Jenny Taft (center) on Undisputed in August.

It seems like FS1’s Undisputed may have a personnel change ahead. Jenny Taft, who has hosted the Skip Bayless-Shannon Sharpe debate show since original host Joy Taylor’s 2018 exit, looks to be leaving that show for other roles with Fox Sports. Taft has had a couple of notable on-air exchanges with Bayless (including the August one shown above), but Ryan Glasspiegel of The New York Post writes that that’s not what his sources are citing as the reason for this change:

Jenny Taft is finalizing a new deal to remain with Fox Sports, but eventually exit FS1’s “Undisputed,” The Post has learned.

While Taft had two viral moments of friction with Skip Bayless in the past several months — one involving Lincoln Riley, another about Mike McCarthy’s physical fitness and whether that impacts his leadership abilities — a source was adamant that this was not the reason she is leaving the show.

First, Taft’s role with live events is expected to be her focus. She is a sideline reporter on Fox Sports’ top college football broadcasting team with Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt.

Glasspiegel’s piece goes on to note that Taft is likely to also have sideline reporting roles with Fox around the 2022 men’s FIFA World Cup and the 2023 women’s FIFA World Cup (she’s worked on World Cup coverage for them before). He also notes that she’s expecting a child in the next few months, which would make the early morning starts for Undisputed (which hits the air at 6:30 a.m. local in Fox’s studios in the Los Angeles area) more difficult. All of that’s reasonable, and this isn’t necessarily about those on-air back-and-forths with Bayless. But there are also clearly some wins for both Taft in exiting Undisputed and for Bayless in moving on to a new host.

In many ways, hosting Undisputed does not seem like a great gig. To start with, there’s the airing time component, as discussed above; it’s a show aimed at an Eastern and Central audience, but one originating from the Pacific time zone, and that’s pretty rough. (It’s worse than even doing morning radio or TV for the Eastern time zone from the Eastern time zone, and that in itself is pretty early and has sparked complaints from plenty of people.)

Beyond that, the host has generally not been featured in the way that Bayless and Sharpe are. Yes, both Taylor and Taft have weighed in at times, and have done so in prominent ways, but a lot of what they’re asked to do seems to be just to tee things up for the debaters. While that has some exposure merits (Undisputed remains one of FS1’s biggest studio programs), it doesn’t seem like a super rewarding role in the long term (and it’s notable that similar ESPN program First Take has also seen plenty of host changes, although Molly Qerim has held the full-time role there since 2015), so it makes sense for them to change hosts every few years and move the current host on to a better role.

And, even if no one will say it on the record or even as an anonymous source, it seems like there are some advantages for Bayless in Taft leaving. Part of what boosted the media coverage around Taft’s previous call-outs of Bayless was that Taft was already an established Fox figure before she got to Undisputed. And that likely also empowered her to criticize the network’s star in a way that might not be true for a less-known name. None of that’s to say that whatever new host is picked won’t be able to question Bayless (this is a debate-focused network, after all), but it feels like we may see less prominent confrontations for a while.

With all that said, this deal (as reported) seems pretty logical for everyone. Taft gets to stay with Fox, and gets some better assignments more focused on sideline reporting at big events rather than teeing up debates for Skip and Shannon. Fox gets to find a new personality to play the role of Undisputed host, and gets some media attention around that. And Bayless likely gets someone who takes him on less directly (likely, at least at first). So it’s hard to really criticize it from any side. But it is notable to see Taft leaving this role.

[The New York Post]

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.