ESPN has been caught in a scandal involving the creation of fake names for Emmy Awards in order to honor on-air talent who were ineligible to receive awards. The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS), which oversees the Emmys, discovered the scheme and foiled it. According to The Athletic, ESPN had been operating this scheme since 2010, by obtaining awards for fake individuals, re-engraving the statuettes, and delivering them to their on-air personalities. Stars such as Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Chris Fowler, Desmond Howard, and Samantha Ponder were among those who received the fake Emmys. However, the on-air talent was reportedly not aware that the Emmys were not real.
ESPN has issued a statement acknowledging the wrongdoing and apologizing for violating guidelines. The network has also promised to overhaul its submission process to prevent such actions from happening again. As part of the consequences, ESPN has returned the trophies and senior leadership has been banned from the Emmys for one year. Additionally, two individuals, ESPN executive Craig Lazarus and former ESPN employee and "College GameDay" executive Lee Fitting, have been declared ineligible for future Emmys.
The scheme was apparently an attempt to honor the talent behind the success of "College GameDay," as the hosts were not eligible to be honored in a credit list until 2023. This meant that prominent figures like Herbstreit and Corso did not receive a statuette for any of the eight Emmys the show won from 2008-18. ESPN made slight name changes to some of the hosts and listed them as associated producers to bypass this limitation. However, NATAS caught onto this and asked ESPN to verify the names in 2022.
ESPN has since returned 37 trophies as a result of this scandal. The network has expressed regret for its actions and has taken steps to rectify the situation. The fallout from this incident serves as a reminder of the importance of integrity and adherence to guidelines in the world of television awards.