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Mike Francesa Finds Podcasting More Passionate Than Radio

“What we do by our very nature – it’s more passionate; it’s just more compelling when the teams lose, especially if there’s a tough loss.”

Derek Futterman



The conversations began last year to organize a reunion of Mike Francesa and Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo to take place on ESPN’s top-ranked morning debate show, First Take. The iconic sports talk duo hosted Mike and the Mad Dog on WFAN for 19 years, but since had had sparse public reunions, some of which included at a Garden of Dreams benefit event, on MLB Network’s High Heat and at an appearance at the 2022 Barrett Sports Media (BSM) Summit in New York, N.Y.

Yet there is no animosity between Francesa and Russo, as they frequently discuss their families and lives primarily through text, maintaining an amicable relationship despite various disagreements over the years. Since the end of the program in 2008, fans have clamored for them to return to the New York City airwaves where they consistently finished at the top of the ratings. Today though, each remains invested in viable solo careers post-WFAN and remain prominent figures in sports media.

Stephen A. Smith, executive producer and featured commentator on First Take, listened to Francesa and Russo in his youth and helped facilitate the reunion, which was originally set for last spring. Initially, ESPN wanted Francesa to come on the show unannounced, surprising Smith, Russo and host Molly Qerim; however, Francesa thought it would not be right for him to intrude on the program, preferring it to be approved in advance.

“I had a cold so we canceled once and then we never got back to it,” Francesa said. “Then [ESPN] came back after me this year – I said, ‘Yes,’ and recently went on the show. That was basically it, but it was in the works for a long, long time.”

First Take, led by Smith, Qerim and a rotation of guest commentators, recently enjoyed its most-watched January in show history, averaging 561,000 total viewers and marking six consecutive months of year-over-year (YOY) growth in the persons 18-49 demographic. Francesa’s Feb. 1 appearance on the show drew approximately 524,000 total viewers, with persons 25-54 accounting for nearly half of the audience.

The show also happened to coincide with seven-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady announcing his retirement from the NFL, sparking conversation regarding his career, legacy and potential next steps in sports media. Francesa, with his vast insights and sweeping sports knowledge, was able to quickly adapt and provide valuable contributions to the conversation. It led some viewers to implore First Take to consider bringing him on as a routine contributor.

“I don’t see me doing that on a regular basis,” Francesa said. “They haven’t asked me to do that on a regular basis. I know they were very happy with the show. I know the show did very well in the ratings [and] did very well where they wanted it to do well. They were very pleased with the show, but there’s been no talk about me doing it…. and I don’t see me doing it on any regular basis.”

On July 1, 1987, the sports talk format made its debut from the sub-basement of the Kaufman Astoria Studios in New York City on WFAN. Francesa was intrigued by the station, which was formerly known as WHN and played country music.

Jeff Smulyan and the management team at Emmis Communications brought in a lineup including Greg Gumbel in mornings, Jim Lampley in middays, Pete Franklin in afternoon drive (although his debut was delayed) and Howie Rose at nights. Francesa applied as a producer and landed an interview where he learned more about the direction of the new broadcast entity.

“They told me they were bringing in all these big talk show hosts from around the country [and] that I was too qualified as a producer because of my job at CBS,” he said. “They didn’t want me on the air because they were bringing people in from all over the country and they were going to bring the biggest and the best in. I asked them to give me a chance – they wouldn’t.”

After one year on the air, WFAN was struggling, reporting losses and meager listenership, insinuating that changes needed to be made – one of which was moving frequencies (1050 AM to 660 AM). Francesa was still working at CBS Sports and eventually was given a chance to fill in for Pete Franklin on WFAN since his colleague, Jim Nantz, knew one of the producers.

Another talk show host, Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, had also joined the station in late-1988 as a fill-in host and sports reporter on Imus in the Morning, returning to New York City after he had broadcast on WKIS in Orlando and WMCA in New York.

