Match made in heaven? ESPN hires Tim Tebow for SEC Network
ESPN's research department has pushed a singular mantra when it comes to college football: You can never have too much SEC. In similar fashion, the network has ridden news surrounding Tim Tebow with a Justin Bieber-like fervor. Now, these two forces have come together, and it should make for an interesting ride.
On Monday, ESPN announced that it had formally reached an agreement with Tebow to serve as a college football analyst for the upcoming SEC Network. The network said Tebow's primary role will be as an analyst for SEC Nation, a Saturday morning pregame show that will travel to different SEC campuses each week. In the months leading up to the launch of SEC Nation on Aug. 28, ESPN said Tebow will also contribute to a variety of ESPN platforms, including SportsCenter, ESPN Radio and the network's Heisman Trophy coverage. The former Florida quarterback will also be part of studio coverage for the new College Football Playoff, which goes into effect next season.
As far as continuing a professional playing career, Tebow reportedly has an out clause in his contract. (He signed a multi-year deal with ESPN.) Tebow will make his debut during coverage of the BCS title game on Jan. 6. He will appear several times throughout that day, including in the 9 a.m. ET edition of SportsCenter, College Football Live (3 p.m.) and College GameDay (7 p.m.).
"While I continue to pursue my dream of playing quarterback in the NFL, this is an amazing opportunity to be part of the unparalleled passion of college football and the SEC," Tebow said in a statement.
The initial question is how successful will Tebow be as an analyst. He is one of the most popular (and likeable) athletes in the country, and he'll no doubt work hard to learn the craft. He also loves college football; Tebow was known for watching college games in his hotel room on Saturdays before NFL action, as well as on plane rides. Still, his opinions on football have mostly been vanilla, at least as a player speaking with the press.
"He's obviously one of the most popular athletes in our country and he transcends sports," said a network executive who does not work for ESPN. "He has a devout following. I have never heard him lecture or sermonize, only speak in an interview-type setting. He didn't seem to have a commanding voice for broadcasting. Seemed smart and very likeable but religion appears to be an every moment part of his life. Could he speak about the games, players and coaches without invoking his faith? One of a few major questions he would have to answer."
Said USA Today's Lindsay Jones, who covered Tebow at Florida for the Palm Beach Post and with the Broncos for the Denver Post: "It absolutely makes sense in terms of his passion for college football because I found when he was just hanging out in the locker room, you could go up to him and talk about college football. You have seen the video of him giving speeches at churches and prisons, and when it is something that he is very passionate about, he can actually speak well on the subject. ... I will be interested to see how objective he can be when it comes to the rest of the SEC and how critical he will be because he is always so positive about everything. I want to see how he will be critiquing coaches and criticizing players, and how much he'll use his own experience there."
In an interview with SI.com two weeks ago, Stephanie Druley, ESPN's vice president of college networks, said that SEC Nation will travel to as many conference football sites as possible during the 2014 campaign. The show will debut in Columbia, S.C., for the South Carolina-Texas A&M matchup on the SEC Network on Aug. 28, the first game on the new network. Two days later, SEC Nation will broadcast from Auburn before the Auburn-Arkansas showdown. The network has not selected locations beyond that, but Tebow will clearly be the star attraction for a show that already has announced Joe Tessitore as its host and is expected to have ESPN Radio personality Paul Finebaum join the program as well. (Tebow, Tessitore and Finebaum are all represented by the same broadcast agent based out of CAA in Los Angeles.)
On Monday, ESPN declined to make an executive available to SI.com regarding Tebow's hire. ESPN will hold a conference call with Tebow and executives on Tuesday afternoon.
Druley told SI.com earlier this month that it was important to hire a former coach or player who competed in the SEC for SEC Nation. Tebow certainly fits the part. Druley said she favors four people on set and plans to hire an executive producer and line producer -- key production positions -- for the show over the next couple of months. The experienced Tessitore should be a big asset to Tebow as far as the mechanics of broadcasting are concerned.
"I want authentic and opinionated partners who will breathe it all in seven days a week," Tessitore told SI.com earlier this month. "I don't care if it's three or four on the set as much as I want the three or four who share my passion for covering the SEC. My vision is a group of great friends and colleagues who talk SEC football all week long -- laughing, debating and enjoying it all."