection downplaying the story that caught most people’s eye.
Yes, there is a story in Virk getting a well deserved promotion. Same for Galloway who given his status as a Buckeye made the news sweeter to the point that many joked Ohio State fans were enjoying this development more than winning the National Championship, which is frankly given the history of May and Ohio State fans, not that much of a stretch. The second narrative from this development is yes, Danny Kannell is now under the microscope as a questionable analyst whose noted past remarks on certain teams and conferences will draw ire. But the real story, is May being demoted. And while it’s not being spun as a demotion, that’s what it is. Although May’s move to what looks like ABC could be spun as some lateral move/readjusting, his time on camera will be much much less and he’ll be further constrained by the platform and the talent he’s paired with where scenes like this below just won’t happen.
May isn’t totally gone. My guess is that this is a soft landing for now until his contract expires. With that said, I hope ESPN and others have learned a lesson in respecting their audience, where the line of decency is, and what the consequences are for crossing it.
While I’m ecstatic this move was made, it should have been made YEARS ago and while a large amount of that opinion is derived from my Buckeye education, in a college football world where fans are becoming more and more tribal towards each others, the applauding of May’s demotion rang out from all corners of the web and social media. This was a rare instance when almost all college football fans could agree on something.
Hypothetically, it’s interesting to ponder if this move would have happened without Rece Davis getting a promotion and Lou Holtz retiring as their return and May’s departure would stick out more as an obvious demotion. Without those moves, there would be no real good way to camouflage May being shuffled elsewhere. Another question to ponder is what if Ohio State didn’t win the national championship in a run that thoroughly embarrassed May and ESPN every step of the way. One of the oldest adages in the media world is that the media should never become the story. But that’s where May’s antics got ESPN, from getting booed off stage, to indefensible agenda driven opinions that couldn’t be ignored, the awkward moment below, or the fact that Meyer felt the need to specifically lead fans in calling out May while celebrating the championship win.
May isn’t the first person to push all in with a “let’s see how much pissing people off can advance my career route.” In political commentary and hell, politics itself, it’s a viable strategy. In fact, May essentially followed the exact same path that saw the career demise of his former studio partner, Trev Alberts, who fell from ESPN to CSTV before finding firm footing as the Athletic Director of the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks. May somehow thought his toxic brand of punditry was immune to the same fate and for a long period of time it was.
I just saw Mark May and Trev Alberts flying down the highway in a convertible. Thelma-and-Louise style.
— sportsMonkey (@monkeyPi) June 1, 2015
The one difference between May and Alberts is apparently Alberts just did it as part of “show business.”
I don’t know what’s worse, Alberts admission of purposefully and disingenuously riling up fans for ratings (ESPN has a role in this too) or May for taking it to the extreme.
What May and ESPN did, I would never wish on any fanbase of any team. While strong consistent negative hot-takes pointed in one direction are nothing new spanning the likes of Skip Bayless, Jim Rome, Colin Cowherd, and so many national personalities, two things stuck out about May that made led me to the opinion that his presence on ESPN was the network’s biggest crime.
1) It’s not that May was a record on repeat, infuriating whatever fanbase was low hanging fruit, it’s HOW he did it. He didn’t just put his “thoughts” out there with no filter. He had a way of licking his lips, grinning, and then vomiting/screaming some ridiculous toxic opinion while his co-workers would cringe on camera. He clearly got satisfaction out of it and it was a constant theme for him on social media where the majority of his tweets and Facebook posts were under the belt jabs at Ohio State fans and other fanbases mixed in with mostly incoherent drivel. May’s social media presence was such a dumpster fire, he just stopped entirely in the fall of 2013, a move that many believe was a request or at least a shared understanding made by ESPN. You can surmise, ESPN was uncomfortable with how deranged May sounded on social media, but in spite of that, they let him continue as key personality for two seasons on television.
2) May was not tucked away in some safe corner far away from his detractors. He was inescapable to college football fans. His role on College Football Final meant that in order to get a full scope of highlights and ramifications from at times 50-60+ games (somewhat of a nightcap to all the fun anarchy of a good college football Saturday), May was there in peak form spitting fire on whatever was closest to him and seemed like it would burn easily. But it was WAY worse than that.