“I learned a lot from Don Imus in radio; I spent a lot of time talking to [him],” Francesa said. “I learned how to pace a show; I learned about timing from him – certain things I picked up from him being in the studio with him seeing how he did [them].”

Francesa and Russo, dissonant and seemingly-polar opposites, both wanted the opportunity to take over for Franklin once he departed afternoon drive in 1989. Mark Mason, the program director of WFAN, famously devised a concept where Francesa and Russo would host afternoons together, an idea few at the station espoused. Instead of forming the new duo, most WFAN colleagues wanted Francesa and Russo each to host a solo program, one in middays and one in the afternoon, as was the norm at the time.

Instead, Mason, dogged in his pursuit to improve ratings and revenue, was insistent on his idea and delivered an ultimatum to Francesa. It was host afternoon drive with Russo or, if he decided to go solo, be deprived of the pending opportunity to enter the coveted daypart. He chose the former, marking the inception of sports talk radio’s greatest success story and WFAN’s hallmark program for the next 19 years.

“The show had a rough transition – we didn’t get along very well in the beginning,” Francesa said. “After a couple of months when the ratings came out, the ratings were so good that there was no issue anymore. We both had to just realize that was our future because within six months, they had ripped up our contract and given us five times the money and we were already a smash.”

Over the weekday program, which first broadcast from 3 to 7 p.m., Francesa and Russo debated sports topics, interviewed eminent figures in New York sports and took calls from fans who wanted to get in on the conversation. Conducting a two-man sports talk show rather than what Francesa calls “guy talk shows,” Mike and the Mad Dog effectively redefined the format. When Mark Chernoff joined the station as its new program director in 1993, he separated himself from the program but always offered his support and expertise if they deemed it necessary.

“He just did whatever he could to accentuate the show [and] add anything that he wanted to add,” Francesa said of Chernoff. “He was very strong [and] he had a great sense of the ratings. I learned a lot of different tricks about the ratings from him.”

When Russo departed WFAN to join SiriusXM and launch “Mad Dog Sports Radio,” Francesa remained on WFAN as a solo host and continued to draw a large audience, even leading dedicated fans to launch an annual “FrancesaCon” event in New York City.

The ironic part of the situation was that it was Mike and the Mad Dog that had normalized two hosts being on the air together; Francesa seemingly went backwards in terms of sports talk radio’s evolution, yet sustained the success of the previous program. Whether fans were listening on WFAN or watching a simulcast on YES Network or Fox Sports 1, Mike’s On: Francesa on the FAN kept sports fans engaged and entertained on a daily basis until his retirement in 2017. That retirement was more of a caesura though, as he returned to the station just one year later to host a three-hour solo program and later launched a subscription-based mobile app.

“When I left the first time, everything was perfect, but they really came after me very hard to go back, so I did,” Francesa expressed. “It was very different the second time; I wasn’t working the same hours [and] I wasn’t working a full show…. From that standpoint, I look at it as when I left the first time, that was really the end because I was never really doing the same show.”

Coinciding with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision to give states regulatory power over sports betting, Francesa was recruited by several different gambling companies, especially those looking to launch in the New York-metropolitan area.

At this stage of his career, Francesa knows that he is more than just a solo broadcaster opining about the latest sports news; he is a brand, and those in the space duly recognize that. Since it is perhaps more facile than ever to promulgate one’s voice, it can easily be lost in the shuffle; therefore, standing out and doing something different is critical in launching a career.

“If you’re a brand, then you’re halfway home,” Francesa explained. “If I want to do something, the money’s going to be there; the production’s going to be there; the advertising’s going to be there; the audience is going to be built-in because I’m already a brand – I’m established. It’s very hard for a newcomer to be able to accomplish that, and now if you don’t accomplish that, you don’t keep the product that long so it’s a tough thing.”

As first reported by Barrett Sports Media, Francesa reached a multi-year deal with Rush Street Interactive to become a brand ambassador for BetRivers Sportsbook last March, through which he hosts The Mike Francesa Podcast.

