Michelle Beadle will be the full-time NBA Countdown host on ABC and ESPN from now through the end of the playoffs, the network announced today. Beadle had been splitting hosting duties with Sage Steele this season.
The timing of this, less than two weeks before the NBA playoffs, is a little bizarre from the outside. But, there has been the impression internally at ESPN since close to the beginning of the season that Countdown moves more crisply with Beadle, that she has better energy and chemistry with the analysts on the program.
Steele signed a new multi-year deal with ESPN last September, so, despite widespread news of layoffs and buyouts, it would qualify as a relatively major surprise if she were out of the network anytime in the near future. She will continue to anchor on-site SportsCenter programs — she was at the Final Four last week, and is slated to be at The Masters this week and at the Cubs’ home opener in Chicago next Monday — but you’d have to think given the scope of her deal that she will have other responsibilities eventually — maybe something like in-studio SportsCenter or NFL Live?
There will be a lot of speculation that Steele’s politics played into this decision. She drew heat for criticizing Mike Evans for kneeling for the National Anthem, and for her social media commentary on protesters at LAX in the wake of President Trump’s attempted refugee ban.
Good luck getting anybody to address that notion on the record, but the sense I get is that if Steele’s politics did play into the decision at all, it was far less significant than the belief among ESPN decision-makers that Countdown was just a better program with Beadle hosting. The timing is indeed bizarre, but the decision was one that has evidently been in the works for some time.