John Walters, SI.com
ESPN fired Trev Alberts on Sunday after the college football analyst failed to show up for work at ESPN's studios in Bristol, Conn.
"He phoned and said that he wasn't going to show up," Mark Shapiro, ESPN's Vice President of Programming and Production, told SI.com on Tuesday night, "and when he didn't, he was in breach of his contract and we terminated him."
Alberts, a former All-American defensive end at Nebraska and member of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, was embarking on his fourth season as part of ESPN's popular College Football Scoreboard and College Football Gameday team. But on Sunday morning, in the midst of college football's first big weekend of the season, Alberts phoned ESPN's coordinating producer of college football, Ed Placey, and voiced his discontent.
"He phoned us and told us that he was unhappy with his role on College GameDay," said Shapiro. "He felt that he was playing second fiddle."
As the day wore on, according to both Shapiro and Alberts, there were several conversations between Alberts and ESPN senior vice presidents Jed Drake and Norby Williamson. Finally, Alberts announced that he would not be reporting for work that afternoon (ESPN and ESPN2 aired three college football games between 3:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.). Once Alberts failed to appear for his studio show assignment with host Rece Davis and fellow analyst Mark May, he was fired.
"They first wanted me to resign," Alberts said on Tuesday night from his Atlanta home. "Then they fired me. I obviously have a serious problem with the word 'breach', but that's something my attorney will work out."
Alberts joined ESPN's studio show in 2002 after five years of working in a similar capacity at CNN/SI. Cantankerous, passionate and opinionated, Alberts often feuded with May about issues relating to the sport, but the feud never turned (or even appeared to seem) personal. Davis played the role of genial arbitrator to a tee.
"We were just trying to be three guys in a frat house talking football," said Alberts.
As far as his discontent and the phone calls to management, Alberts said that both began long before Sunday.
"It wasn't just this weekend," he said. "There were conversations for awhile. I fully understood the privilege of the seat I sat in. And it was never about wanting to be part of the GameDay crew. But no matter what business you're in, if you're not respected internally, you're going to have a hard time being respected externally."
Alberts declined to elaborate. The GameDay crew, with Chris Fowler as host and sidekicks Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit, has evolved into a wildly popular cult phenomenon. Each Saturday the trio's visit to a college campus is cause for pre-game pandemonium among the tailgating set.
Alberts claims that he never aspired to that, nor does he begrudge Fowler, Corso and Herbstreit their widening popularity.
"The GameDay guys have earned that," Alberts said. "Mark, Rece and I, we had searched for something we could call ours. All we wanted was something we could take ownership of. We felt like the midnight wrap-up show was ours, but as the season began I could see that we'd be more of a support crew for [Fowler, Corso and Herbstreit].
"Never once did I say, Why aren't I on commercials? Why aren't I making more money? I'm a huge fan of all these people who work at ESPN, including Mark [Shapiro]. It's just a matter of not wanting to be marginalized."
Shapiro concurred that the ESPN stable may have had a few too many thoroughbreds.
"Over the years there's been some discomfort over how to integrate the two teams," he said on Tuesday. "But, it's like a coach who has a lot of good backs and receivers. Everyone has a role to play."
Everyone except Alberts. He has been dismissed from the team. Shapiro said that in the short term a replacement will come from in-house, but as for a full-time replacement for Alberts, "essentially, we're open for business."