Since its launch last year, the podcast has released over 150 episodes and Francesa has discretion to record and post an episode whenever he desires, which is produced and edited by one of his former producers at WFAN, Brian Monzo.

“It was a lucrative offer, so I agreed to do it and I’ve had a terrific time with it,” Francesa said. “I’ve done a football Friday podcast every week that’s usually up by noon on Fridays that’s done really well. I’ve done some other podcasts including some postgame stuff on Sundays.”

When Francesa was on terrestrial sports talk radio, a distinguished part of his program involved taking callers and listening to their opinions. Although there was a share of listeners who interacted for the sole purpose of asking trivial questions and infamously hanging up to listen, there were plenty who engendered interesting content and erudite analysis.

Even though Francesa no longer hosts a live program, he still interacts with podcast listeners through email, dedicating select episodes to answering their questions. He says the show receives several-hundred emails per week and responds to them similarly to how he took calls in the past.

“It gives me a chance to keep my hand in and it’s been very well-received,” Francesa said. “We take a lot of emails from the audience where what they’ll do is send me a whole bunch of emails, and what I do is I read them spontaneously – I don’t look at them beforehand – and then I do them on a live-to-tape show.”

Much of Francesa’s sports talk still centers around New York sports, praising, commiserating and criticizing teams and players as he sees fit with the credibility, facts and proficiency to back it up. He offers the New York Yankees as an example, a storied franchise that has consistently achieved success in the regular season, but has failed to qualify for the World Series since 2009 – largely at the hands of the rival Houston Astros.

“I think what we do is easier to deal with teams when they lose than if they win,” Francesa siad. “What we do by our very nature – it’s more passionate; it’s just more compelling when the teams lose, especially if there’s a tough loss. As far as when teams win, yes – they get attention when they win, but it depends how they do when the big games arrive.”

Over his broadcast career spanning parts of six decades, Francesa, known as the “Sports Pope,” has always been motivated to procure success and explore new avenues to bring fans sports talk content. While there is nothing more he feels he needs to do in broadcasting, nor is he actively looking for new opportunities, he would be interested in exploring a Mike and the Mad Dog alternate-style broadcast. 

According to Francesa, no broadcast networks have approached him about the idea just yet, but it has been brought up on a few occasions by others. With the recent rise in alternate broadcasts, including ESPN’s Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli; Turner Sports’ Inside the All-Star Game; and MSG Networks’ BetCast during select New York Knicks games, it is entirely feasible the duo could one day consider reaching fans through this new means of dissemination.

“I think that is one thing that would do very well,” Francesa said. “I just don’t know when or where it would get done. That is one of the things – something like that would do very well. I just don’t know what would be the perfect time and place and sport to do it.”

Beginning last year, Mike Francesa and Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo are honored annually with the presentation of the Mike and the Mad Dog Award at the BSM Summit, given to the best local sports talk show.

Last year’s award was given to Felger & Mazz of 98.5 The Sports Hub, and was preceded by a retrospective where Francesa and Russo reminisced about their time working together. Despite Francesa receiving a deluge of awards and honors in his career, including Hall of Fame inductions, Marconi Award wins and No. 1 sports talk host distinctions, he remains thankful to be held in high regard by his peers.

“Any time you’re recognized for your body of work, you’re going to very humbly and graciously accept it because that’s what you do,” he said. “When somebody recognizes it as being outstanding, you’re going to be very happy about that because that’s what we do. We’re performers, so when somebody recognizes your performance, you’re going to be very grateful about it.”

With many consumers possessing a device that can reach an audience of billions in their pocket, differentiation between talent is indispensable and the means to cultivate prosperity.

Out of the number of aspiring sports media professionals, very few attain the success Francesa has in his career, and he did it simply by being genuine with the audience and acting as himself. The medium notwithstanding, Francesa is a trusted and respected voice among sports fans in the New York-metropolitan area and the United States at large, and he continues to amplify his takes through his podcast in this new phase of his career.

