For those on the spectrum of conspiracy theoreticians, there’s one going around this week that the NFL has squeezed the Rams to wait until Thursday evening — when they’re officially on the clock at the 2016 Draft in Chicago — to reveal who they’ve decided to pick with the No. 1 overall choice.
Don’t spoil the suspense for ESPN and the NFL Network, both of whom air the draft that officially starts at 5 p.m., or prime-time in the East. When it’s up against “The Big Bang Theory.”
It became a topic, interestingly enough, on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” on Monday. Co-host Michael Wilbon got a little squirmy about it — as he should. He’s now asked to comment about whether the company he works for about whether it should comply to this request.
“Are we sure the NFL asked this, or did the TV networks ask it?” he responded.
Co-host Tony Kornheiser seemed a lot more subdued about it. It’s a TV show, he rationalized. He was fine with it.
“You want to get higher ratings,” he said, “You get higher ratings if there is a certain amount of suspense … If there is going to be a team that would help to create drama to make ratings, it would be a team in Los Angeles. I am OK with it, I don’t think it is bad.”
We’re bothered by the assumption that the league can so easily manipulate a network, even its own. Yet anyone with a true journalistic sense of duty would take this as a challenge to dig deeper through all the obfuscation. Produce a nugget of information prior to when it’s officially announced — a no-doubt true find. Perhaps it would then be just a matter of whether his editors would allow it to get on the air before the pick.
You could go with the Stephen A. Smith method and just guess loudly, with your chances here appearing to be 50/50, and wait for the outcome.
With that, ESPN’s 37th year of coverage begins officially with a “draft countdown” from 4-5 p.m. Thursday and the first round scheduled from 5-8:30 p.m. It’s a production that includes 27 cameras to capture Chris Berman, Mel Kiper Jr., Jon Gruden, new “NFL Front Office Insider” Louis Riddick, reporter Adam Scherfter, Suzy Kolber and a host of others.
Trey Wingo and Todd McShay join Kiper, Riddick and Schefter for coverage of rounds two and three (Friday at 4 p.m.) and rounds four to seven (Saturday, 9 a.m.)
The Culver City-based NFL Network boasts of more than 70 hours of live coverage during the week that started last Sunday. Rich Eisen and Mike Mayock are the point men, with Charles Davis, Daniel Jeremiah, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, Kurt Warner, Michael Robinson, Steve Mariucci, Brian Billick, Ian Rapoport, Melissa Stark and Rhett Lewis. Their “red carpet” special starts Thursday at 3 p.m.
At NFL.com, Matt “Money” Smith anchors the coverage starting at 5 p.m. Steve Wyche is the NFL Network reporter covering the Rams’ draft party at LA Live.
== As for Chris Mortensen, continuing a second round of intense treatment in Houston for Stage IV throat cancer since January, and about to miss ESPN’s coverage of the NFL Draft this weekend for the first time in 25 years.
The 64-year-old told us in a recent email that speaking right now “is somewhat painful, although I have numbing med for it. Radiation.”
He said he has at least another month of treatment to go.
“The draft was always my top calendar date,” he wrote. “It’s the first time I appeared (thank you, Fred Gaudelli) on ESPN in 1991. Can’t believe I’m going to miss it, though I am pretty wired through the magic of text messaging.”
Mortensen, a North Torrance High grad and El Camino College alum, covered high school sports and the Dodgers for the Daily Breeze before leaving to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution in 1983. We tried several times this week to tackle a Q-and-A about the draft and how he might be participating, but additional treatments precluded him from being up for it.
Prayers continued as we keep him, as well as TNT side reporter and SI cover story subject Craig Sager, in our thoughts.
== Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand had it first: Mike Tirico, ESPN’s “Monday NIght Football” play-by-play man and one of the top NBA voices for the network, is rumored to be leaving in June when his contract expires and will go to NBC to call the networks’ new “Thursday Night Football” package of five late-season games.
Connecting dots, reporters have the 49-year-old Tirico as the heir apparent to Al Michaels on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” (the 71-year-old’s contract is up in two years) as well as hosting the Olympics once Bob Costas has had enough of it.
ESPN is supposedly considering Sean McDonough as the leading candidate on “MNF,” which has only had four primary play-by-play men in its history: Keith Jackson (the first year, 1970), Frank Gifford (1971-85), Michaels (’86-2005) and Tirico (since ’05).