May was around almost all day on Saturday and because of this, frequently an Ohio State fan, Notre Dame fan, or fans of whatever team he was enjoying pummeling would get this experience.
– 5-10 minutes right before kickoff of the game you wanted to watch in which May shits all over your team and picks it to lose (despite it being favored).
– At halftime when winning and specifically proving almost all “analysis” wrong, May doing the half time show selectively nitpicking any issue in the first half despite the fact you could be winning by a significant margin in the face of his prediction of a loss.
– The post game wrap-up in which May would criticize (despite proving his prediction being wrong and often by a wide margin) the team in question saying the win was not impressive, the team got lucky, and would likely implode sometime soon. This cycle outlined above was common for fans of many teams and one that played out frequently.
May was so dedicated to his shit-mongering at one point we tracked down his record of predictions when picking against Ohio State. I believe at the time, he had picked against them 29 times and was right only 5 times. When it came to picking Ohio State games, Mark May was basically worse than Dwight Howard shooting a three.
Fans of any team should never repetitively have this experience in which the pregame, postgame, and halftime experience consists of someone telling you suck regardless of what occurs. That’s what May’s entire shtick was and I would never wish that experience to happen to any fan of any team in any sport. It’s beneath ESPN and it hurt their brand to the point where there was collateral damage from fans who held ESPN accountable for the experience.
Many people who I wouldn’t consider overly crazy, told me they boycotted ESPN because of May outside of live games. They wouldn’t even watch 30 for 30 despite hearing good things. These were mostly Ohio State fans, but fans of other teams as well chimed in saying they were so turned off, they were through with ESPN. One friend even told me he cracked while watching Fox Sports Live “Why do I care what Andy Roddick has to say about college football?” to which his wife interjected “Well it sure as hell beats listening to Mark May.”
I conveyed this to Scott Van Pelt on Twitter (who I do want to applaud for his accessibility and candidness in engaging on Twitter) awhile ago as he was poking fun of various fanbases and how they could often develop crazy theories about ESPN, a totally legitimate point. I never believed in any of these theories, but pointed out to him that having Mark May front and center given his track record and coupled with things like ESPN’s investment in the SEC Network gave fans just enough dots to connect when buying into any heavy handed top-down bias theory and was implemented across all platforms and programs.
One question Van Pelt nor anyone could ever really defend was “Is there an ESPN NFL personality who is that constantly zealously critical of a particular team?” The reality is that there was no high profile personality that trolled any pro team at this level (I think to some degree pro athletes, ownership, and league personnel would attempt to intervene), but in the case of May vs. Ohio State or some of his other prized punching bags, it was acceptable and likely encouraged regardless of the fact he was mostly critical of student athletes, largely unable to reply back.
But prayers were answered and May is now gone (how funny is it that this was announced June 1, literally hours after May ended) and I’d wager he’s only about halfway down his fall from grace at this point. The bottom line is that enough was enough for ESPN. They couldn’t ignore how hated he was and figured out that despite the hot-take eyeballs he could deliver, ESPN’s brand and business was suffering a great deal elsewhere. Despite the legitimate qualms about Kannell picking up the torch here, I can’t help but celebrate May’s upheaval as a major presence from my fall Saturdays.
While May tainted a lot of the college football fan experience for me and others, the possible silver lining is that unlike with Trev Alberts, maybe we’ve learned something. The pro leagues have never had a mainstream television personality that was as big of a shit-mongerer as May and they’ve done just fine not blatantly turning fans into enemies or conspiracy theorists. I hope ESPN and others who have figured out while there is some level of short term gain in stirring the pot with toxic overtones, that the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze. The biggest test of this theory will be to see what happens with Kanell taking over College Football Final. If Kanell continues his trolling of SEC fans (perhaps as someone ESPN could point to in deflecting questions of bias over the SEC Network), then we’ll know ESPN is still vested in angering and antagonizing fans instead of informing them, merely with different characters.
Sure, there may be some good theater in creating a monster and forcing (I use this word because again, May was inescapable) fans to look on in agony, but the price-tag of pursuing such a strategy is one not even ESPN could afford. Let’s hope the expensive lesson in brand erosion and collateral damage is one that sticks and isn’t one that has to be retaught.