“There’s a lot of noise out there; there’s a lot of sound out there,” Francesa said. “….Whatever it may be, you have to find a way to cut through to get noticed because if you don’t, there’s just too many podcasts and too many programs out there.”

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BSM Writers

Michelle Smallmon Didn’t Stumble Into Mornings on ESPN Radio

“The humanity and the relatability is what’s going to really bring people in.”

Derek Futterman



Michelle Smallmon
Courtesy: Missouri Athletic Club Connections

It all started with an accident. While vacuuming her apartment just two days before the first episode of her new national ESPN Radio program, Michelle Smallmon tripped over an air purifier cord. As a result of the maladroit blunder, she fell face first into her coffee table and hit the inside of her eye on a drinking glass.

When Smallmon looked into the mirror, she immediately saw that her eye was bleeding and swelling up and was in a state of disbelief, although she was not surprised that this happened to her because of her inherent clumsiness. The black eye that came out of all of this turned out to be an advantageous opportunity for the program, which opened its first hour on the air with this circumstance.

Smallmon works alongside Evan Cohen and Chris Canty weekday mornings on UnSportsmanLike, the new ESPN Radio morning show that leads off a refreshed national programming lineup. Since the program is also simulcast on ESPN2, there are cameras on inside the radio studio at the Seaport District-based radio studio, granting viewers of the premiere episode an opportunity to see Smallmon’s black eye for themselves. The incident, however, provided a means for the new hosting trio to introduce themselves and showcase their personalities in an atypical fashion by recalling a calamitous occurrence from the onset.

“We have to be ourselves,” Smallmon said. “People are coming for the sports, and hopefully with our opinions and our information and the knowledge that we provide, they’ll stick around, but they’re going to remember us for who we are. The humanity and the relatability is what’s going to really bring people in.”

Once the hosts of UnSportsmanLike were finalized, Smallmon met with Canty and Cohen to determine their collective philosophy for the program. At the crux of their conversation was how sports is supposed to be an enjoyable part of people’s days, making it important to be genuine with the audience and celebrate the festivities.

“I just think that audio provides a really great way for people to weave us throughout their day and it’s something that they can come back to, and I just feel like the audio space continues to grow,” Smallmon said. “So that is really exciting to me that there are so many different avenues for us to explore in the audio space.”

Smallmon and her colleagues understand that their program that was once anchored by Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg in the mornings for 18 years, who created a show that proved to be an enduring facet to sports radio as a whole. Today, UnSportsmanLike is competing for mindshare and attention span in a dynamic media ecosystem where people can consume various types of content by equipping myriad methodologies. The mission to serve the sports fan anytime, anywhere requires the hosts engage in deft preparation and fealty towards the audio vertical, never taking their positions for granted and understanding the privilege in being able to communicate en masse on the air.

“Any time anybody elects to listen to you, they are giving you a vote,” Smallmon said. “They’re choosing you [and] they are saying, ‘I want to spend a part of my precious time with you,’ and particularly in the mornings because we’re the first people that get the opportunity to talk about the games from the night before or to give our opinion on certain things.”

While Smallmon may have stumbled into an enthralling storyline to open the program and captivate the audience, she did just the opposite in landing a spot within the coveted morning drive daypart. Through years of indefatigable persistence and calculated risk-taking, she positioned herself to garner such a chance when the network was in the midst of developing a new lineup.

Despite having a successful morning show in St. Louis, Mo. on 101 ESPN that was finishing with high ratings and bolstering streams of revenue, Smallmon found herself yearning to live in a sprawling metropolis. Because of this, she started visiting her friends in New York City once per month and gradually became enamored with the locale, prompting her to meet with co-host Randy Karraker, program director Tommy Mattern and Hubbard Radio market manager John Kijowski to express her intent to leave the station.

“They have always been my biggest champions [and] they encouraged me every step of the way,” Smallmon said. “They were like, ‘This is going to be a tough transition for us because the show’s going so well, but we care about you as a person more than we do an employee, and if this is your dream and something you think you have to do, we’ve got your back.’ I will always and forever be indebted to them for not only finding a way to help me do that, but for supporting me and checking in with me every step of the way.”

