Tennessee Alumnus

Working at ESPN

ESPN covers just about every sport imaginable, including college athletics and University of Tennessee teams. It’s a good place to work, apparently, and has lured several UT alumni its way. So, as you watch UT sports this fall, keep in mind someone from UT may be on the other side of the camera or website.

Gracie Blackburn (Knoxville ’08)

Majored in public relations and has worked at ESPN two years. She is an associate manager for the college sports team and works on ESPNU shows, NCAA championships, ESPN recruiting and NCAA softball.

Favorite UT sports moment: My first Florida football game as a Tennessee student. My new friends and I had miraculously scored student lottery tickets three rows from the field next to the Pride of the Southland Band at Neyland Stadium. Two points behind, with about three minutes to go, Tennessee missed a field goal. My friends were ready to high-tail it out of there, but with just seconds left, kicker James Wilhoit brought home a victory for Tennessee. That was the last time Tennessee beat Florida.

What is the future of college athletics? The reason I love college sports is the deep connection fans feel supporting their alumni programs. Over the last decade, national enrollment has grown by 37 percent, and I hope that means even more alumni in the U.S. will know the feeling of their school winning a game, a conference championship or a national championship.

 

LaRue Cook (Knoxville ’07)

Majored in journalism and electronic media with a cinema studies minor and has worked at ESPN for three years. He is associate editor at ESPN The Magazine and lead editor for college football and assist with college basketball.

Favorite UT sports moment: Bruce Pearl’s 2007 Sweet Sixteen team (the one that should’ve knocked off Greg Oden and Ohio State) was the most fun I’ve had watching Vols basketball.

What is the future of college athletics? College athletes will eventually get more than just scholarships for the money they help bring to universities. Whether that’s good or bad is another conversation. I understand that sports teams in this country were originally intended to be a source of pride, rather than profit, for institutions of higher education. But we can’t keep saying the model is broken and then refuse to be forward-thinking as we work to fix it.

 

Brett Edgerton (Knoxville ’04)

Majored in journalism and has worked at ESPN since 2005. He is the college basketball editor for ESPN.com.

Favorite UT sports moment: The 2008 basketball game between No. 1 Memphis and No. 2 Tennessee. I flew down from Connecticut with two tickets and surprised my dad, who was in the hospital undergoing chemo in his battle with cancer. His doctors didn’t love the idea of him going to the game, but there was no way he was going to miss it. So we went to the game and the famous Bruce Pearl pre-game pep rally at a downtown bar. It was the last time I ever attended a sporting event with my pops. He passed away fewer than four months later. He and I attended countless football games when I was a kid, but it was basketball that provided us with that last glorious Tennessee moment together. I’ll never forget it.

What is the future of college athletics? As the NCAA continues to implode and the money at stake become larger and larger, I would guess that, sometime in the not-so-distant future, the major-conference schools will break away and form a fourth division, something the NCAA president himself essentially endorsed recently.

 

Paul Finebaum (Knoxville ’78)

Majored in political science and started work at ESPN on Aug. 1. After having his own nationally syndicated radio show, Finebaum is hosting a daily radio show and serving as a college football analyst.

Favorite UT sports moment: 1998 football national championship

What is the future of college athletics? The future is very bright. I believe the new four-team playoff will be the most exciting event in the history of the sport.

 

Travis Haney (Knoxville ’03)

Majored in journalism and has been a national college football reporter for ESPN.com/ESPN Insider since April 2012.

Favorite UT sports moment: The 2001 victory at Florida. The team had very little chance, and it leaned on a very little player, Travis Stephens, to get a historic victory in the Swamp to win the SEC East in what had been a strange, surreal fall for all of us on campus and around the country. Steve Spurrier, who I have gotten to know, is still agitated that the Gators lost that one. We’ll just ignore what happened the following week in Atlanta—a UT loss preventing me from covering my first national championship game.

What is the future of college athletics? I think we have to be honest about the direction of it and football in particular: It’s a business. The idea of amateurism seems and sounds fine, but it just isn’t reality any longer. And that’s OK. The problem is there is no element of the system–the NCAA, school presidents, Ads–that is strong enough or united enough to evoke change that isn’t gradual and sometimes plodding. A visionary, frankly, is needed to get things going.

 

Emily Keene (Knoxville ’08)

Majored in communication studies and has worked at ESPN since 2010. Keene works in studio production as a content associate. She has worked on Mike & Mike in the morning.

Favorite UT sports moment: Sept. 14, 2004, when Tennessee beat Florida at Neyland Stadium. James Wilhoit kicked a 50-yard field goal with under a minute left in the game, which led the Vols to a 30-28 victory. Coming in at an extremely close second was the ridiculous Rick Clausen comeback over LSU on the Monday night game in Louisiana.

What is the future of college athletics? I envision college athletics continuing to be dominated by the SEC.

 

Chris Low (Knoxville ’87)

Majored in journalism and has worked at ESPN since 2007, covering SEC football.

Favorite UT sports moment: My favorite sports moment as a student was Tennessee’s 1985 SEC football championship, the Vols’ first SEC title since 1969, and then being in New Orleans to see Tennessee cap the season with a 35-7 drubbing of Miami in the Sugar Bowl.

What is the future of college athletics? Eventually, I think we’ll see four “superconferences” in college athletics and a playoff in college football that goes from four teams to eight teams somewhere down the road.

 

Mike Moore (Knoxville ’84)

Majored in broadcasting, production/performance, and has worked at ESPN since 1991. He is a senior coordinating producer in the Charlotte office with oversight of football and basketball (SEC Network), high school football and college baseball on all ESPN networks.

Favorite UT sports moment: Beating No. 2-ranked Alabama in 1982 and breaking an 11-year drought. A close second is the 1986 Sugar Bowl.

What is the future of college athletics? Continued growth of smaller sports (baseball, softball, lacrosse) because they are being televised on conference-specific networks more and allow alumni to follow their schools in competition year round instead of just in fall and winter.

 

Gene Wojciechowski (Knoxville ’79)

Majored in journalism and has worked at ESPN since 1988. Wojciechowski was a member of the original ESPN The Magazine staff and later moved to ESPN.com as senior national columnist. He mainly writes about college football and golf.

Favorite UT sports moment: Does an epic snowball fight between Morrill Hall and Frat Row count as a sporting event? No? Then I’d have to go with the 1991 comeback against Notre Dame (down, 31-7, at one point) or, of course, any win over Alabama.

What is the future of college athletics? Why not just ask me to split the atom? I have no idea, other than to say the future of college athletics will be dictated by those who will have to decide between the pursuit of money versus the pursuit of what’s right for the games and the athletes who play those games.

 

More Alumni at ESPN:

In the fall 2013 issue, we included nine UT alumni who work at ESPN. Since then, we’ve found four more. Chris Brakebill (Knoxville ’10) is a web and mobile developer for fantasy games. Bill Geist (Knoxville ’86) is a senior vice president in finance, Cliff Chartrand (Knoxville ’10) is a content associate and Ryan McGee (Knoxville ’93) is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.