Sports Illustrated has learned that Michael Smith’s last day as an ESPN SportsCenter host will be Friday.
Smith leaving the 6 p.m. SC6 edition of SportsCenter follows his former SportsCenter co-anchor Jemele Hill ’s decision to depart the franchise to join the staff of The Undefeated, the ESPN microsite that fuses sports, race and culture, as well as other additional assignments. Both Hill and Smith have multiple years left on their ESPN contracts so look for Smith to craft a new role at ESPN over the next couple of months.
As this column wrote in October when it predicted Hill’s tenure as the co-host of the 6 p.m. ET edition of SportsCenter would end, Smith leaving SportsCenter is not a surprise. The SportsCenter that Hill and Smith envisioned, what made their chemistry honest and unique on the ESPN2 show His and Hers and their podcasts together, had slowly been chopped away by a desire from management to change that show to that of a traditional SportsCenter. In addition, SportsCenter’s upper management shifted last September with longtime ESPN exec Norby Williamson becoming the lead executive on all SportsCenter content as part of a management shakeup in ESPN's content group.
It is an interesting exercise to look back at the Jan. 30, 2017 press release when Hill and Smith were announced as the hosts of a re-imagined version of SportsCenter. This was when management was touting boldly that ESPN had made a strategic shift in thinking to rebuild the SportsCenter franchise around what one of its executives termed “personalities and conceits that work for specific audiences.”
“With a format geared to fit Smith and Hill’s personalities, along with a specially-designed set and its own music, The Six will be different from any other SportsCenter produced since ESPN’s first telecast of its signature news and information program in 1979. Debuting on the day after the Super Bowl, the premiere episode of the weekday offering will be hailed with an hour-long simulcast on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNEWS. Smith and Hill, who previously co-hosted ESPN2’s His & Hers and will be the first African-American duo to host SportsCenter on a regular basis, will combine some of the best elements of their previous program with SportsCenter for the new show, including a deliberate and well-paced conversational format in which they discuss sports topics, news, culture and social issues. The program will continue SportsCenter’s focus on news of the day and breaking news as warranted.
“I’m most excited for the viewers to see how much freedom we are going to have,” said Smith, who’s been with ESPN since 2004.
Asked directly by SI in late January how he would respond to the assertion that the reason Hill wanted off SportsCenter were the changes that he had instituted on the show that made it distant from the initial charter of the show, Williamson said, “I think there is probably an element of truth in that. That can happen anytime you start something from a certain point or certain direction and then you evolve certain products. … As you tweak different things, people come to the realization that this is not exactly for me.”
SC6 debuted on Feb, 6, 2017. It ended up lasting 13 months.