When she was young, Smallmon frequently traveled to St. Louis with her father to attend sporting events, cherishing every chance she could to see a live game. Throughout her childhood, she watched football on television and remembers seeing sideline reporter Melissa Stark interview the players, prompting her to think about working in sports. Quotidian tasks were transformed into beacons of flourishing sports knowledge, catalyzed by her father’s creativity with abecedarian activities such as sorting and folding laundry.

Yet Smallmon concentrated in premedical studies at the University of Illinois, matriculating to try and become a dermatologist. Early on, she realized that she was not dedicated enough to pursue a profession in the field, resulting in a meeting with her advisor about her future plans. Upon being asked her ideal career path, Smallmon demonstrated interest in covering the basketball team with the goal of appearing on College GameDay as a features reporter in the future.

Amid an economic crash, Smallmon was able to land a job as a production assistant at KSDK, a local television station with which she had interned as a college student. Smallmon worked on the outlet’s morning show, Today in St. Louis, arriving at the studios around 3:30 a.m. every day to prepare and execute the broadcast.

Although her shift ended at 2 p.m., she would put in extra effort to stay later and interact with sportscaster Frank Cusamano and sports director Rene Knott, volunteering her time and trying to be productive. In displaying her aspiration to work in sports, she was eventually offered a position in the department, which first started with shooting and editing high school events.

“Most of the work that was done in sports was leading up to the 5 and 6 o’clock newscast until they took a big break before 10 p.m.,” Smallmon said. “I would use that time to just absorb as much as I could, watch the guys at work and try to make myself useful.”

Drawing inspiration from the aforementioned Stark, Smallmon had seen various women working and thriving in sports television; however, this was not the case in the sports radio format. Despite being familiar with the medium, she had never considered going on the air until Knott asked her to be a co-host of his new weekend show on 101 ESPN.

After some time, she received a note from an executive inquiring if she would be interested in applying for an open producer position available at the outlet. Even though she applied thinking she would not receive the job – a thought compounded when she discovered the producer role was for the program hosted by Bernie Miklasz – Smallmon made it to the final round of interviews. Speaking with Miklasz directly, he articulated that while he thought she was a good fit for the role, the other candidate had more qualifications and previous experience.

“I looked at him and I said, ‘Well, if that person is as great as you say that they are and have this much experience, they will have no problem finding another job when you hire me to be your producer,’” Smallmon averred. “I left there and I was like, ‘Man, I blew that.’”

Much to her surprise, Smallmon was hired and ended up working with Miklasz in the role for three years. In speaking with him and observing how he interacted with other people, she learned industry nuances and esoterica that made her even more adept at the role. Smallmon was eventually moved to The Fast Lane in the afternoons with Randy Karraker, D’Marco Farr and Brad Thompson, possessing a mentality of how to best position the show for sustained growth and success.

Smallmon took her skills to ESPN Radio in 2015 when she moved to Bristol, Conn. to work as a producer. The first stint with the network prepared her to excel on UnSportsmanLike, collaborating with hosts such as Ryen Russillo, Danny Kannel and Jorge Sedano, but she always felt a magnetic pull back towards St. Louis. Once Russillo was officially slated to leave ESPN, Smallmon was in talks with the company about different paths she could take and weighing her options. In the eleventh hour, Smallmon received a fortuitous call from Miklasz, who conveyed that he was thinking about changing up his show and wanted to know if she had any interest in co-hosting the program.

“It just felt like all of the cards were falling into place at the right time for me to make that move, and I’m a person that likes to take chances and challenge myself, and I don’t ever want to live with regrets,” Smallmon said. “I thought, ‘Maybe hosting and being on the air is not going to be for me; maybe it’s always going to be production, but I’d like to know.’”

