ESPN's new 'SportsCenter' hosts are Sage Steele and Kevin Negandhi

ESPN names new president
ESPN names new president

ESPN has unveiled its new 6 p.m. "SportsCenter" lineup.

The network announced Friday that longtime ESPN personalities Sage Steele and Kevin Negandhi will host the flagship program, which has been without a permanent anchor since early March. They start Monday.

Steele and Negandhi are already well familiar with the franchise. Both of them host different morning editions of the show, and Steele also hosts a traveling version called "SportsCenter on the Road."

They've also each been with the network for more than a decade. An ESPN blog post announcing the decision referred to them as the "veterans committee."

"For a new era, they're going old school," said James Andrew Miller, the journalist and ESPN biographer. "This is not trying to reinvent the wheel."

The choices represent a significant departure from ESPN's most recent attempt to remake the show. It was a little more than a year ago that Michael Smith and Jemele Hill were tapped to host a rebranded "SportsCenter" called "SC6."

Related: ESPN's Michael Smith leaves 'SportsCenter'

At the time, Smith and Hill were better known for the opinionated banter and commentary that shaped their discussion show on ESPN2, "His & Hers."

ESPN billed the revamp as a "format geared to fit Smith and Hill's personalities" — an indication that the network saw them as a means to stay relevant in an era of cord cutting.

But the experiment was short lived. While the network emphasized the hosts' personalities at the outset, Miller said that concept soon clashed with what many at ESPN wanted of "SportsCenter."

Hill was reprimanded and later suspended by ESPN over incidents involving her Twitter feed that were emblematic of the high-wire act she attempted to perform. Once, after Hill called President Donald Trump a "white supremacist," the network released a statement: "Jemele has a right to her personal opinions, but not to publicly share them on a platform that implies that she was in any way speaking on behalf of ESPN."

Hill left the show in January. Smith stayed on for another month and a half.

Related: Jemele Hill leaving SportsCenter to move to ESPN's 'The Undefeated'

Steele and Negandhi haven't started yet, but ESPN has telegraphed a desire to return to a more traditional broadcast. In recent months, the show has swung back to focus on highlights and game previews.

Negandhi emphasized that point in a video announcing his role.

"We know that this show all going to be about highlights, of course, interviews, getting you set up for everything that you're gonna watch at night," he said.

Even so, the Steele pick will likely raise a few eyebrows. Like Hill, Steele is a polarizing personality, albeit with views that have won her favor among conservatives.

For example, she criticized a kneeling NFL player on Twitter and sounded off on Instagram about how travel ban protests forced her to miss a flight.

When Steele was replaced as the host of ESPN's "NBA Countdown" last year, it renewed scrutiny of her social media posts and invited speculation about the reason for her departure. Eventually, ESPN released a statement in her defense, according to USA Today.

Steele has in the past dismissed criticisms about her political leanings, and told the Washington Post last May that "it has nothing to do with me being a sportscaster."

"Nobody has asked" about her politics, she said at the time. "I wouldn't answer, anyway, because it's no one's business."

Miller, the journalist, said he'd be "very surprised" if Steele used the 6 p.m. hour to boost her own personal views.

"I think that there is going to be very little individual political discourse," he said. "I think that what they've figured out now is that they have a formula. They have a recipe that they are going to stick with."

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