Veteran sportscaster Mike DeGeorge ended his run as the anchor of the "Empire Sports Report" Wednesday night, having abruptly resigned from Adelphia's regional cable sports network.
The circumstances of his resignation threaten to damage the credibility of Empire, which already deals with suggestions that it is a promotional arm of the Buffalo Sabres because one company owns both.
DeGeorge resigned after a Monday staff meeting in which General Manager Bob Koshinski disclosed plans to emphasize coverage of the Buffalo Sabres and possibly drop aspects of its Buffalo Bills coverage. Empire and the Sabres, of course, are owned by the same company, along with radio station WNSA-FM. However, interest in the Bills around Western New York far exceeds interest in the Sabres.
"I love this job, I love the people I work with," DeGeorge said. "I like the management and ownership. They've been fair and good to me. I don't want to leave. It is based on principle."
DeGeorge's last day at Empire was Friday. He was persuaded to stay for a few days because Empire has a staffing problem now that Howard Simon has moved from Empire to WNSA, Bremante Bryant is recovering from a severe auto accident and Kerry Sayers hasn't been replaced.
DeGeorge came to Empire more than three years ago after being fired by Channel 2, where he built a reputation over 15 years for asking tough questions and being an emotional employee. He said he resigned from Empire because "I think some things might be changing. It is just time for me to go in another direction. The problem has been there over the long haul. It came to a head this week."
He resigned without having another job lined up, which would indicate how disturbed he is over the coming changes at Empire. Among the changes being discussed are the possible elimination of Empire's NFL draft day coverage and of the Bills postgame program.
Koshinski said DeGeorge has "overreacted."
"He has a perception of what our coverage will be that is inaccurate," Koshinski said.
The general manager said that the ratings for the Bills postgame show have been lower than expected and that Empire plans to emphasize hockey more because its strongest ratings come from all aspects of its Sabres coverage.
Right or wrong, the perception is that the increased emphasis on the Sabres was an edict from Adelphia, since the changes were announced after Koshinski had a meeting at the cable company's headquarters in Coudersport, Pa., with Timothy J. Rigas, Adelphia's executive vice president.
But Koshinski said the changes are his idea.
"Our priority is we are a regional sports network driven by hockey and our coverage should reflect that," he said. "Apparently, Mike was the only one who felt so strongly because no one else walked into my office and resigned."
While other Empire anchors and reporters have journalistic concerns, they are taking a wait-and-see approach and believe DeGeorge was looking at things more emotionally and differently than they do.
Josh Mora, who will fill DeGeorge's spot starting Monday, said he initially had concerns at the Monday meeting.
"As the meeting went on, I didn't think that covering the Sabres more meant that I had to compromise my journalistic principles," Mora said. "If I'm wrong and it does, I will follow Mike out the door. I don't think this will make me do anything that I don't do already and Mike felt it was going to."
FAN-TV co-host Bob Trimble has a similar view.
"I don't feel, at this point, that I have to compromise anything," Trimble said. "We'll see."
Trimble said he and DeGeorge have become close and that the recent death of DeGeorge's father may have played into the decision to leave.
"Emotionally, it has been a trying year for Mike," Trimble said. "Getting pushed one way or another, with his perception, coupled with everything going on, might have made him say, 'I want to do something else.' "
The shift from DeGeorge to Mora as host of the weekday "Empire Sports Report" certainly will mean fewer commentaries. DeGeorge had a tendency to insert his opinion, which didn't always please management. Mora said that isn't his style.
Even though his departure statement was carefully worded and not as strong as many of his sports commentaries, DeGeorge is fueling the perception that Empire anchors and reporters had better be careful about what they say about the Sabres. In deciding to use the Sabres more to drive its programming, Empire risks damaging its credibility.
The prankster -- or at least someone taking credit for the prank -- who made a fool out of WGR-AM last week called this column and said that he manufactured the Associated Press release out of Baltimore that said the Bills had hired Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and faxed it to the station. The prankster said he did it because he wanted to prove that the station will put anything on without verification despite what its promos claim. He said that WGR aired the erroneous report within minutes of his having sent it.