Once she returned, Miklasz offered to change the name of the program to incorporate Smallmon, an entreaty that she declined because of fear that it would disrupt what was a known entity to listeners in the locale. Upon his exit from the station two years later, Smallmon started hosting with Randy Karraker, who implored her to add her name. Even though she never sought out to find the spotlight, she capitulated to the request once her co-host explained why it was important as not only an identifying factor, but also as the first female to be a full-time host on the station.

“I would hear from so many female sports fans across the area and parents whose daughters listened to the show and whose daughters paid attention to the show because someone who looked like them occupied that seat,” Smallmon said. “I really realized how important it was for me to establish myself in that way.”

As Smallmon made the move from St. Louis to New York City, her parents surmised she was recklessly upending her life. Subletting an apartment from a mutual friend in the city, she was working under a usages deal at ESPN Radio where she would deliver overnight updates and host SportsCenter All Night. Smallmon was grateful for the support of her parents and asked them to give her a year, during which she would work hard to land a full-time job in the city. Three hundred and sixty-six days later, Smallmon took to the air with a black eye to commence UnSportsmanLike, officially meeting her end of the bargain.

“It’s hard to explain to people how strange our job is,” Smallmon said. “The three of us sit in a windowless room and talk to one another for four-plus hours a day, so just by nature of spending that much intimate time with someone, you get to know them really well really fast.”

The workday for the morning episode begins the day prior several hours after the conclusion of the previous broadcast, independently reading articles, following sports news and reviewing games. In the preceding afternoon, the program holds a content call where everyone pitches ideas before an early rundown is sent out and added to throughout the day.

While the game of the night is on, Smallmon is in constant communication with her thoughts before getting sleep and preparing for an early wake-up call. There is a pre-show meeting to review the rundown before the four-hour morning show begins at 6 a.m. As soon as the on-air light is extinguished, the process starts again so the hosts are ready for it to illuminate again in 20 hours.

“It’s really a full-time commitment, especially during football season, to do a job like this,” Smallmon said, “but when you’re lucky enough to get the opportunity to host a show of this magnitude, you’ve kind of got to make it your life in a lot of ways.”

When she takes her seat behind the microphone in the morning, Smallmon believes that two of the most talented people she has ever worked with are sitting by her side. In her view, she needs to be at the same level as them on the program and effectuates that through her preparation and by bringing different perspectives to the air.

“I have zigged and zagged and occupied different roles throughout my time,” Smallmon said. “It’s really just been surprising opportunities that I have emerged and that I’ve really been grateful to have and that I want to take advantage of, but I don’t really think about the future and my motivation is not really driven by what’s next; it’s driven by the present.

For now, Smallmon is focused on attaining success in New York City and hopes to participate in the program for as long as possible. Down the road though, she knows that her career will entail a second return to St. Louis when she wants to be back in the community she loves and closer to her family. The gratitude she has in being able to regard the city as home is conspicuous and authentic, and those in the locale continue to listen to her on 101 ESPN for two hours each morning ahead of the station’s local morning program.

“My only goal right now is to make UnSportsmanLike the best show that it possibly can be, and if that is the case, hopefully we have an amazing run with the show,” Smallmon said. “That’s the goal is to make it as amazing as it possibly can be and ride that wave for as long as we possibly can.”

Smallmon never envisioned herself working in radio but now finds herself as a trusted voice in the mornings on a simulcast program within the network’s on-air lineup. Through it all, she has remained true to herself while exhibiting an evident commitment and passion for the craft, valuing every chance she has to go on the air.

“People will always say things to me like, ‘Oh, are you going to be the next Erin Andrews?,’ or things of that nature,” Smallmon explained. “And I say, ‘No, I’m going to be the first and only Michelle Smallmon,’ because the edge that I have over everybody else is that I’m me. There’s nobody else that’s me, and so if I can just be myself and be authentic every day and do that, anybody else can.”

