Ed Sherman ESPN

There’s been a lot of attention paid to ESPN over the years, and now there will be an entire college course focusing just on the Worldwide Leader. Long-time sports media columnist Ed Sherman will be teaching an eight-week course at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign this fall, titled MDIA 290: ESPN: This is SportsCenter. Here’s more on the course from ESPN Front Row’s David Scott:

“It’s a class I have wanted to teach for a long time,” said Sherman, who covered the network for many years as a sports media columnist. “ESPN covers all the touch points of media: Broadcasting and journalism; advertising and branding; digital and innovation; documentaries and storytelling; impact on pop culture, to name a few.

“The premise is to study those topics via a platform that the students consume in large quantities on a daily basis,” he said. “Frankly, I was surprised to learn that ESPN did not know of a similar course being taught on another college campus. It seems to make sense to me.”

The eight-week course meets twice a week for three hours with 45 students (mostly sophomores and juniors) enrolled in the inaugural offering. Students receive three hours of semester credit. Jean McDonald of the journalism department is assisting Sherman in teaching the course.

“The early classes focused on the roots of ESPN; the evolution of SportsCenter; and the growth of digital,” Sherman said. “The students now live in a world where they can access unlimited content via their phones. They have been interested – and even surprised – at how primitive things were way back when and how people strongly doubted the viability of a 24-hour sports network.

“I also have emphasized lessons that could be learned from ESPN from a business perspective,” he said. “A common theme is ESPN’s innovation and anticipation of new trends and growth opportunities.”

While the ESPN piece on this (understandably) emphasizes the positive, it seems likely the course will go beyond just that. Assigned reading includes not just former ESPN president George Bodenheimer’s Every Town is a Sports Town (which is a good and insightful read, but also understandably focused on the positives), but also James Andrew Miller’s Those Guys Have All The Fun oral history (which discusses both the highs and lows for ESPN over the years).

It’s interesting, and positive from a sports media standpoint, to see ESPN receive academic analysis and discussion. The Worldwide Leader has made a remarkable impact on the sports world in a huge number of ways, from the concept of an all-sports network to the idea of nightly highlights shows, the rising value of broadcast rights and more, and there’s plenty of material out there for a course focused on them. This should be a beneficial class for future journalists, for consumers of ESPN, and for observers of the sports scene.

ESPN’s rise and their moves since that are worth significant analysis, and there would seem to be a lot of benefits to doing this in an academic setting. As Sherman said, it’s somewhat surprising this hasn’t been done before. It wouldn’t be unexpected to see other schools follow suit. And hey, we can now add this to the collection of ESPN: The Subtitles!

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.