Behind The ScenesESPN HistoryStarting 5

ESPN: The College Course

Ed Sherman (left) interviews Chris Berman during the NFL Draft in Chicago. (Steve Eisen/ESPN)
Ed Sherman (left) interviews Chris Berman during the NFL Draft in Chicago. (Steve Eisen)

Across this great nation, on college campuses from Berkeley to Boston, future leaders have been able to study just about anything.

Ed Sherman (Courtesy of Ed Sherman)
Ed Sherman
(Photo courtesy of Ed Sherman)

At South Carolina, for instance, there was a 2010 course on Lady Gaga. Georgetown University students can ponder “Philosophy and Star Trek.” And University of Pennsylvania students have been offered a course called “Wasting time on the Internet.”

Now, thanks to veteran sportswriter – and University of Illinois alumnus – Ed Sherman, we can add this fall’s Illinois offering, “MDIA 290: ESPN: This is SportsCenter,” to the syllabus of iconic entities being elevated to a course of study.

“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 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.
– Ed Sherman on teaching about ESPN’s roots

“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.”

In addition to James Andrew Miller’s book, “These Guys Have All The Fun” and former ESPN President George Bodenheimer’s “Every Town is a Sports Town,” Sherman assigns regular readings on ESPN-related issues and has been able to gather video interviews with several ESPN executives and commentators.

“I am using the videos during the classes to add the further context of that day’s topic,” Sherman said. “The students are able to hear first-hand from the people making the decisions and delivering the content.”

The course has proven educational for Sherman as well.

“I have found it very interesting to go back to the roots of ESPN and see how the network has grown and evolved,” he said. “It seemed like there were many, many steps along the way where there were doubters and people saying ‘Are you crazy?’ And then ESPN went ahead and executed its plan.”

Could an entire ESPN major be in the offing?

“Now, there’s an idea,” Sherman said. “I would guess that it would be a popular major. Let’s not stop there. How about a Ph.D. program based off of the intense study of Pardon The Interruption?”

Paging Professors Kornheiser and Wilbon. . .