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Desmond Howard Unnecessarily Threw Pete Thamel Under the Bus on College GameDay

Avatar photo



A photo of Desmond Howard

College football fans can be a crazy bunch, most of them are crazy in the sense they are doing stupid things that give you a good laugh but, every fan base has a lunatic fringe. Each fan base is more than willing to point out the lunatic fringe in the fanbase of their rivals but often are slow to acknowledge their own offenders. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist in any program that has any significant fanbase. The lunatic fringe affected College GameDay Saturday, and Desmond Howard didn’t help the situation.

As a fan, you can accept it as true or bury your head and assume you are the one singular program that has somehow avoided having a fringe lunacy.

Michigan is certainly a significant football program with a massive fanbase. Just the sheer number of Michigan fans tells you there is going to be a larger than normal number of fans that might fall into the category of “fringe lunatic”, it is just how the odds work.

That suggestion was made by ESPN during Saturday’s College GameDay which originated from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Just in case you are completely unaware of the biggest story in college football this season, during Saturday’s Ohio State-Michigan game, Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh was serving the final game of an agreed upon Big Ten Conference suspension. The game also happened to be the biggest game of the season so far, a virtual play-in game for the College Football Playoff.

The suspension of Harbaugh was the result of allegations that Michigan staffer Connor Stalions was running an “off the books” sign stealing operation and that Stalions was a little too closely connected with Harbaugh for the Big Ten’s comfort.

Stories like these only become mainstream by reporting and ESPN’s Pete Thamel was on the frontlines of that reporting. It should be said that, just because something is reported by ESPN, FOX, or CBS, doesn’t automatically make it true. Likewise, just because something reported about your team may not paint them in the best possible light, it doesn’t make it untrue. That was the gray area ESPN’s College GameDay found themselves in Saturday; one of their top college football reporters in the very midst of the fans that are upset with his reporting.

Thamel joins GameDay on site every week, normally delivering the breaking news on injuries and coaching changes, fairly normal stuff. He delivers his reports, not on stage, but among the actual team fans who are gathered behind the set for all the cameras to see.

Except Saturday when Thamel was not among the masses but inside the more controlled confines of Michigan Stadium.

Honestly, Thamel being inside the stadium, rather than among the crowd, would not have seemed at all odd to me until Michigan’s Heisman Trophy winner and GameDay analyst Desmond Howard made it awkward in this exchange:

Howard: “We’ve been doing this 12, 13 weeks and Pete’s always been in the crowd giving his reports, I’m like, ‘What the Hell’s Pete in the stadium for?’ That kind of just threw me all off, I’m like, ‘Put your big boy pants on and do it in the crowd like you normally do it.’”

Rece Davis: “He’s got some from the lunatic fringe, some ‘friends’. We’re just taking care of him.”

Howard: “We’ve got security. We’ll be ok. These guys are nice out here. These are nice fans. They’re not going to do anything.”

Davis: “It only takes one. That’s all.”

Howard: “He’ll be ok. Put the big boy pants on.”

I have no idea how many credible threats Thamel has received but there was, apparently, enough concern for ESPN to move him into an area that could be more easily secured.

Desmond Howard, though, seemed upset that ESPN doing that painted the fan base of his old school in a very negative light. I would make the case that even the most ardent GameDay viewers wouldn’t think it odd that Thamel was inside the stadium rather than among the crowd. Howard’s insistence on Pete not wearing his “big boy pants” only drew further attention to the fact Thamel was not in his normal spot.

Desmond Howard came off sounding like he was under some sort of pressure, personally created or applied from Michigan interests, to point out there was no reason Thamel should have any concern about Michigan fans. In doing so, Howard came off as something he’s never been accused of being, a poor teammate. The best way to handle the situation for ESPN would be to completely ignore the fact there was a change in Thamel’s location. In the event ESPN thinks anyone would notice, highly unlikely as it may be, just create a simple cover story.

To Thamel’s credit, he seemed content to not be the focus of this addition to the story, it was only Howard’s awkward interaction that brought it to light. It was completely unnecessary and only made everyone involved look a little worse.

