Maybe it’s coincidence, maybe it’s deliberately masked by an acronym, or maybe it means nothing at all. But in ESPN’s full name — Entertainment and Sports Programming Network — it’s worth noting that something does technically come before sports.
Analytics rock star Nate Silver, whose wildly popular statistics- and probability-centric FiveThirtyEight.com website was purchased by the network and will be leaving its current home at the New York Times sometime after August, does have genuine sports bona fides.
While with Baseball Prospectus more than a decade ago, he developed the PECOTA system that has proven an accurate projection tool in forecasting player performance in Major League Baseball.
His inspiration was something to which a vast majority of fans can relate: He wanted to win his fantasy league.
But in promoting its coup of landing Silver, ESPN has left those of us over here in the sports section wondering exactly what he will do that relates to . . . well, sports.
ESPN president John Skipper said Bill Simmons’s superb and successful “Grantland’’ stand-alone site will serve as somewhat of a model and noted that Silver is getting back to his “sports roots.’’ He added: “Our expectation is he will determine the content of that site. Politics remains at the core of what he does, so politics is going to be important there.”
The question is, how important?
“Obviously I have a background in sports, and that would be a big focus here, but it’s not just going to be a politics site or a sports site,’’ said Silver.
But here’s plenty on the sports front for Silver and his staff — which Skipper suggested could number in the “low dozens” — to tackle. Slate.com’s Josh Levin came up with a clever to-do list of sports issues for Silver to repair or solve, including coming up with a college football system that makes sense and finding an effective way to quantify defense in baseball.
Right now, Silver isn’t dealing in such specifics. He has so much more to tend to first: the upcoming address change and the matters of hiring a staff. But the idea of how to structure the site is already percolating.
“One model we’ve talked about is kind of the old, the current actually, USA Today, where you have those four sections; you have news, sports, money, and life, and you can kind of fit most things we want to cover into one of those four bundles,’’ he said.
“I also know that things will evolve over time, so I can’t predict what the exact mix of content will be. I do want to emphasize we’re not pulling back from politics.”
Of course that’s no surprise, given the acclaim and fame that came from his accurate election projections. But here’s hoping it doesn’t prevent him from focusing on that S in ESPN, either.
Comcast SportsNet New England debuts “Remembering Reggie: The Reggie Lewis Story’’ Sunday night at 8 p.m., 20 years and a day after the budding Celtics star, just 27 years old, collapsed and died while shooting baskets at Brandeis University. The documentary, produced fully by CSNNE, directed by Torey Champagne, and narrated by Glenn Ordway, runs 90 minutes and is a worthy remembrance of an exceptional but ultimately tragic young basketball player. It quickly becomes apparent that those who knew him — 22 people were interviewed for the film — haven’t let his memory fade. “In my office I always had a picture of all my kids — and Reggie. I’ll miss him forever, he was like a child of mine,” said Jim Calhoun, who coached Lewis at Northeastern before moving on to UConn. Hard to fathom, but had Lewis lived, he would turn 48 this November . . . ESPN announced this week a slate of six “30 for 30” films that will run on consecutive Tuesday nights (8 p.m.) Oct. 1-Nov. 5. As usual, it’s a fascinating list. The three that jump out instantly as must-watch: “Free Spirits,’’ on the quirky lore of ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis (airs Oct. 8); “Big Shot,’’ on Jimmy Connors’s unexpected run in the 1991 US Open (Oct. 22); and “Tonya and Nancy,’’ which probably doesn’t require a synopsis (Nov. 5).
Fox’s top fiveFox Sports 1, which debuts August 17, revealed Thursday what it is calling its “starting five’’ for its flagship nightly news, opinion, and highlights program. Charissa Thompson (formerly of ESPN), retired tennis standout Andy Roddick, ex-NBA star Gary Payton, and former NFLers Donovan McNabb and Ephraim Salaam will join anchors Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, who built a large and loyal following in Canada on TSN’s SportsCentre before joining Fox in May. Can’t wait to see if ESPN counters Fox Sports 1’s launch with the temporary return of Keith Olbermann to “SportsCenter’’ that week. It also marks the debut of the UFC on the network with UFC Fight Night - Shogun vs. Sonnen at TD Garden.
As entertaining as it has been the past few days to flip between The Sports Hub’s Toucher and Rich program and WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan show as the rival morning hosts take turns sniping at each other, it was somewhat surprising to hear T&R’s Fred Toucher reveal that he told Comcast SportsNet New England producers that he doesn’t want to be on any panels that include D&C third-man-in Kirk Minihane. Save for the fact that they work for competing radio programs, it seems to me the two should get along. Both are sharp, unfiltered, blunt, and don’t suffer fools gladly, characteristics that help make both compelling media personalities . . . The Sports Hub’s “Next Weekend Co-Host’’ competition began with more than 1,700 entrants. Four remain, and they will compete in the Finals for a weekend hosting role on the station Saturday at 10 p.m. at Hurricane O’Reilly’s. You can supply your own punch-line about there being worse ways to find an on-air personality.