ESPN used aliases for its broadcast of College GameDay. According to a new report, on-air personalities were able to win Emmy awards they were not entitled to.
The plan, uncovered by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) and reported by The Athletic, involved the world leader inserting wrong names into entries, then re-engraving the trophies and handing them over to the hosts. According to NATAS, this practice has been going on since at least 2010, with fake names only surfacing in 2020.
The incorrect names included Kirk Herbstreit (Kirk Henry), Lee Corso (Lee Clark), Chris Fowler (Chris Fulton), Desmond Howard (Dirk Howard), Samantha Ponder (Steven Ponder), Tom Rinaldi (Tim Richard), and Gene Wojciechowski (Gene Wilson). The report also stated that Fowler (Chris Fulton) and Shelley Smith (Shelly Saunders) allegedly had all pseudonyms with the same initials as their real names.
College GameDay won eight Emmys for outstanding weekly studio shows between 2008 and 2018. However, NATAS guidelines prohibit including on-air talent in the credit list for this specific category. While the show’s analysts and hosts could win individual awards, they were not entitled to trophies for the collective recognition of a show.
„NATAS has identified a number of fictitious credits that ESPN submitted for several sports Emmy competitions,“ wrote Adam Sharp, President and CEO of the organization, in an email to The Athletic. „When ESPN’s senior management was made aware, the network took steps to take responsibility for its employees‘ actions, conduct thorough investigations, and correct the course. These steps included ESPN returning statuettes to fictitious individuals and committing to further internal accountability and procedural changes within the network.“
The Athletic also found other false names that closely resembled on-air talent – Erik Andrews (Erin Andrews), Wendy Nickson (Wendi Nix), and Jenn Brownsmith (Jenn Brown) – but these names could not be verified as direct pseudonyms. Nix confirmed that she received an Emmy around the same time her Nickson alias appeared on an Emmy credit list, claiming she had no knowledge of its illegitimate acquisition.
„One must consider that these personalities are so important and have egos,“ said someone involved in the ESPN Emmy submission process in recent years, as reported by The Athletic.
Although 37 fake trophies were returned, there are indications that ESPN may have expanded this practice further with College GameDay. When SportsCenter anchor Linda Cohn posted her outstanding daily studio show award on Instagram, three additional trophies were visible in the background. 2023 was the first year Cohn had ever claimed an Emmy in this category, and NATAS confirmed to The Athletic that Cohn had only won a single Emmy.
„Some members of our team clearly erred in submitting certain names in the Emmy categories back to possibly 1997 when there was no entitlement for recognition or statuettes,“ ESPN said in a statement to The Athletic. „This was a misguided attempt to recognize on-air individuals who were important members of our production team. After the current leadership became aware, we apologized to NATAS for the violation of guidelines and worked closely with them to completely overhaul our submission process to prevent such a thing from happening again.“
The falsification of credits results in disqualification and trophy returns. Senior leadership on College GameDay was disqualified from the Emmys for a year. Craig Lazarus, Vice President and Executive Producer of Original Content and Features, Lee Fitting, SVP of Production, and Drew Gallagher, who coordinates „College GameDay,“ were also excluded from future Emmy participation.