Skip Bayless Leaving First Take and ESPN; Reportedly Joining Fox Sports 1

After a dozen years at the network, the highly polarizing, ever-opinionated Skip Bayless leaving First Take and ESPN. Bayless is best known for being one-half of ESPN’s “First Take” debate duo — the other half being Stephen A. Smith.

Skip and Woody Page made ESPN’s Cold Pizza a huge success. When Woody moved on, Skip took some time to adjust. That led to his pairing with Stephen A. Smith on First Take and the creation of sports’ most popular talk show.

Skip Bayless Leaving First Take and ESPNAnd now he is leaving, heading almost certainly to the only network that wants and needs him: FS1, which is trying to build its own debate show culture, with Bayless as its leading town crier.

Bayless’s “First Take” finale will be the day after the NBA Finals, but he will leave ESPN when his contract expires, at the end of August.

ESPN is rumored to have offered Skip $4 million a year to re-sign, which mean Fox Sports put up huge money to take him away from his comfort zone.

ESPN Losing Talent… Again

Skip Bayless Leaving First Take and ESPNThis is the latest loss of big-name talent at ESPN. Last year, Keith Olbermann, Bill Simmons, Jason Whitlock and Colin Cowherd left. Earlier this week, Mike Tirico chose to say goodbye after a quarter-century and move to NBC Sports, where it appears he may get a shot at replacing Al Michaels on “Sunday Night Football” and Bob Costas as the Olympic’s prime-time host.

I don’t think Skip is leaving for the money. I think Skip is leaving for the opportunity for another challenge. Bayless leaves behind nearly a decade of rising success at ESPN and looks to receive greater riches and possibly more control at Fox-owned FS1.

Skip Bayless turned down ESPN’s offer last Friday and he is talking to FS1 executives, chiefly Jamie Horowitz, the former coordinating producer of “First Take,” who is the president of Fox Sports national networks. He has worked with Bayless and, since going to Fox, coveted him. Now, it appears, he has him.

Where Does ESPN Go From Here?

ESPN is left with many questions. Who on its current staff can replace Skip on First Take?  The argument can be made that since Bill Simmons (now at HBO), Colin Cowherd (now at Fox Sports) and Keith Olbermann (now at Parts Unknown), exited the Bristol campus, Steven A. Smith was left as ESPN’s brightest star. And he is still under contract.

He did have major chemistry with Bayless that could be hard to duplicate for the next month, who would enter talking under a lot of pressure. The show has done well in the rating department. Expect Bomani Jones to be the lead candidate to replace Skip , if ESPN decides to keep the First Take format.

(Skip Bayless Leaving First Take and ESPN)