(Before I start, I just want to point out that starting Will Nieves and Miguel Cairo in the same starting line-up is almost going to guarantee a loss. I don't think I'm going out too far on a limb with that one...)
I am a concerned fan. Now, I have been a longtime listener and watcher of ESPN; I grew up in the same town where ESPN started, and I was always proud to watch as the network became more and more powerful. I was there for the launch of ESPNews (literally there, interviewing Derek Jeter, Dan Patrick and others at the launch event), and I wrote a series of stories for the local paper on the network's 20th Anniversary, talking about the impact the network had locally, nationally, and internationally.
However, it seems you have become too big for your britches. Credibility is slipping slowly, and in an era where there are more media reporters and bloggers, any misstep will be quickly noted. There are, however, a few simple things you can do to re-build some of that credibility.
1) Fire Colin Cowherd: Now, I know I'm not the only one saying this, but this college drop-out has gone too far. In the past couple of years, he has plagiarized material, blamed a pro wrestler's death on steroids (with no proof), and called on his listeners to flood a blog, shutting it down. It's not the controversial opinions he espouses that bother fans; Dan Patrick, Mike and Mike, Erik Kuselias, Doug Gottlieb, and any other number of ESPN's hosts have been able to give controversial opinions without violating journalistic integrity. There are a lot of great radio hosts out there; ESPN needs to do the right thing and bring someone else in.
2) Don't be so obvious about your business interests: Ok, so if you want to start airing Arena Football, that's fine. But, don't go for the hard sell so much (immediately inserting it into "Top Plays," having Mike and Mike mentioning it constantly on their show). A little more subtlety would go a long way, especially when you're trying to keep some journalistic integrity.
3) Embrace different sides of sports: I applaud ESPN's decision to bring on Jonah Keri as a baseball contributor, and the additions of people like Will Carroll and John Hollinger show an ESPN that is looking for the cutting edge of sports analysis. Keep it up. While it can be nice to hear from former athletes like John Kruk, Greg Anthony, and Joe Morgan, more and more sports fans are becoming interested in deeper analysis (stastistical analysis especially). Additionally, there are some great bloggers out there with humor and insight, who could possibly help (ESPN.com, ESPN: The Magazine, and in other formats). Don't be scared of looking outside the usual places for talent.
I really want ESPN to continue to succeed, and become even better at meeting the needs of sports fans. There are more of us out there, more educated watchers/listeners/readers who want a sports network on the cutting edge of things. Be that network; be all the ESPN you can be.
Concerned ESPN Fan