ESPN and Bill Simmons to Part Ways

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We don’t normally get into things like this on FanRag Sports, but it’s the biggest news in the sports world so we probably should. ESPN announced this morning that it will not renew the contract of Bill Simmons, ending a 14-year relationship and making Simmons a free agent on the internet market.

“I’ve decided that I’m not going to renew his contract,” said John Skipper, the president of ESPN. “We’ve been talking to Bill and his agent and it was clear we weren’t going to get to the terms, so we were better off focusing on transition.”

It’s a move that was unexpected, but not entirely surprising; the rift between Simmons and ESPN was growing by the day, but a breakup was one of those things you never actually thought would happen. Simmons is the biggest fish and ESPN is the biggest ocean. Simmons is reportedly making upwards of $5 million annually, and it’s tough to expect to get that anywhere else.

His contract expires in September. Simmons turns 46 in September.

Fox Sports will likely come calling, and they’re probably the favorite in the clubhouse. Maybe Simmons finds a private investor to start his own site, bringing people from his inner circle and likely some from Grantland.

It hits home to a lot of people in sports media, especially those in their 20’s, because Simmons was such an influential part of the industry. But it was always such a weird relationship between Simmons and ESPN. ESPN is a site that doesn’t even want to look at “the line” let alone cross it. Meanwhile, Simmons pushed the envelope on everything he did. It was never a perfect match.

Simmons will move on and make a ton of money wherever he goes. He’ll be okay. But what happens to Grantland?

It’s under the ESPN umbrella, and ESPN says it’ll stay under their watch, but Simmons was the beating heart behind it. He created it, he ran it and he was the star. He brought with him others that maybe weren’t stars, but they turned into stars. Zach Lowe, Bill Barnwell and Jonah Keri had good careers before coming to Grantland, but working for Grantland and with Simmons launched their careers even further.

If you take away the creativity, direction and star power of Simmons, what makes Grantland any different from anything else on ESPN? It’s easy for the company to overlook that and think they’re bigger than any one man, but it might actually be different in this case.

What about the staff that Simmons brought in? How many will follow him out the door to whatever he goes on to do next? He gave them an opportunity, and you have to think some will show some loyalty to him. Hiring his replacement should be the No. 1 priority at ESPN if they want to keep Grantland up. And replacing the one who made it what it is today isn’t the easiest job in the world.

Simmons will be fine. Grantland? Maybe not.

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