David Lloyd and Cari Champion

After years of moving away from traditional SportsCenter, ESPN is heading back to it. Following the cancellation of SC6, they’ve made the 6 p.m. SportsCenter a much more standard edition of the franchise, and keep talking about how well it’s doing. And now, they’ve made big shifts to their afternoon lineup as of September 11, cancelling SportsNation, moving High Noon to 4 p.m. (and shortening it to half an hour), and bringing back an hour-long “coast to coast” edition of SportsCenter at noon Eastern (which will be 90 minutes long on Mondays during football season, bumping Outside The Lines off the air), hosted by David Lloyd (in Bristol) and Cari Champion (in Los Angeles).

Lloyd and Champion (seen above together in 2016) previously hosted past versions of the noon SportsCenter, including when it moved to the “coast to coast” format in 2016, and SportsCenter kept airing from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Eastern through the end of last year. But at last May’s upfronts, ESPN talked about how 2018 would see them going away from daytime SportsCenter, with plans to incorporate news and highlights into what would become Get Up but then have no SportsCenter until SC6, with Michael Smith and Jemele Hill. Now, they’ve reversed course on that.

Champion was most recently on SportsNation, where she went earlier this year following Michelle Beadle’s departure from that show. Now, with SportsNation cancelled (in the wake of Marcellus Wiley’s departure for Fox), she’s back to SportsCenter, while fellow co-host LZ Granderson will continue hosting his ESPN LA radio show and contributing to other ESPN shows. Meanwhile, Bomani Jones and Pablo Torre have their High Noon show moved later (but still somehow keeping its name, although they appear to have at least stopped calling it High Noon (9 am Pacific) in releases) and shortened to half an hour. Here’s what the daytime lineup on ESPN’s main channel will now look like this fall (all times Eastern):

  • 7-10 a.m. Get Up
  • 10 a.m. – noon: First Take
  • Noon-1 p.m. SportsCenter: Coast to Coast (lengthened to 1:30 p.m. on Mondays)
  • 1-1:30 p.m. Outside the Lines (except Mondays)
  • 1:30-3 p.m. NFL Live
  • 3-4 p.m. The Jump
  • 4-4:30 p.m. High Noon
  • 4:30-5 p.m. Highly Questionable
  • 5-5:30 p.m. Around the Horn
  • 5:30-6 p.m. PTI
  • 6-7 p.m. SportsCenter

Here’s more from ESPN’s release on the changes:

“We really like what we have with Bomani, Pablo, and HIGH NOON,” said Norby Williamson, ESPN Executive Vice President, Production and Executive Editor. “This move will provide a better time slot for HIGH NOON, grouping shows of similar genre in a strong, two-hour block.

“Additionally, SportsCenter is healthy and thriving. We are excited to return this successful franchise into the noon window.”

Burke Magnus, ESPN Executive Vice President, Programming and Scheduling, added, “Our research suggests that from a total day perspective, these changes will best serve sports fans and optimize the ESPN schedule.”

It seems highly significant that Williamson is quoted there, as he’s been the face of this effort to deemphasize alternative personality-driven SportsCenter approaches (at least on the main network; SportsCenter on Snapchat remains distinct) and bring back the 1990s approach of the brand being more important than the personalities. Last September, an ESPN management shuffle saw Williamson given control of SportsCenter, which had previously been under Rob King. November’s layoffs hit numerous people involved with the SportsCenter franchise, and Williamson has since been very public about ending SC6 and shifting SportsCenter back to his perception of what it used to be in the 1990s (when he was heavily involved in producing it).

Here’s what he told AA’s Alex Putterman in March:

“We have to make it a little more relevant,” Williamson told me in his Bristol office. “It was an unbelievable necessity, then things evolved. Now we need to try to restore a little bit the need of it, the relevance.”

…“When we went with the Six we didn’t really do our due diligence there,” Williamson said. “I think it got away from us a bit with Michael and Jemele, Michael and Jemele, Michael and Jemele.”

So this seems very much like ESPN further embracing Williamson’s vision of a news-and-highlight-focused, not personality-focused SportsCenter, which he told Putterman was about “trying to create a net here that’s age 12 to 92…that’s the offering of SportsCenter.” In fact, The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch included “Norby consolidates more power” in his tweet summarizing the changes. The return of a noon SportsCenter is an interesting move, especially how much criticism ESPN was taking in recent years (particularly from then-FS1 head Jamie Horowitz) for SportsCenter‘s declining ratings.

While ESPN execs fired back at Horowitz publicly, their changes to SportsCenter seemed to address some of those criticisms of the challenges of doing a news-and-highlights show these days, where both of those things are easily available through other sources; personality-driven SportsCenter seemed to present a reason to watch for those who already have the news, and that was perhaps especially the case for slots like noon and 6 p.m. Eastern where there weren’t fresh highlights. Now, there seems to be a renewed emphasis on just the news and highlights.

It’s also interesting to see this happening shortly after ESPN took a ton of criticism (some of it deserved, some not so much) for taking almost four hours to address Brett McMurphy’s initial report that Courtney Smith brought allegations of domestic abuse from her then-husband Zach to Shelley Meyer, wife of Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer. A midday SportsCenter would have been a logical place to discuss a story like that. Of course, ESPN programming moves are generally planned well in advance and are not usually about one specific story, and there were shows that could have addressed a story like that (in particular, Outside The Lines and perhaps High Noon), but chose not to.

That delay was also on the digital side (which is not affected by the programming schedule), so it’s not like this was held just because there wasn’t a SportsCenter. Once ESPN did decide to address the story, they were able to discuss it on some of their radio shows with TV simulcasts. Again, it’s highly unlikely this move had anything to do with the Meyer story directly. But it is notable that shortly after one of the few big mid-day stories in a while, ESPN now will have an obvious TV platform to handle a breaking mid-day story. Whether there will actually be enough breaking mid-day stories of any consequence to justify that is another matter.

As per the other shows here, it feels unfortunate that only two months after its June launch (and yet, years after the first reports about it in October 2016 and the official announcement of it in May 2017), High Noon is being cut in half and moved to a time where its name no longer fits. And if ESPN execs like Williamson “really like what they have” in High Noon, they have an interesting way of showing that. Beyond that, the cancellation of SportsNation does maybe make more sense after Wiley’s exit, and maybe that show wasn’t the best fit for ESPN at this point in time, but it is interesting that they’re replacing it with a pretty standard SportsCenter. We’ll see how that works out for them.

[ESPN Media Zone]

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.