From WSOU to SportsCenter
You see his face and hear his voice almost every time you turn on ESPN, and yet few realize that he got his start in the classrooms of Seton Hall University. Bob Ley, who graduated from Seton Hall in 1976, credits his broadcasting success to the university that he called home.”Every day there is a question on what to do and why, and what’s the right thing and how to write a story fairly and what’s fair comment,” Ley said. “The basis of all that, I think, was provided by the instructors, the professors and the environment at Seton Hall.”Before deciding to come to South Orange, Ley had a very clear idea as to what he wanted to do with his future. Being a professional athlete was not one of them, as he admits that he was “skill challenged.””I knew that I had an interest in media, and that SOU was doing all of the Pirate basketball games and was an established presence there and had a great had a great history,” Ley said. “The Seton Hall communications department was the reason why I went there.”During his time at Seton Hall, Ley was deeply involved in the student media, specifically WSOU, Seton Hall’s student-run radio station. Since day one of his WSOU career, Ley was involved in the everyday operations of the station.”In terms of just the practical knowledge of the industry, it started at freshman orientation,” Ley said of his WSOU experience. “Frank Scafidi, who is still the chief engineer at WSOU, was sitting behind the board and I had the know how to run a radio board, and in like 15 minutes, kind of a variation of Tom Sawyer painting the fence, he had me sitting there running the board.” While at WSOU, Ley was heavily involved in the station’s sports programming, taking on the role of sports director in 1976.Ley recalls being the only station that covered the Pirates during his tenure at WSOU, which included trips to California and Florida.”There was no commercial radio or television, only occasionally, very occasionally,” Ley said. “There was next to no television, and no other radio. We were the sole outlet. It was quite a responsibility.”After graduating magna cum laude in 1976, Ley moved on to the Passaic Herald-News where he had been working prior to graduating as a high school sports correspondent. Later, he joined Suburban Cablevision out of East Orange as the director of sports and public affairs. Then in 1979, Scottie Connel, who was one of the minds behind ESPN, approached Ley with an offer to join the newly formed ESPN network. However, he was also in talks with New Jersey Network to become their No. 2 sports anchor. Ley recalls the decision as being tough because at NJN he would be on-air on weekends in New York and Philadelphia and ESPN was barely off the ground.”I opted to come here (to ESPN),” Ley said. “It was not a clear-cut decision. This place was not established. This place was brand new; this place was operating kind of hand to mouth just lucky to be on the air.”When he signed on to join ESPN, Ley was one of just a few people to sit behind the desk and host “Sports Center,” the network’s hit daily sporting news show. To this day, he is one of the two remaining “Sports Center” anchors from 1979, the other being Chris Berman, who is not on the show anymore (Berman primarily hosts “Sunday NFL Countdown” and “Monday Night Countdown”).In the beginning years of ESPN, there were times when the crew did not know if they would last another month or two because they had still not hit it big. But today, ESPN is more than just a network.”It’s radio, it’s print, it’s mobile on your phone, when I joined it was a television station and now it’s a brand under the Disney organization,” Ley said of ESPN. “It has become a globally recognized brand.” The days of Ley being on “SportsCenter” have come to an end, he has since moved on to host the Sports Emmy winning “Outside the Lines” show, which is a daily sports investigative reporting show that began in 1990.In July, Ley went to South Africa to do a preview piece for “Outside the Lines” on the World Cup, one that he considers to be one of his favorite pieces ever. He said he was still amazed that when he turned on his satellite television that “Baseball Tonight,” the network’s daily baseball news story, was on in South Africa.”Having people recognize you in South Africa, in Europe, in Asia, it proves that people watch this product,” Ley said.He will be even more known throughout the world beginning in June because he will host ESPN’s month-long coverage of the World Cup from South Africa.Ley, who has been an avid soccer fan his whole life, sees next year’s Cup in as one that has been in the making for some time.”In South Africa, the football (soccer) will be the least of it because the country will be a part of the story as well,” Ley said on the significance of the host city. “It’s a big role of the dice to put this World Cup in South Africa. It’s a 50 year play in my mind. It’s not about the here and now.”Before his trip to South Africa, Ley will be making a stop at Seton Hall University. His advice on how to succeed stems from the education that he received in 1976 and what the students at Seton Hall are currently receiving. He learned the basics of the field (how to write, be fair and accurate) in the same classrooms that students are sitting in today.”To come into journalism is great, to come in and understand how it works is tremendous, and what really puts you in a position to succeed is coming in with a broad based education that has a cutting edge,” Ley said. “If you can do that you’ll be able to make way in this profession and be a leader in this profession and not just a follower.”Tim LeCras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.