== Latest social media parlor game: Who will replace Skip Bayless on ESPN when he leaves the company after these NBA playoffs to join Fox Sports?
Our first take is we’ll skip speculation. We were just curious how he might address it on the show, which he did Wednesday morning.
As for moving forward: “I don’t mean to be flippant about replacing Skip easily,” said Norby Williamson, ESPN’s executive vice president for production, in the New York Times. “But I feel very confident that we’ll continue to innovate the show and build on the success that the two of them had. It’s not like we haven’t faced things like this before. But we’ve been pretty adept at navigating successful change.”
== Among the reviews of Phil Knight’s new book, “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike,” includes this by ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell.
Knight also has done TV pieces with “CBS Sunday Morning” and CBNC’s “Squawk Box” and a USA Today interview.
== The latest post by ESPN’s “public editor” Jim Brady focuses on the “quality and speed” of the networks’ merged and restructured news desk: “Network executives say there was no one incident that prompted the restructuring decision — just the march of time and constantly changing consumer behavior. The explosion of digital platforms in recent years had created an environment in which communication was suffering. Reporters in the field were often getting calls from editors on both the digital and the TV desks. The communication between the digital desk and ESPN’s shows was also showing cracks.”
The Universal News Group of about 35 employees, with bureaus in L.A. as well as the home base in Bristol, Conn., and another in the U.K., rolled out last December.
== An HBO press release Wednesday asks us to wait until June 22, a Wednesday night, at 10 p.m. to see the latest project they’ll unveil with new employ Bill Simmons.
“Any Given Wednesday With Bill Simmons” has a 20-show run that Simmons says, in the release, he’s excited about … “and I’m really, really excited to drop my first F-bomb on TV. We are going to figure out nudity down the road, as long as it’s tasteful.”
(It reminds us of how Jim Rome wasn’t against dropping an occasional curse word when Showtime gave him his own run but ultimately knew the content must override all. … and then there was the time Bob Costas snuck in his own HBO f-bomb at the 7:40 mark during his “Costas Now” show run).
Simmons’ deal is supposed to cover sports, pop culture, and include “compelling guests” each week.
The show is executive produced by Simmons, Eric Weinberger and Stuart Miller. Weinberger is president of the Bill Simmons Media Group, and previously served as executive producer of the NFL Network. Miller used to produce for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
== An Associated Press guide on how to watch MLB on line this season. No hints as to how to circumvent the system to get SportsNet LA.
== A Jessica Mendoza ESPN MLB career update on the SI.com podcast.
== Noteworthy live events on the Pac-12 Network this weekend include:
= USC hosts the conference beach volleyball conference championships, starting with the pairs semifinals and finals on Friday (10 a.m. and 11 a.m.), and the team championship match on Sunday at 4 p.m. after winners and losers bracket semifinals at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Anne Marie Anderson and Holly McPeak are on the call.
= Paul Sunderland, Tom Feuer, Dwight Stones and Jill Savage have the USC-UCLA dual track and field meet at Westwood, Sunday at 2 p.m.
= Roxy Bernstein and Kevin Stocker have USC baseball hosting Arizona on Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m., and Saturday at 2 p.m.
= Anne Marie Anderson and Amanda Freed have UCLA softball hosting Arizona State, Friday at 5 p.m., and Freed is with Ann Schatz for Saturday’s game at 7 p.m.
= Oregon has its spring football game Saturday at 11 a.m. (Jim Watson, Glenn Parker, Jill Savage)
== Arlo White and Lee Dixon calls the Leicester City-Manchester United Premier League title match on Sunday at 6:05 a.m. on NBCSN. Leicester City, which came into this season a 5,000-to-1 shot, can win the title with a victory or a Tottenham loss on Monday. Leicester City would become champions in England’s top flight for the first time in their 132-year history. No team which finished outside of the top four teams the season prior has ever won the title, and only four teams have won in the last 20 years — Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City.
== Finally: Our Twitter find of the week:
Men read tweets to female sportswriters in PSA https://t.co/x445hkcsgB
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) April 26, 2016
Which drew plenty of responses to that post, including this one:
— Doug Lambert (@lambert_doug) April 26, 2016