Who: SU alumnus Anish Shroff
What: Making his ESPN debut
When: Noon – 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time today on ‘The Hotlist’
Where: ESPNEWS channel
Less than a year after his 2004 graduation from Syracuse, Anish Shroff almost earned his dream job. But, at the last moment, critics and the world thought otherwise.
The second season of ESPN’s reality television show ‘Dream Job’ featured a pool of 12 contestants, including Shroff, each vying for a chance to anchor ESPN’s top-rated program ‘SportsCenter.’
Shroff cruised through the rounds, making it to the top three. But one slip up – a weak field report in one of the final episodes – cost him.
‘At the moment, it wasn’t a great feeling,’ Shroff said. ‘But at the same time, I thought, ‘Alright, we start things from here. It’s time to wake up and get my career started.”
During the next four years, Shroff took broadcasting jobs on both coasts. But Shroff was merely taking a scenic route to the career he always wanted. Today, the 25-year-old will be anchoring for ‘ESPNEWS’ – as he makes his debut for ESPN.
Every day before school, Shroff would wake up early to grab the newspaper and skim the sports section from front to back. Daily debates between him and his younger brother would frequently ensue on the ride to school.
‘My parents had to discipline us to read the front page, in addition to sports,’ Shroff said. ‘It started every morning and would carry into the weekends when my friends and I would play sports video games and frequently add our own play-by-play and commentary.’
Shroff competed in baseball and tennis growing up, but he quickly realized that his playing career did not stand a chance against his love of writing. After choosing to attend Syracuse, the Bloomfield, N.J. native, began his career in radio immediately after arriving on campus.
His first gig was joining NPR affiliate WAER, the SU student-run station that jumpstarted the callings of sportscasters such as Bob Costas, Sean McDonough and Marv Albert.
As a senior at WAER, Shroff earned the position of sports director. He called the team’s run to the Sweet 16, coming just a year after the Syracuse’s historic 2003 NCAA basketball championship. One of his most in-depth projects was a three-part series he produced on Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, an African-American basketball and football legend at SU in the 1930s, who encountered racial prejudice while playing college ball.
‘Anish was a very good student who drew on his vast knowledge of literature, history and politics to tell sports stories,’ Tina Press, a Syracuse broadcast journalism professor, said. ‘He is a graceful writer and creative storyteller, and that makes a great combination.’
In summer 2004, Shroff graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism and went to work at Syracuse’s SportsRadio 620. Soon after, a provocative opportunity emerged.
On assignment in Boston, a friend told Shroff about the ESPN reality show tryouts. The prize: an anchor position on ‘SportsCenter.’
After auditioning, Shroff was named one of 12 contestants on the show. Despite a primarily radio-filled background, he used his familiarity with sports reporting to emerge early as the competition’s favorite.
Throughout the season, contestants performed duties like reading prompts, interviewing athletes and putting together packages. Each time, one was voted off based on a combination of votes from viewers and four judges.
In the ninth episode, Shroff stumbled through a field reporting challenge and by the episode’s end, his chances at winning the job appeared to become nothing more than a dream.
‘All the judges were surprised by Shroff’s performance on that episode,’ Al Jaffe, ‘Dream Job’ judge and ESPN vice president of talent and recruitment, said. ‘It’s a week-by-week judging, so it would have been unfair to reward him for something he didn’t deserve.’
After ‘Dream Job,’ Shroff headed to New York City for a brief stint doing freelance work for College Sports Television.
Shroff said he was not challenged enough and set out to learn the television craft from top to bottom at a small market. Traveling west, he arrived in Yakima, Wash., population 80,000.
* * *
Shooting, editing, writing and anchoring: Shroff did it all. From covering high school and college sports to minor league baseball games, at KNDO News, he was the entire sports department in Yakima. His new job provided him no room to breathe, as he frequently worked 70-hour weeks.
‘It was a blessing. I ended up in a small market and got in my reps,’ Shroff said. ‘It was grueling, it was hard, and it was worth it.’
The scrutiny was far less than in ‘Dream Job,’ so making the adjustment from radio to television seemed easy. He experimented with different styles, without having to worry about critics, and he separated himself as a premier, up-and-coming sportscaster.
‘When you are working hard and you are good, people know,’ KNDO news manager and anchor Brian Levitan (Syracuse ’98) said. ‘Anish always stayed on top of his game.’
However, in January 2007, the station let many members of its staff go. This time – unlike on ‘Dream Job’ – Shroff survived the cut, but the KNDO sports department did not.
The station, which became primarily a news station, allowed Shroff to report local news and stay with the network as long as he wanted. But without sports, Shroff found no reason to stay. Two weeks after the layoffs, Shroff left Yakima to pursue goals back in New York.
He briefly worked for a start-up media company before realizing the job was not what he had signed up for. That brought him back to where it all started – Syracuse.
As one of the main sports anchors for NewsChannel 9 WSYR, Shroff was pleased to be back in the area where his broadcasting career took off.
‘In Yakima, it was a one-man show,’ Shroff said. ‘I really wanted to work in a real sports department. At Syracuse, I already had people I knew, people I could trust and people I could learn from. I thought it would have been a nice bridge to wherever I ended up next. Did I want to be there forever? Probably not.’
Forever to Shroff was just a couple of months. In October, he received a phone call from Jaffe. When he received the call, Shroff said he felt so tense his feet were shaking. ESPN had an open position in its news division, and the network wanted him to fill it.
‘I just always felt that someday he would be on ESPN regardless of what happened on ‘Dream Job,” Jaffe said.
Showing loyalty to Syracuse, he finished out the year at WSYR before moving on to Bristol, Conn. and ESPN headquarters.
In preparation for his big debut, Shroff has shadowed anchors throughout the past three weeks. He has a good feel of what to expect and what is expected of him – and butterflies are part of those expectations.
‘To be at ESPN: this is my dream,’ Shroff said. ‘I’m where I’ve always wanted to be. At the same time, I can’t take it for granted. It’s going to get tough. I have to be even more on top of my game. I’ll work hard, try my best, continue to get better and we’ll see where it leads.’
Thomas Wolfe is leaving his position as senior vice president and dean of student affairs to become the new president of Iliff School of Theology… Read more »
UPDATED: MAY 15, 4:35 p.m. Syracuse University students will soon see new living options in downtown Syracuse, after a new construction company revamps a vacant… Read more »
THEY'RE BACK: Syracuse pulls off furious comeback win against Yale to return to final four after longest absence since 1979
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Brian Megill sprinted over to Dominic Lamolinara and catapulted into his arms. The game was over. The unthinkable was no longer… Read more »