By Tim Eberly
ESPN has dropped its plans to do a story about Kevin Emerick, the former Montana State University-Northern women's basketball coach.
After dispatching a reporter and producer to Havre to cover the controversy surrounding Emerick and his players' boycott, ESPN editors decided not to use any of the 450 minutes of taped interviews.
"At this point, it's dead on the vine," said Jeff Ingalls, the ESPN producer assigned to the story.
Several factors led to ESPN dropping the project, which was to appear on the Emmy Award-winning sports-news program "Outside the Lines." The story had been scheduled to air in late February on the Sunday show.
ESPN wanted to reshape the focus of the story, and delve deeper into Emerick's background at previous coaching jobs. That didn't pan out.
"We did some more investigation on his past, and I don't think we found enough hard and true evidence to take that route," Ingalls, an ESPN producer since 1993, said. "It was a lot of hearsay."
Higher-profile projects, Ingalls added, also pulled the focus from the Emerick piece, not to mention the fact that the Skylights' season has already concluded.
"This isn't the first time I've worked on something that didn't touch the air," Ingalls, 35, said. "That's not unusual."
Ingalls and ESPN reporter Scott Walker arrived in town Feb. 12, just in time to catch the Skylights' first practice under interim head coach Mike Erickson. During their stay, they filled 15 separate 30-minute tapes with interviews with nine people close to the situation. They spent three days reporting on the story in Havre.
Emerick, Skylights assistant coach Joan Steffen, and Emerick's girlfriend, Anna Fabatz, were interviewed at the TownHouse Inns, where the ESPN team stayed. Four Skylights, along with athletic director Ted Spatkowski and Chancellor Alex Capdeville, answered questions in front of ESPN cameras in the MSU-N gymnasium.
The team mutiny initially lured ESPN assignment editors to the story. But Ingalls and Walker soon discovered its multi-layered facets.
"It was definitely a strong interest, because of the fact that the entire team walked out on him, and the fact that he went to the courts to get his job back," Ingalls said. "Throw in Anna and there were a lot of titillating aspects to it, that's for sure."
Capdeville suspended Emerick with pay Dec. 12 for maintaining a personal relationship with a student, the 22-year-old Fabatz. Emerick sued to regain his job and was reinstated until the state Supreme Court ruled against him. That decision came a week after Emerick's players requested his removal and refused to play for him on the grounds of verbal and psychological abuse.