Ed Werder. Brett McMurphy. Andy Katz. Jayson Stark. Chad Ford. Marc Stein. Scott Burnside. Jay Crawford. Tom Farrey. Roger Cossack. Danny Kanell. Allen Bestwick. Dottie Pepper. These are just some of the names ESPN has thrown to Father Time as they tend to their wounds in the corner. 

This weeks round of layoffs at ESPN, which started Wednesday, will claim upwards of 100 jobs. Nearly all of these individuals who have been laid off, unlike 2015’s layoffs, will be faces in the front of the camera and well-known bylines online. 

For anyone whose followed the business side of ESPN for the past few years, layoffs aren’t surprising. The network has been the poster child for the cord cutting movement that has effected the cable television industry over the past decade. Since 2013, ESPN has hemorrhaged 10 million subscribers. With ESPN subscriptions having cost cable subscribers $4.69 a month back in 2011, a price that has since risen to $7.21 per month, you can see how much projected income ESPN has lost over the last five years. 

Cuts needed to be made at the network. Plain and simple. While letting go 350 behind-the-scenes employees two years ago was a step in the cost saving direction, one would expect on-air personalities require a heftier salary than an individual behind the camera who isn’t as marketable. 

ESPN is too big in 2017. It knows it. The premier sports network, who once had a near monopoly on the medium for decades, now has adversaries on all sides of the battlefield. Large networks such as FOX and NBC (no offense CBS) now have healthy, albeit smaller by comparison, competitors for ESPN in the cable television marketplace.

The online boom, which has predominantly caused the cord-cutting movement in recent years, has caught the network in their blindside and, because of that, appears to be dealing the biggest blows. Companies such as Twitter and Amazon, with YouTube thought to be right behind, are beginning to gobble up broadcast rights even though they are by no means sports centric. 

Leagues themselves have even become competition. The four major pro sports leagues in the United States along with a growing number of major college conferences have their own television networks; gobbling up valuable backend games themselves. If you’re a NBA fan, why wait around on ESPN for them to discuss NBA news when the NBA Network discusses the league 24/7?

Father Time has put the network in a corner with no obvious route of escape. When an animal gets cornered like that, it often causes irrational responses. 

The identity of ESPN has considerably changed over the past few years. Rather then attempting to way sports news equally, no matter how the network were invested into the leagues via broadcasting rights, the network has gone further down the favoritism rabbit hole. Following this week’s layoffs, Barry Melrose is all but the lone voice dedicated to the NHL on the network now. How do you think hockey fans right about now?

Two words: The Decision. The network threw objection out the window that mid-July day back in 2010 and has done little to nothing to reclaim it wholeheartedly. 

No one is immune to bias. Every sports broadcasters to have ever been on ESPN has had a preference toward a certain team, a certain player or a certain league. It’s up to the network, as well as the broadcasters themselves, to minimize those biases when the camera is on. There has to be effort, in good faith, by all parties.

Whether the network acknowledges this amongst themselves or not, the individuals laid off this week, by and large, had given a good faith effort. While the significance of ESPN pundits (because they certainly aren’t journalists) causing people to cancel their subscriptions is up for debate, the lingering effect of having certain individuals as the face of the network who carry with them more critics than fans can’t be ignored. 

Stephen A Smith has caused more people to see ESPN in a negative light than the entire list of those laid off this week combined. That’s a fact.

SC6, with Michael Smith and Jemele Hill as hosts, feels more like a glorified podcast then worthy of the network’s premier SportsCenter time slot for decades. First Take, even with the departure of Skip Bayless, continues to feel like a tumor that’s growing in your liver. Yet, while watching the first three rounds of the NFL Draft, guess which two shows got the most advertisements.

Oh, in case anyone is wondering, Outside The Lines is still on ESPN. I figured I’d remind you since ESPN seems to advertise the show once every six months. 

Scott Van Pelt’s solo SportsCenter experiments seems to be the only major experiment to have worked out for ESPN. While it does deviate from the standard SportsCenter model and is more personality driven, which reflects ESPN’s larger programming shift, SVP’s personality isn’t overbearing. He doesn’t resort to screaming like a petulant child, who lost their pacifier, in order to settle a debate. His biases don’t effect the show’s programming to a noticeable degree.

Regardless, ESPN is wounded. It’s been backed into a corner. If this week’s layoffs tell us anything, it’s that the network are more prone to acting irrationally then we’ve thought. 

The network’s future will ultimately been sown in the next five years. That’s when a large swath of broadcasting rights will once again be up for bidding. If the last five years has told us anything, it’s that sports media is on the presuppose of a bubble being popped. With cord cutting showing no signs of slowing down and ratings, outside of marquee games and events, slowly decreasing across the board because of it, these rights shouldn’t be as valuable as they were during the last round of bidding.

Then again, that’s what a rational person would think. ESPN’s contract with Major League Baseball, a league that’s close to being hit hard financially by the lack of an entire generation losing interest in the sport, is up in 2021. The network, under its current deal, pays MLB $700m a year in rights fees. Does any rational business person believe that, come 2019 or 2020, a network with a dwindling subscriber count should pay a league, with a drastically aging and dwindling fan base, that amount for the same amount of games. 

ESPN is backed into a corner. Either they formulate a plan, taking into the account the necessary cutbacks the network will have to make, or continue to try and by their time with illogical layoffs in order to try and maintain the status quo. Either way, no one escapes Father Time.