In his NFL career, Desmond Howard averaged only one fumble per season, Saturday in Ann Arbor, he added another.

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Barrett Blogs

Nick Wright, Danny Parkins, Andrew Fillipponi and Omar Raja Join The 2024 BSM Summit Lineup

All four of these men are extremely talented and accomplished, and I’m grateful to each of them for making time to be with us.

Jason Barrett



The buildup to the 2024 BSM Summit continues with our next speakers announcement. Media professionals looking to attend March’s show can secure seats at We’ve already announced Jeff Smulyan, Mark Chernoff, Don Martin, Bruce Gilbert, Scott Sutherland, Chris Oliviero, Scott Shapiro, Spike Eskin, Mitch Rosen, Paul Mason, Bonnie Bernstein and Damon Amendolara will be part of the event. We’ll have additional big names to reveal in the weeks and months ahead too so stay tuned for more.

Before I get into the latest group of speakers, I want to pass along some Barrett Media news.

First, when you log on to BSM and BNM on Monday December 4th, you’ll notice both sites operating with a new, cleaner look. We pump out a lot of daily content on our websites but finding all of it can be intimidating. We’re hoping the modifications make it easier to find and digest our content and look forward to your feedback on what we roll out next week.

Secondly, I’ve spent months going through a process to identify an Executive Editor for Barrett Media. The type of leader I’ve been looking for different from what exists at some online publications. I’ve spoken to a lot of smart, talented people during this process, many who I know could make us better. However, there is only one job available. Fortunately after going through an extensive search, I’ve identified someone who I’m interested in teaming with to help take Barrett Media to the next level. I hope to announce that hire and the addition of a number of new writers next week. I think our readers, partners and clients will like what’s on the horizon.

Third, we have opened up voting on the Barrett News Media Top 20 of 2023. The deadline to cast votes for News/Talk PD’s is next Monday December 4th. We will present the News/Talk radio format’s collective feedback December 11-15 and December 18 on

There’s other stuff on the way as well, but I’ll save the rest for next week. Let’s dive now into the latest additions to the Summit.

It is my pleasure to announce the additions of Nick Wright of FS1, Danny Parkins of 670 The Score in Chicago, Andrew Fillipponi of 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, and Omar Raja of ESPN to the 2024 BSM Summit speaker lineup. All four of these men are extremely talented and accomplished, and I’m grateful to each of them for making time to be with us.

Starting with Omar Raja, the work he did building House of Highlights into a powerhouse social brand is well documented. He now serves as a commentator for ESPN’s digital and social content, which includes being the leading voice behind ESPN’s SportsCenter Instagram account, and providing strategic social programming across ESPN’s social platforms. It’s not every day industry professionals gain an opportunity to learn from one of the industry’s top social media minds, so I’m hoping to see a lot of folks present when he shares his wisdom at the Summit.

Shifting from digital to on-air talent, one session I know many will be present for will include three personalities who have been highly successful in each of their careers, and share a lifelong bond through the friendships they formed while attending Syracuse University together. Nick Wright, Andrew Fillipponi, and Danny Parkins are three of the best in the business today, and all three will be on stage together to discuss their individual paths, their differing approaches to content creation, measuring and managing success, and much more. Having Damon Amendolara, another Syracuse graduate who’s been highly successful on the air, guide the session should make it even more interesting and entertaining for all in the room.

With these latest four individuals added to the lineup we’ve now secured sixteen top speakers for March’s show. I’m hoping to reveal the next group of participants in a few weeks. Once we get past the holidays I’ll start revealing the awards winners and a few executives who will be part of the conference.

I want to thank Steve Stone Voiceovers, Good Karma Brands, Bonneville International, Silver Tribe Media, Premiere Networks and the Motor Racing Network for returning as sponsors of the 2024 BSM Summit. If your group would like to explore a sponsorship opportunity for the show or review website or newsletter options for 2024, email Stephanie Eads at [email protected] to receive a copy of our advertising decks.

That’s the latest for now. More to come in December.

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