ESPN has lost touch

Competition is a good thing. It brings out the best is people.

No matter if its performers, teams, businesses, professional wrestling promotions or whatever, when two rivals are pushing each other, everyone raises their game and the resulting product is better for it.

But when there is no competition, a once great operation can slide into mediocrity, or just pure, outright awfulness.

Such is the case with the “worldwide leader in sports” ESPN.

ESPN deserves all the credit in the world for being innovators in the industry, and building itself into the juggernaut it is with its programming and great personalities.

But oh my, how the mighty has fallen.

The network is a caricature of itself due to, well, pretty much hiring caricatures of anchors. Outside of a handful of talented personalities like Scott Van Pelt and Heidelberg graduate John Buccigross, the majority of ESPN’s anchors seem more interested in being comedy acts or coming up with the next catchphrase instead of doing highlights and reading news.

But where the network really falls flat is its obsession with certain athletes.

Are LeBron James, Tiger Woods and Tim Tebow highly -egarded athletes that people are interested in? Yes. But while ESPN is telling us what song is on LeBron’s iPod during the pregame shootaround, it’s missing stories about guys like Steph Curry, one of the NBA’s rising stars, who might get one 20 second highlight reel a show.

Oh, and is it too much to ask to give the NHL playoffs a little more coverage than one Barry Melrose segment?

Don’t get me wrong, ESPN does some high quality things such as Bob Ley’s Outside the Lines, and the 30-for-30 documentary series.

But the biggest problem with the network stems from its flagship show SportsCenter. The show in its present form is a far cry from how it used to be in the days of Dan Patrick and Kieth Olbermann.

The show’s focus has shifted from highlights and news to Harlem Shake videos.

But, it was never more apparent how out of touch ESPN and SportsCenter are with the real sports world than this past Monday.

Five years from now, what is more likely to be remembered, the day Jason Collins came out as a gay professional athlete, or the day Tebow was released by the Jets?

I think its safe to argue the Collins story will have more lasting impact on the sports world.

But what was ESPN’s top story? Tebow, of course. A giant Tebow picture and story as the feature on the website, with a link to the Collins story on the side, underneath Tebow’s, of course.

As both stories were breaking on the noon edition of SportsCenter, Tebow’s name was mentioned 25 times before Jason Collins’ was mentioned once.

Only after receiving heavy criticism on Twitter from fans and sports personalities alike (including some of its own anchors) did ESPN reverse course and feature the Collins story.

While there is a good portion of the audience that wants to hear about LeBron and Tebow, there’s a larger population that’s sick of them.

If there ever was a need for someone to step up and challenge ESPN for its sports news superiority, now’s the time.

NBC and CBS have launched sports networks, but each seems more focused on concentrating on its own specialties than posing a real threat to ESPN.

Help might be on the way though.

Fox Sports 1 launches Aug. 17 and already has announced plans to provide direct competition to ESPN, including a sports news show airing opposite SportsCenter. Fox Sports 1 already has deals to broadcast college football and basketball, NASCAR, MLB, UFC and soccer. It also will have a daily football show utilizing its pool of analysts from the network’s award winning Fox NFL Sunday.

Plus the roster includes Gus Johnson, whom I consider the best play-by-play announcer on earth.

If nothing else, Fox Sports 1 should give ESPN a nice kick in the rear end and get it back on track. And if Fox Sports 1 and ESPN go to battle, all sports fans likely will be the winners.